O level Notes : FRS - Indigenous religion - Birth rituals

Indigenous religion believes that a child is a blessing from the spirit world bringing  with it gifts and talents to offer to the community.

Birth rituals


Indigenous religion believes that a child is a blessing from the spirit world bringing  with it gifts and talents to offer to the community. A birth ritual is the first initiation rite marking the entrance or acceptance of the new born child to the family and the community. Birth rituals start before a child is born (during pregnancy) up to a period the child has been born. These rituals differ from one area to the other across different geographical locations in Zimbabwe.

(a) Masungiro or Ukubotshelwa


This ritual is usually done for and during the first pregnancy. It is done to protect the mother and the unborn child from evil. It is known as masungiro or ukubotshelwa. The expecting  mother at six months would be taken back to her parents’ home for the ritual. Two goats, a male and female, rapoko or millet sadza and indigenous print fabric are important for this ritual. The indigenous print fabric would be placed on the door and the daughter and her mother would step over as they walk past each other.

After that, the husband’s family would be asked to slaughter the male goat which is served with rapoko or millet sadza. Elderly women who have reached menopause are given another meat portion which is cooked with herbs. The rest of the meat is cooked and given to the members of the two-families gathered. The female goat will remain the property of the mother-in-law. The daughter will remain at her parents’ home, and her mother will prepare her for safe delivery by giving her herbs to open the birth canal.


Importance of masungiro


  • To seek protection for the unborn child from evil forces.
  • To give blessings to the expecting mother.
  • To ensure safe delivery of the child. Indigenous people believe that every good thing which happens

in people’s life is hampered by outside forces like witchcraft which may harm the baby and the

mother during delivery. Masungiro is a precautionary measure to ensure that the baby is delivered safely. Furthermore, there are herbs that are given to the pregnant mother to ensure that the baby is delivered safely.

  • The mother of the pregnant woman confirms to her ancestors that she is happy and appeal to them to guide her daughter in giving birth safely. This is the reason why maternal ancestors are valued in Indigenous religion because they protect.
  • The ceremony gives expectant mothers a chance to be taught by their mothers on pre and post- natal care of the baby.


(b) Seclusion


This practice is common among  the Shona, Ndebele, the Venda and other people. Among  the Ndebele, when a woman is about to give birth, she is secluded from other people. She lives in her own room which is polished by the cow dung. No one is allowed to enter into this room so that there is safe delivery of the baby. Only the mother, grandmother  and midwife are allowed in this secluded room. All this is done to ensure that the baby is safely delivered. When the baby is born, women ululate to announce the birth and sex of the baby. Soon after birth until the umbilical cord drops both the mother and child are in a secluded hut protecting the infant from evil spirits as well as strengthening  him or her against evil forces when he or she finally leaves the hut. A pit is dug near the door to dispose the bath water and the pit is covered to protect the infant from witchcraft. The placenta is carefully disposed to guard it against evil and ensure continued fertility. Secretly, the infant’s birth water would be thrown away. Both the mother and the child are shaved to mark the end of seclusion.


(c) The cutting and disposal of the umbilical cord


When the umbilical cord drops, it is disposed by the grandmother. She digs a hole at a fire place or behind the door to dispose the umbilical cord. It must be disposed carefully. In some societies the umbilical cord is disposed of ceremoniously, while in some it is dried up and kept for a long time. In some societies, the umbilical cord is disposed underground  especially at a bathing  place or river. This means that the newly born baby has been connected with his or her ancestral land.

The importance of disposing the umbilical cord carefully


Among the indigenous people the disposal of umbilical cord is important and should be done carefully for various reasons. These include:

  • to avoid the exposure of the child to various harms like bewitchment.
  • to connect the child with the ancestors.
  • to mark the identity of the person hence it is buried safely.
  • it is a form of thanksgiving to the ancestors since it is disposed within a native place.
  • it is also a way of asking for protection from the ancestors who are the owners of the land in which

the umbilical cord is disposed.


(c) Naming ritual


This ritual is done to give a new born child a name which would give identity of the child to the family, community and ancestors. In Indigenous  religion, names of people have meaning and giving  a new born baby a name was to be given due consideration. A name defines the character of the child in the near future. The Indigenous religion name babies according to family totems. A totemic name expresses tribal pride and unification. A token of appreciation is to be given by those who will want their names to be given to the new born baby. The infant’s name is given after the determination of the mission and is a reflection of the infant’s personality or the life mission itself. The naming of the child links the family and ancestors. This is done as soon as the umbilical cord drops off from the baby. The father, the grandparents and family elders have a prerogative of naming the child. The naming of the child could be done during seclusion.


Importance of the naming ritual


  • To give identity to the child.
  • To link the child with the family and ancestors.
  • To seek protection from ancestors.
  • It afforded the child the opportunity to be welcomed as a member of the community  and family

with gifts as well as presents.