{Benin City, Nigeria Local Time}
Bookmark and Share

Edo Methods in Ante and Postnatal Care

Last Update (July 9, 2020)


The people of Edo land have always treated ante and postnatal conditions of women with great care. That care is old as the people, but with no written records and with fewer women using it these days in the towns,  references for preparing this paper have been difficult  to find. These days, only the poor and those in remote villages with no access to hospitals, use this old and traditional method.  And with such people questions about pregnancy are almost taboo, except if they were the closest of relatives

With luck however, it was possible to find literate women who have had the experience of customary childbirth. What they, especially Madam Emily Obaseki said, form the backbone of this paper.

At Pregnancy
When a woman knows that she is pregnant, she proceeds to take care of herself. And she starts that care with her hairstyle. She calls this practice Imeto, and it is crucial, if it is a first pregnancy. There are three styles in all and each relates to the maturity of the pregnancy. The styles are as follows:

Isaba (I can’t) Hairstyle
This is the hairstyle of the early stages of pregnancy. Women whose first pregnancies succeeded and whose children from those foetuses survived are called to plait the style for other pregnant women. This practice is the same for all the stages of pregnancy.

The Isaba style consists of numerous little curls. The wearer looks like an “Agbihiagha” or a Rastafarian.

Uro-Elia (Three Rows) Hairstyle
This is the hairstyle worn from about the seventh lunar month of pregnancy. In this style, the stylist weaves the hair in three longitudinal rows. She does not use thread.

Omo I Vba Iyee vb’UVbi  (A Child Cannot Find the Mother a Prima Gravida) Hairstyle
Omo I vba iyee vbu ‘vbi is the hairstyle for the latter part of pregnancy. Women wear it from about the ninth lunar month Pregnancies last between nine and ten lunar months. This the stage when the pregnant woman propitiates the ancestors of her husband with a goat offering (Ewe-ikpese)

This is nearly the same style as the Uro-Eha, but the stylist divides the middle row in three clumps: the forehead the crown and the occipital clumps. She plaits it by hand and uses no thread.

Safely delivered of her baby, she loosens the Omo  I  vba iyee vbu ‘vbi hairstyle and brings them all together in a single clump, called the Okuku hairstyle.

Antenatal Care
Pregnancy and childbirth can bring either joy or grief. The people think therefore, that they need to work hard for joy. They believe that they have to contend with forces seen and unseen In a case such as that, they want to leave no stone unturned to be sure they have joy in the end.

Ewe  Ikpese
Ewe Ikpese is a ceremony to propitiate the ancestors of the husband of the pregnant woman. She uses a goat that has no blemish to appease them for sins that she might have committed without knowing, and to plead with them for a safe delivery of her infant baby.

Soon after the ewe ikpese, the pregnant woman makes an offering to the forces of good. The Edo call this, lbisusu which literally means to push away obstacles and it is to ask forces of good to bar evil and to stop it harming the unborn child. They decorate a long staff or pole with a strip of white cloth and add other attachments. The woman accompanied by children, carries the staff to a road or lane, junction and plants it.

After the ceremonies of appeasement, the pregnant woman does a symbolic prayer for the unborn child. This is called the Iruakpa ceremony. The size of the ceremony depends upon the means available to the woman. The two basic requirements are okra for soup, and pounded yam. The prayer offered is that the life of the child may draw long like the okra draws. Children and adults eat the food and each rubs his or her hand on the woman’s belly and says the prayer: Tu  gha mi omo, mi ulninmwun. Literally, this prayer says, “May you deliver a healthy baby and be safe.” The custom is that the pregnant woman sits with her legs outstretched while she eats the food. When she has eaten, others present help her to her feet.

Iwuo- Ukhunmwun
Iwuo-ukhunmwun is one of the therapeutic preparations the pregnant woman has to use. The obo prepares it in the form of a paste and keeps it in a container. The pregnant woman rubs it on her body once every three days. On those days, she is asked not to have a bath. Some women do more than rubbing the paste on; they do creative designs on their bodies.

Uleko is a periapt covered with leather and sewn up after it has been prepared The obo prepares it to protect the pregnant woman who wears it around her neck She does not eat if she has not worn it.

Edae (Edayi)
An obo may prepare edae or edeyi in many forms - as soap, which a pregnant woman can use at bath, or as amulets that she may wear around her waist at the start of pregnancy Edae or edayi literally means hold it.The obo sews it in a leather covering. He insists that the woman does not take it off her or leave or drop it on the floor. And the woman makes sure that she does not, because it is meant to protect her pregnancy as long as it lasts. These preparations are usually for women with a history of miscarriages or stillbirths.

Ubiemwen (Labour and Childbirth)
When a pregnant woman is in labour, she retires to ode ‘rie (the harem) where she remains until childbirth. The husband call obi ‘omwan (midwife) to assist with the delivery

Ikhu’ omo  (Preparing the Baby after Birth)
After childbirth the baby cries to be declared healthy. As the people say, Omo man tu, a i khuo ‘re mun la owa This means literally that you do not clean and take a baby into house if it has not cried. Once a baby cries, the obi ‘omwan clean it up and the mother takes it Into the house.
Materials for cleaning up a baby include a dry lump of earth ground to dust, the sap from the stem of a plantain tree, and palm oil. Obi ‘omuwan cleans the child, first ‘with the dry dust to prevent body odour; then with the plantain sap to prevent the occurrence of Erhon-abe and uvaramwen, both of which are skin diseases. She applies palm oil to help the baby with a smooth skin, before finally cleaning it up with water and soap.

