Counting the birth date from the day the mother decided to have the child

In the northern parts of Namibia and on the banks of the Kunene River leave a semi nomadic tribe known as the Himba people. Of all the tribes of Africa  still alive today, the Himba are one of the few that counts the birth date of the child not from when the day they  were born, nor conceived but the day the mother decided to have the child.

When a Himba woman decides to have a child, she goes off and sits under a tree, by herself, and she listens until she can hear the song of the child that wants to come. And after she’s heard the song of this child, she comes back to the man who will be the child’s father, and teaches him the song. And then, when they make love to physically conceive the child, they sing the song of the child , as a way to invite the child.

And when she becomes pregnant,  the mother teaches that child’s song to the midwives and the old women of the village, so that when the child is born, the old women and the people around her sing the child’s song to welcome it  And then as the child grows up, the other villagers are taught the child’s song. If the child falls, or gets hurt, someone picks them up and sings to them. Or maybe the child does something wonderful, or goes through the rites of puberty, then as a way of honoring this person, the people of the village sing his or her song.

In the Himba tribe there is one other occasion when the child song is sang to the child. If the child commits a crime or something that is against the Himba social norms, the villagers call him or her to the center of the village and the community form a circle around him. Then they sing their birth song to them.

The Himba view correction for antisocial behavior not as a punishment, but as love and remembrance of identity.  For when you recognise your own song, you have no desire or need to do anything that would hurt another. And as the child goes through their life their song is the theme of their life. In marriage, the songs are sung, together. And finally, when the child is lying in his bed, ready to die, all the villagers that know his or her song come and sing – for the last time that person’s song.