Bali’s traditions for newborn babies have been called “weird and astonishing” and “ a gorgeous birth culture,” but regardless of descriptions, these customs provide travelers with a fascinating look into a complex culture.
In all societies babies are special, but the deeply traditional Hindus on this tiny island believe that a newborn baby is … very special. Newborns are believed to be godlike – halfway between the spiritual and earthly world. And they’re a vessel for the spirit of an ancestor. So infants aren’t just a welcome addition to the family, they’re also an important spiritual link to the past.
It’s not hard to imagine the sort of care and attention a godlike child receives, but the most striking tradition is that the baby’s feet must not be allowed to touch the impure ground until it’s 105 days old. This means that for three months, the baby is constantly held in someone’s loving arms: the father, mother, grandparents, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts and even neighbors. Basically, everyone in the village helps to make sure the baby’s feet don’t touch the ground. Remember the phrase “It takes a village?” Nowhere I know proves this principle better than Bali.
“For millions of years a woman had much more than just her husband to help rear her young … This whole idea of ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ is exactly how we’re supposed to live.” –Helen Fisher – Biological Anthropologist
After 105 days, a special ground-touching ceremony called the Nyabutan is held where the baby touches Mother Earth for the first time. At this elaborate ceremony the baby is officially welcomed to the family as a real human being, and its name, which was picked on day 42, is also announced.
What wonderful peace of mind it must be for parents knowing there’s always someone willing to hold and watch over their baby. And whether you believe the spiritual side of this tradition or not, there’s no denying the benefit this nurturing provides the child.
Every day we see religion used as a weapon. It warms my soul to see something different.
James & Terri
P.S. For a look inside an actual Nyabutan, this video will make you smile.