Postnatal Care
Mother and child are still quite tender in the few days following childbirth. Breast milk, bowel movement of mother and child, treatment of the umbilical cord are urgent matters that require the utmost care. And the obo treated them with great aplomb.

Eze (Ifenmwen) and the umbilical cord
Edo custom is to cut the umbilical cord using eze, that is, the dried spine of a palm frond. They carve the splintered spine until it is razor sharp. The specialist does not cut the umbilical cord at a stroke; he or she, cuts through it six times, and sever it on the seventh stroke.

Eru (Placenta)
The Edo dig holes and have the placentas well spread out in them, before they cover them. The people are very careful about the way they do this, because they believe that, done right and well, the children develop a well - balanced pair of eyes.

Care of Baby and Mother
At the end of childbirth, the mother carries the newborn in her arms and walk towards the main building. First, she stops under the eaves of the building. Someone pours water on the roof; the water flows and drops off the roof, coming down on the baby and its mother. At the point of the first water drops, people shout a loud Siwo Siwo and sing the song Vb ‘aghi ru.vbe ediran, ugi omo ma do vbe eran. The echoes of the song, soon tells the neighbourhood about the happy event.

If the baby is a girl, any one keen on marrying her when she comes of age, rushes a log of firewood to her parents. And that comes handy for the woman who will need the heat, to bring her body to good health after the wear and fear of childbirth. That log of wood is to the Edo, the first show of interest in the girl.

The mother has now taken her baby into her room. At that stage, the fireplace is aglow with fire; the baby rests, sleeping snugly in a pack of padded cloths on her mother’s bed of moulded earth. The mother places a big yam tuber across and close to the baby’s head. Meanwhile, she prepares a paste of white chalk. All who come to rejoice with her mark their foreheads with the paste, as a sign of shared joy. She also rubs the paste on her own breasts to quicken the development of her breast milk, which, if it fails to flow quickly, causes much concern. Then they would usually call nursing mother to feed the newborn (wet nurse). An Obo will sometimes ask nursing mothers to eat sugar cane to quicken lactation.

Ugboloko (A Search for Healthy Bones)
Growth of healthy bones is of much concern to mothers in Edo land. They believe that if they, the mothers, ate the bones of a gorilla, their babies will grow strong bones. That makes the mothers seek gorilla bones to acid to their meals. When nursing mothers eat them, they suck the bones and tell the babies in their arms – Re yo ‘bo, re yo ‘we. This literally means eat and fill up. They pretend that the babies eat as they eat. For that reason, nursing mothers hold their babies in their arms while they eat.

Omen Onyemwen  (Young Palm Fronds of Joy)
Edo custom is to tie a string of young palm frond (omen) above the door of the nursing mother’s room. It identifies the room where the joyous event has taken place and warns men and women, for whom it might be taboo to see a newborn in its birth—hair.

Izukhon is the process by which an obo treats an umbilical cord that is slow to heal. The popular herbs for this treatment are okoria and alaho. The obo uses them in several preparations that have proved most effective over the ages. The nursing mother massages the navel with warm water before she applies the herbs of the obo choice.

Eman Omomo, Isan Omomo, Ukpon Aden and Iheto
The favoured food of nursing mothers in Edo land is eman(pounded yam). It is thought to help her quickly to develop breast milk. The people avoid soup prepared from melon seeds because experience has shown them that the soup causes the faeces of newboms to harden. Instead, they use vegetable such as eb aronrwonkho: oriwo, ekhue—erinmwin and the bark of Ize. These have proved the best for such soups over the centuries.

If, in spite of these recommended types of vegetable soup ingredients, the baby still has problems passing stool, the people extract the juice of a leaf of a plant known as  erhunrhunmwu  esi They hold the leaf close to fire, it softens, then they squeeze a tangy fluid out of it When they drop the juice  into the baby’s mouth, it soon feels better An alternative cure for that condition is a mixture of unien  (a popular dark and lean looking seed when dried It is used in most homes,for food seasoning) and uden (palm kernel oil) They use it as enema on the newborn and it should pass stool almost immediately

Edo custom is that a nursing mother keeps the faeces of her baby by the fireplace for seven days The seventh day after childbirth is for general cleaning The woman washes her hair (Iheto) and her clothes including those stained by the newborn’s faeces and aden (blood incidental  to childbirth) at birth. Note that the nursing mother does not change her ukpon aden that is, cloth stained by blood at childbirth until that day of general cleaning Custom also requires that the new mother scrubs the ancestral shrine on same day

Edo tradition restricts the new mother to her room until she has carried out all the acts of cleaning and purification in seventh day is also the day for naming the child The new mother packs her hair into one simple clump called Okuku again on that day.

Lu ‘Ehien y’omo Unu
The intent of Lu‘ehien y ‘omo unu is speech therapy. On the seventh day after childbirth, the couple asks a fluent speaking member of the family to chew some ehiendo (alligator pepper) at a short prayer for the newborn. After the prayer the fast-speaking family member introduces some of the pepper into the baby’s mouth by touching tongues. He or she by that simple act, transfers his or her fluency of speech to the baby. This is a belief of the Edo.

Comment Box is loading comments...