Thursday, October 04, 2007

Birth of a Baby Boy - Red Eggs and Fire Crackers

Having a baby boy is the greatest joy of a Foochow woman. And in fact a few Foochow women I know continued to have babies until they had a boy. One had seven girls and then a boy. Her cup runneth over.

There had been so much emphasis on having a boy that many women in the past were under a lot of stress. Some even preferred a divorce in order to get out of the system. But times are changing and there is less emphasis now. Having two girls is just as fine as having two boys.

Having said all that, my blog today is on how the birth of a baby boy was received in a Foochow household in the old Sibu of yester years.

When a baby boy was born, the father would set off a long bunch of fire crackers. He would have prepared this set of firecrackers by drying them in the sun and keeping them in good conditions, in anticipation of a boy child.

When a boy was born, the mother would also be provided with the best chickens the family could afford or rear. Usually the mother in law or another female relative, would rear the chickens in the backyard for the confinement month of the new mother. According to traditions, if the brood happened to have more males, then the baby's sex would be confirmed as a male and the family would be very enthusaistic about the pregnancy. This seemed to work very accurately as it happened to me when I had my last child who turned out to be a boy. My aunt happened to help my mother rear the chickens and 80% of them were males. My mother was quite over the moon with the prediction. When I eventually had the baby and it turned out to be a boy, the nurses and the two doctors who attended me, gave a round of applause for both the mother and baby. I was really touched by the subsequent care given, and it was not entirely because of my having a boy.

In Chinese culture, a baby boy's first month birthday called for a celebration. The proud parents and grandparents would introduce their latest addition to friends and relatives by holding a red egg and mee sua party at home or in a restaurant. Traditionally, the baby's name was also announced at this time. I would say the Foochows have been brilliant in nameing their boys. And in time, these boys would live up to their given names and become very prosperous.

Here are just some examples of excellent names :

Kui - expensive or noble. Lau Yong Kui made a big fortune in Papua New Guinea
Hook - blessing e.g. Tiong Chiong Hook is a multi millionaire
Ming - bright e.g. The late Sia Kie Ming left behind a fortune to his wife and children in Sibu.
Kang - able e.g. Lau Hui Kang - he was really capable and successful. He started the KTS almost from scratch.
Huat - prosper or spread out - Lau Nai Huat built a huge timber empire during his life time.

The jubilant guests attending the red egg party would bring bring gifts in in red envelopes and sometimes a small gold ring was given by the elders of the family.

Every Foochow family had a secret account book on angpows and reference would be made to this. The grandmother would check the list and return an equivalent ang pow to the family with the baby boy. When an invitation card was sent, the family members would have a consultation as to how much ang pow to give. So it is always very convenient to have such a document.

Another method of how much or what to give was to dig deep into the memory banks. My grandmother and mother had excellent memory of the gifts they received. So when invited they would get ready a bracelet or a ring to "return" or reciprocate to the host. Usually when Foochows prosper, their gifts would more often than not, be bigger than the one they received. I like the idea that the poorer relatives would get bigger ang pows. But sometimes, the opposite will happen. In order to impress the well to do, some relatives would come with a larger than usual packet. Perhaps the recipient does not even bother to take note of the gesture as he already has too much!

The guests did not leave empty handed, either as the hosts would hand out red eggs, symbolizing happiness and the renewal of life. In the olden days, the left overs would be distributed fairly among the closer relatives. Sometimes whole pig legs were carried home in the aluminium buckets especially purchased for the occasion. So when KFC used the word "buckets" for their menu I was actually thinking of all those buckets of good food that we used to take home from wedding, birthday or engagement feasts in Sibu.

Actually, the red egg for the full moon parties have their origins in ancient Chinese culture. As in other countries, infant mortality rates in China were quite high prior to the medical advances of the twentieth century. A baby who reached one month of age was likely to survive, and so the event was celebrated.

Traditionally, this was also a time to reintroduce the mother to the world. The Chinese believe mothers are in a highly weakened state in the period immediately following birth. But I really felt bad for all those mothers who gave birth to a lot of girls because they would never have the opportunity to "queen it all" on a full month birthday do. Some women who had only girls often felt very deprived in those days. It was no wonder many of them suffered from post natal depression.

Amongst the Foochows it was very important then that the daughter in law should be plump and fattened by good food provided by the mother in law during the confinement month. This would give a lot of face to the mother in law who would be beaming with pride, not only to have a grand son but a pretty,fair (one month indoors) refreshed daughter in law. A good confinement was regarded as a gift to the daughter in law who had "laboured" in giving a son to the family.

In the past, due to the traditional importance of male children in Chinese culture, red egg parties were sometimes given for boys only, or the celebration for boys was more elaborate. I am glad that with the change of times, today, parties are given for babies of both sexes. And most important of all many mothers in law are beginning to say that "Girls are sometimes better than boys."

But in the final analysis, whether the families still consider boys to be more important or not, is not the issue. It is how happy the parents are in welcoming the child that really matters. A daughter can also bring a great deal of joy to families. So most families would give a treat to relatives whenever a child is born these days in a restaurant or in their big homes.

Babies are now fewer and further in between as the Foochow birth rate is falling. And fewer people are getting married at an earlier age. Perhaps fewer people are getting married too. This will definitely slowly change the social behaviour of the people of Sibu .

So an old era has passed and a new era has set in. The 21st century would defnitely be different.

0 memories:


web statistics