Malay birth rituals



To the Malays, a birth is regarded as a gift bestowed by God. They believe that a child brings blessings and sustenance to the family. Babies are deemed pure, like a piece of white cloth, and parents play an important role in nurturing the child. At birth, the azan (Muslim’s call to prayer) would be whispered into the baby’s ears, usually by the child’s father. This Islamic ritual signifies the hope that the child would grow up to be a good Muslim.1

Postpartum confinement

Malay confinement practices traditionally comprise 44 days. New mothers are often cared for by their mothers or mothers-in-law.2 During confinement, new mothers will bathe in warm water that has been boiled with lemongrass and ginger to promote circulation in the body.3 They will also go through urut, a traditional post-natal massage usually done by a masseuse. The massage helps to tighten and tone muscles around the abdomen, revitalise their energy and improve their blood circulation.4 The mother will also wear a bengkung, a cloth at least four metres long, which is wrapped around her abdomen. It is believed that this practice will help shrink her uterus and keep her womb in place.5

The special diet for mothers in confinement includes “heating” foods and traditional medicines such as jamu (herbal medicine)6 and air akar kayu (tonic drink)7 which comprise medicinal plants, herbs, roots and spices. “Cooling” foods, such as cucumbers, cabbage and pineapple, as well as spicy foods are generally avoided. Herbal pastes such as pilis, tapal and param are applied to the mother’s forehead and body to prevent migraines and “dispel wind”.8

Today, the traditional post-natal birth rituals have evolved. While some Malay mothers choose to engage the services of a confinement nanny, others choose not to undergo certain confinement rituals. Traditional jamu is now readily available in capsules and the bengkung is sometimes replaced by a corset.9

Cukur rambut (Shaving of a newborn’s hair)

In accordance with Malay traditions, a kenduri (ceremonial feast) is held after the birth of a child for the customary ritual of cukur rambut (shaving of a newborn’s hair), and to introduce the newborn to the extended family.10 Traditionally, the ceremony is held on the seventh day after the baby’s birth. However, some families today choose to postpone the ceremony until much later.11

In preparation for the ritual, a young coconut with its top cut off and decorated with flowers is placed on a tray. The ceremony, usually attended by relatives and friends, begins with the reading of Berzanji and Marhaban (songs in praise of Prophet Muhammad). The baby is then carried in the arms of a parent or relative, while another family member carries a tray that contains the cut coconut. Guests will be approached individually and invited to cut a small lock of the baby’s hair, which is then placed into the coconut.12 At the end of the ceremony, the newborn’s head is shaved clean. The baby’s hair is then weighed and the family would donate the weight of the hair in gold or its monetary equivalent to charity.13

Tahnik and aqiqah (Prelacteal feeding of date or honey and Sacrifice of goats/sheep on the occasion of a childbirth)

Parents who follow Islamic birth traditions also celebrate the birth of a newborn by performing the tahnik and aqiqah rituals.14 Tahnik involves applying a small amount of softened date or honey to the baby’s palate, followed by recitation of the doa (supplication).15 Aqiqah, on the other hand, symbolises the parents’ gratitude for the child with which they have been bestowed. It involves the sacrifice of goats or sheep (two for a boy and one for a girl). Both the tahnik and aqiqah rituals are usually performed when the baby is seven, 14 or 21 days old.16



