Around the world, when it comes to having babies, every culture has its own special customs. This is a topic we’ve been curious about for a while now, in particular we were keen to investigate pregnancy, birth and parenting practices of Indonesian women living in Jakarta.
An opportunity presented itself to find out more while chatting with Aulia, the manager of BNB Terogong (many of you will know it as Bless Cafe) in Cilandak. I’d just ordered my regular almond milk smoothie and Aulia shared that she was expecting her first baby, and a conversation began. As the weeks and months passed Aulia shared more of her experience with me, and we compared notes of my Australian experience. Coming from different cultural backgrounds, it was clear there were differences in our experiences, and I have to say the most interesting part of our conversations were differences in culture.
Ahead, Aulia talks about Javanese pregnancy traditions, forbidden food, food cravings, (and her husband’s!) the most important advise her mother and mother in law gave her, naming her baby, post-natal jamu and more.
Thank you, Aulia for sharing your story! And isn’t baby Eke just beautiful!
Aulia and Steven’s background:
Aulia and Steven both grew up in South Jakarta, Indonesia. Aulia’s mother is originally from Semarang, Central Java, and her father is from Bandung, West Java. Steven’s mother is from Solo, Central Java and his father is from Manado, on the Island of Sulawesi.
Javanese Pregnancy Traditions
On birth announcements:
In the Javanese tradition there is a Mitoni ceremony, a ritual for the safe passage of a woman’s first seven months of pregnancy, (7 bulanan). Mitoni comes from the Javanese word ‘pitu’ or seven. The Mitoni celebration takes place in the 7th month of pregnancy and includes ‘Sungkeman’ and ‘Siraman’. Sungkeman is when both the expecting mum and dad ask forgiveness from their parents in order to have a smooth and healthy pregnancy journey until labor.
Siraman is from the word siram, which means ‘to take a bath’. This holy bathing ritual in Mitoni is done to purify the would-be mother and the baby. The expecting mum is bathed with water filled with 7 flowers and usually the oldest member of the family starts the procession.
Back when my grandmother was still alive, we followed this tradition when my sister and sister-in-law were pregnant. My grandmother has since passed away and the last time my mother had a grandchild was 10 years ago. So this time we didn’t do any of this with my pregnancy.
On the role of your mother:
My mum and mother in law gave me advise throughout the entire pregnancy. Their advise included to always pray for my health and that of the baby, and about certain foods that I can not eat during pregnancy.
Other traditional advise included: to bring or wear something sharp on my shirt (for example, small scissors or a pin, to bring a bangle inside my bag everywhere I went. (A bangle is a species of plant in the ginger family and is also a relative of galangal.) It is believed to protect you from any evil spirit and also to put a Sapu Lidi (a broom) made from pohon aren (palm tree) in my room (for the same purpose as the bangle.)
On pregnancy do’s and don’t:
I was advised not to eat lamb or goat meat, jackfruit and pineapple throughout the entire pregnancy. I was told it can make your body heat up and cause problems for the unborn. (some say it leads to miscarriage)
Work and exercise:
Honestly I didn’t do any prenatal exercise or yoga at all. I worked six days a week, and on my day off I baked at home. I was even baking after work at night for our small business, Ohana Feast. Since having Eke I have managed to bake a few orders. I rode a motorcycle everyday to work with my husband, and I attended all my doctor’s appointments on a motorcycle until 38 weeks of my pregnancy. I started maternity leave at 38 weeks, but I was still baking at home 12 hours a day until I was in labor at 40 weeks.
Yes! I craved for Sop Kaki Kambing (goat leg soup) but since I was forbidden to eat it, it was so out of the question 😅.
Then I had this weird craving for cheese. Not cheese flavoured food, but I would eat a block of cheese by itself 😅. The cheese thing lasted the entire first trimester.
Also Steven had this weird craving but not for food. Throughout my entire pregnancy he always wanted to buy ‘Tabulampot’ – tanaman buah dalam pot – A fruit tree in a pot!
Every weekend he went to Ragunan to buy a new plant. So our terrace is now filled with a variety of plants 😆.
On naming your baby:
Our baby’s name is Ekewaka Kaimana Rumate. Ekewaka Kaimana means ‘The guardians of wealth with the power of the sea’. It is taken from the Hawaiian language. Our family gave us freedom to choose our own name for our baby. Steven’s father is from Manado (on the island of Sulawesi) and so he has a family name. Our baby has also taken on the family name which is ‘Rumate’.
Hospital or at home?
Hospital. We travelled to the hospital by Taxi, and left the house when the contractions became regular.The hospital was 14 km from our home.
In the labor room:
It was just me and Steven during the entire process. All of my family wanted to come to the hospital to accompanying me, but I asked them not to come until I gave birth. The reason was I wanted a very positive energy during contractions. And I know my family wouldn’t have the heart to see me in pain, and they would have insisted I have a C-Section instead of experiencing all of the pain.
After Eke was born
On swaddling, feeding, sleeping, recovering from birth, the importance of family in helping raise children:
My mum always wanted me to swaddle the baby. But I only did this for the first 3 days.
I will try my best to breastfeed as long as I can (hopefully until 2 years). It is very important to me. My mother advised me not to eat spicy food while breastfeeding. Also to avoid foods with santan (coconut milk) as she believes it can cause the baby to have diarrhea.
Traditional practices followed after birth:
- For centuries the placenta has received ceremonial handling by many cultures around the world. In our tradition it is customary to bury the placenta at our home. After the placenta is washed and cleaned, we put it in a clay pot (the hospital took care of this), and once organised, Steven took the placenta home and buried it in our garden.
- I was given advise to always put the small scissors/pin (peniti) and bangle near the baby’s crib. (The same items I wore when I was pregnant)
- I’m not allowed to bring the baby out before 40 days. However we had our first pediatrician appointment in the first week. It’s okay to travel only to the hospital. The belief is if you take the baby out before 40 days it may become sick.
- I also have to drink Jamu Selapan (post natal jamu) for 40 days. It is sold in a complete package enough for 40 days.
- I was also advised to wear a Bengkung or Belly Binding or Corset after give birth.
- I will try to learn how to carry Eke in the traditional ‘selendang batik’ (batik fabric baby carrier) but I’ll need to practice! Steven would also like to carry Eke in the traditional way in the future.
The importance of family in helping raise Eke:
Family members are very important in helping raise children in our culture. The first education my baby will have is at home and from family members.
Post birth traditions:
In Islam we have what is called ‘Akikah’. It is an Islamic tradition which involves the sacrifice of an animal on the occasion of a child’s birth. For a baby boy usually the parents have to sacrifice 2 ekor kambing, (2 goats) the meat is then distributed to the poor. Nowadays we have an Akikah service, so the meat is already cooked and it is up to the family where to distribute to.
There are many ways of celebrating pregnancy, birth and the arrival of a new baby, and while some of the rituals may be vastly different to those we’re used to in our own culture, they all have one thing in common: no matter where you come from, the birth of a child is a joyous occasion, that unites family and friends and even customers!
If you enjoyed this post and would like to know more about Indonesian customs and traditions, let us know! We’ll be taking a blogging holiday soon, (details to follow) but we’ll continue to add to our always growing list of blog ideas for when we return.
Until next week!
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Words : Aulia and Liz McClean Photography : a journey bespoke