Turning ‘Water Babies’ (Zaza Rano) into ‘Real Human Beings’ (Vrai Humains)

Rituals of Blessing for the Newly Born in Diégo Suarez, Madagascar

in Journal of Religion in Africa
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Abstract

This article examines the protective measures and rites of blessing that residents of Diégo Suarez use to keep their babies safe from harm and incorporate them into their respective religious and ethnic communities. I argue that new mothers, and their ‘water babies,’ are ‘acquiring bones’ (establishing themselves within the community) in ways that challenge the widely held perception that Malagasy practices around ancestors are primarily remembrance-oriented. By shifting our gaze away from death, and towards the family-specific ancestral practices around pregnancy and birth, we see that the process of ‘acquiring bones’ is as aspirational as it is retrospective. Moreover, securing one’s worth in society is not exclusively tied to adulthood activities or paternal ancestral lineages; instead it is a flexible process that begins in childhood when parents first instill in their children a sense of what it means to be a member of a particular family or religious community.

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