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Childbirth and Infancy
Digital History ID 645

Author:   Waiyautitsa
Date:1922

Annotation: In 1922, Elsie Clews Parsons, one of the nation's leading anthropologists and sociologists, published a biography of a Zuni woman, which presents a vivid picture of the persistence of Zuni lifeways into the 20th century.


Document: Waiyautitsa is now...an expectant mother....On her husband fall a number of...pregnancy tabus....If he hunts and maims an animal, the child will be similarly maimed--deformed or perhaps blind. If he joins in a masked dance, the child may have some mask-suggested misshape or some eruption like the paint on the mask. If he sings a great deal, the child will be a cry-baby....

Perhaps Waiyautitsa has wished to determine the sex of the child. In that case she may have made a pilgrimage with a rain priest to Corn Mesa to plant a prayer stick which has to be cut and painted in one way for a boy, in another way for a girl....Wanting a girl--and girls are wanted in Zuni quite as much as boys, if not more--Waiyautitsa need not make the trip to the mesa; instead her husband may bring her to wear in her belt scrapings from a stone in a phallic shrine near the mesa. When labor sets in and the pains are slight, indicating, women think, a girl, Waiyautitsa may be told by her mother, “Don't sleep, or you will have a boy.” A nap during labor effects a change of sex....

After the birth, Waiyautitsa will lie in for several days, four, eight, ten or twelve, according to the custom of her family. Whatever the custom, if she does not observe it, she runs the risk of “drying up” and dying....

It is the duty of Waiyautitsa's mother-in-law, the child's paternal grandmother, to look after mother and child during the confinement, and at its close to carry the child outdoors at dawn and present him or her to the Sun. Had Waiyautitsa lost children, she might have invited a propitious friend, some woman who had many children and lost none, to attend the birth and be the first to pick up the child and blow into his mouth....

Left alone, a baby runs great risk--some family ghost may come and hold him, causing him to die within four days. And so a quasi-fetishistic ear of corn, a double ear thought of as mother and child, is left alongside the baby as a protector. That the baby may teethe promptly, his gums may be rubbed by one who has been bitten by a snake--”snakes want to bite.” To make the child's hair grow long and thick, his grandfather or uncle may puff the smoke of native tobacco on his head. That the child may not be afraid in the dark, water-soaked embers are rubbed over his heart the first time he is taken out at night....

Source: Elsie Clews Parsons, ed., American Indian Life (New York: B.W. Huebsch, 1922), 167-69.

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