My wife's niece gave birth to a baby girl yesterday afternoon. The baby makes us 9 time granduncle and grandaunty. I was first called nini uncle about 9 or 10 years back so by now I kinda get used to it already. Though for my sister-in-law and my biras, this makes them real grandpa and grandma rather than grandunc and grandaunt.
As usual in Brunei, a visit to the hospital whenever someone is ill or has just given birth etc, to the chagrin of the medical staff sometimes, must be done. So we did that last night. It was a natural birth so the mother looks fine apart from a little tired and the father looks ecstatic. This is always interesting as father's contributions towards the baby being developed and then born can probably be measured in tablespoonfuls if you know what I mean. It is mothers who had to do all the work!
Anway, what was interesting was not so much the birth but the conversation as to what he did with his baby's placenta or afterbirth or what the Brunei Malays called tebuni.
The new dad's mother on receiving the placenta cleaned and prepared it and instructed the new dad to bury it near a mosque. Of course, he chose the biggest mosque in Brunei and proceeded clandestinely to bury it just outside the gate. He told us that was whereabouts his brother buried his children's placentas as well. Okay.... Apparently there seems to be a whole bunch of people burying placentas at the mosque's ground or outside the mosque's grounds. Now I am beginning to worry. I didn't realise there was this new place and given that there are more than 4,000 births a year, that could add up to a sizeable amount, just outside the mosque's gate.
The interesting thing about all this is that there are actually a number of ways which one can dispose of the placentas and burying it near a mosque is one of them. In Brunei society, great care is usually taken of the placenta as it is considered as the child's "younger brother" or "sister". But this is also true in a number of societies and not just Brunei Malays, the critical importance of the placenta in determining pregnancy outcome is acknowledged by its special treatment after birth. By burying it near prominent locations such as mosques, is essentially a symbolic act in recognition of the fact that the placenta was an essential in utero companion of the baby. Numerous medical studies in transgenic mice have shown that placentation is a critical regulator of embryonic and fetal development (last two sentences copied from some website - I am not good enough to write it like that).
On the way home, my better half and I discussed about the myriad ways of how it is disposed. Mine was floated down a river somewhere, I am not sure what that is supposed to symbolise - be a traveller? My wife's family has the tradition of hanging it in a basket and pencils etc are placed in the basket as well, presumably to make the child to be a better scholar. My brother-in-law once joked that in today's modern world we should put a laptop in there instead. Burying it somewhere in the home's ground or under trees etc are also a more common option. Though the more authentic Brunei culture I believed is somehere in the Brunei Museum, if I am not mistaken, there used to be dioramas which showed glimpses of Brunei social traditions including the disposal of placentas in a bayung, a palm-leaf basket which is either hung on a tree or floated downriver.
If you are a parent out there, I would love to hear what you did with yours.
PS. In the comment box, Reeda pointed out that Jewelle wrote an entry about this sometime back. You can link to her entry at http://jewelle.blog.com/1160737.