Mbeleko, ritual protection of newborns in African traditions - Rehema Chachage

Rehema Chachage ( Tanzania )

Mbeleko takes from the African ritual related to the Protection of the umbilical cord from the ‘evil eye’. In many ‘traditional’ African cultures, the placenta and umbilical cord hold great power; and must be protected from the ‘evil eye’. The ‘protection’ ritual varies between different cultures, often with nuances of gender and pedigree—that of a girl child tending to be treated with impermanency and vulnerability since she will move outside the family, while that of a boy child is treated with permanency and authority since he will carry on the clan lineage. Where I am from, the umbilical cord is preserved on the walls, and becomes part of the architecture of the house (this is why there is a saying in Swahili which related the home to the belly button).

In the one month that I am here, I will create two mud bricks (one holding my 1st born, Nia’s umbilical cord stump, and the other holding my second born, Neo’s umbilical cord stump). The whole performance will be done on a Mbeleko (a baby carrier—which will spread on the floor/working table) and will be filmed. Because the work is very personal to me, the final objects will not be part of the work, instead, only the video and the Mbeleko (the relic of the performance) will be the final work. The work will also feature text (narrated by the author, my mother) as sound for the video. An inter-generational dialogue has become an important element for my work.