Author
Asrina Tanuri



References
1. Hidayah Amin. (2014). Malay weddings don’t cost $50 and other facts about Malay culture. Singapore: Helang Books, pp. 34, 36. (Call no.: RSING 305.8992805957 HID); Mathews, M. (2017). The Singapore ethnic mosaic: Many cultures, one people. Singapore: World Scientific, p. 132. (Call no.: RSING 305.80095957 SIN); Tham, S. C. (1985). Religion & modernization: A study of changing rituals among Singapore’s Chinese, Malays & Indians. Singapore: G. Brash, p. 66. (Call no. RSING 301.295957 THA); Haron A. Rahman. (1987, July 28). Rites of life and death in pictures. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
2. Mathews, M. (2017). The Singapore ethnic mosaic: Many cultures, one people. Singapore: World Scientific, p. 132. (Call no.: RSING 305.80095957 SIN); Hidayah Amin. (2014). Malay weddings don’t cost $50 and other facts about Malay culture. Singapore: Helang Books, p. 38. (Call no.: RSING 305.8992805957 HID); Special diets and taboos. (2009, October 25). The Straits Times, p. 47. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
3. Had a baby? No showers for you. (1999, April 14). The New Paper, p. 13. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
4. Hidayah Amin. (2014). Malay weddings don’t cost $50 and other facts about Malay culture. Singapore: Helang Books, p. 40. (Call no.: RSING 305.8992805957 HID); Had a baby? No showers for you. (1999, April 14). The New Paper, p. 13; Special diets and taboos. (2009, October 25). The Straits Times, p. 47; Warm food, massage, follow childbirth. (1995, July 24). The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. Hidayah Amin. (2014). Malay weddings don’t cost $50 and other facts about Malay culture. Singapore: Helang Books, p. 41. (Call no.: RSING 305.8992805957 HID); Would you pay $550 for her help? (1979, November 14). New Nation, pp. 10–11; Special diets and taboos. (2009, October 25). The Straits Times, p. 47; Wee, L. (2011, September 8). Confinement period may trigger depression. The Straits Times, p. 14–15; Warm food, massage, follow childbirth. (1995, July 24). The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. Storm in a herbal cup: Indonesian elixirs get a modern twist. (2015, November 27). The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg
7. Malay confinement practices. (2018, April 16). Health Hub. Retrieved 2018, November 20 from https://www.healthhub.sg/live-healthy/1879/malay_confinement_practices
8. Hidayah Amin. (2014). Malay weddings don’t cost $50 and other facts about Malay culture. Singapore: Helang Books, pp. 40–42. (Call no.: RSING 305.8992805957 HID); Special diets and taboos. (2009, October 25). The Straits Times, p. 47; Warm food, massage, follow childbirth. (1995, July 24). The Straits Times, p. 6; Zawiyah Salleh. (1996, September 10). Pantang larang kaum selepas bersalin. Berita Harian, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. Hidayah Amin. (2014). Malay weddings don’t cost $50 and other facts about Malay culture. Singapore: Helang Books, pp. 41–42. (Call no.: RSING 305.8992805957 HID)
10. Mathews, M. (2017). The Singapore ethnic mosaic: Many cultures, one people. Singapore: World Scientific, p. 132. (Call no.: RSING 305.80095957 SIN); Why baby’s hair is shaved seven days after birth: Malay culture. (1995, July 10). The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Tham, S. C. (1985). Religion & modernization: A study of changing rituals among Singapore’s Chinese, Malays & Indians. Singapore: G. Brash, p. 69. (Call no. RSING 301.295957 THA)
11. Hidayah Amin. (2014). Malay weddings don’t cost $50 and other facts about Malay culture. Singapore: Helang Books, p. 38. (Call no.: RSING 305.8992805957 HID)
12. Why baby’s hair is shaved seven days after birth: Malay culture. (1995, July 10). The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13. Muhd Ariff Ahmad. (1991, February 11). Hair rites. The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Hidayah Amin. (2014). Malay weddings don’t cost $50 and other facts about Malay culture. Singapore: Helang Books, p. 38. (Call no.: RSING 305.8992805957 HID)
14. Khalid Khamis. (2001, August 12). Khidmat percuma sambut kelahiran bayi cara Islam. Berita Harian, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15. Tahnik service. (n.d.). Al-Mawaddah Mosque. Retrieved 2018, July 11 from Al-Mawaddah Mosque website: http://v1.almawaddah.sg/services/tahnik-service/; Tahnik for newborns. (2018). Masjid Darul Ghufran.  Retrieved 2018, July 11, from Masjid Darul Ghufran website: http://www.darulghufran.org/about/services/tahnik/
16. Hidayah Amin. (2014). Malay weddings don’t cost $50 and other facts about Malay culture. Singapore: Helang Books, p. 39. (Call no.: RSING 305.8992805957 HID); About aqiqah – definition and ruling. (2018). Aqiqah Singapore. Retrieved 2018, July 11 from Aqiqah Singapore website: https://www.aqiqahsingapore.com/faq; McKenna, K. M., & Shankar, R. T. (2009). The practice of prelacteal feeding to newborns among Hindu and Muslim families. Journal of Midwifery & Women’s Health. 54(1): 78–81. Retrieved 2018, November 20 from https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/586662_4; Aqiqah. (n.d.). Islamic Aid. Retrieved 2018, November 20 from Islamic Aid website: https://www.islamicaid.com/aqiqah/



The information in this article is valid as at November 2018 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

 

Subject
Ethnic Communities>>Customs and Traditions
Birth customs--Singapore
Heritage and Culture
Malays (Asian people)--Singapore--Rites and ceremonies
Malays (Asian people)--Singapore--Social life and customs
Religious life and practices
Birth customs