Persia/Chapter 24

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CHAPTER II.

NOMINATION AND CIRCUMCISION OF INFANTS.

It is an established custom among all nations, to accompany the birth and nomination of children with ceremonies and diversions; which differ with the manners of the respective countries.

In Persia, on the birth of a son, some confidential person about the harem is usually the first to get the information, when he runs in great haste to his master, and says: Mujdeh! or "good news!" by which he secures to himself a gift, which generally follows the mujdeh . Among the common people, the man who brings the mujdeh, frequently seizes the cap or shawl, or any article belonging to' the father, as a security for the present to which he holds himself entitled.

On the birth of a child, the Persians wash, clothe, and swathe it in a long bandage, called the kandak, that entirely encircles the infant from the neck downwards, keeping its arms pinioned to its sides, so that it cannot stir either hand or foot. They then place it under the same bed-clothes with the mother. The midwife pronounces in the ear of the child the profession of the Musulman faith, in virtue of which the child is received into the number of the true believers. It is remarkable, that immediately afterwards they perform a ceremony, which may be supposed to have an indistinct reference to Christianity; for in the room where the child is born, the midwife takes a sword, and with the point draws a line on the four walls. One of the women in attendance asks: "What are you about?"—the other answers: "I am tracing a tower for Mariam and her child." Mr. Morier says, that he could never learn the origin or intention of this ceremony. A similar practice, according to Buxtorf, is common among the modern Jews.

On the day of the woman's confinement, a certain food is prepared for her, of which all those present at the birth partake, and portions of it are likewise sent to all her other friends. On the third day after the delivery, she is taken to the bath, where she performs the ablutions and purifications prescribed by the Mahometan law. The eastern women suffer little from parturition, the better sort being frequently on foot the day after their delivery, and out of all confinement on the third day.

The Persians and the Asiatics in general suckle their children much longer than the Europeans: to a boy they give the breast two years and two months, and to a girl only two years complete. On the day that the child is to be weaned, they carry it to the mosque, and after performing certain acts of devotion, return home, and, collecting their friends and relations, give a feast of which they make the child also partake.

The evil eye is as much feared in Persia as in other parts of Asia. They hang about the child's neck, or sew to its cap, a bangle of the colour of a turquoise, which they look upon as most fortunate, and which serves to annul the glance of an evil eye. They also insert paragraphs of the Koran into little bags, which they sew on the child's cap, or on its sleeve, esteeming them great preservatives against sickness. If a visitor should praise the looks of a child, and the latter should afterwards fall sick, the visitor immediately gets the reputation of having an evil eye; and the remedy is to take part of his clothes, which, with the seed of a species of cress, they burn in a chaffing-dish, walking round and round the child. Him who has the reputation of having an evil eye, they keep at a distance.

The Persians observe the same ceremonies at the circumcision and naming of children as the Turks; but they have another custom on the occasion, called akikeh. The father of the child kills a sheep, of the flesh of which he makes broth, but cautiously preserves all the bones. He invites his friends, relations, and the poor in the highways, to partake of this food, from which he and his wife are excluded, and having selected a clean place near some running water, he there buries them.

They adopt also certain ceremonies about shaving the child's head. It frequently happens after the birth of a son, that if the parent be in distress or the child sick, or there be any other cause of grief, the mother makes a vow that no razor shall come upon the child's head for a certain portion of time, and sometimes for all his life. If the child recovers, and the cause of her grief be removed, and if the vow be but for a time, then she shaves his head at the end of that time, makes a small entertainment, collects money and other things from her relations and friends, which are sent as nezers (offerings) to the mosque at Kerbelah, and there consecrated.

The circumcision of the children of people of distinction is always attended with extraordinary festivities, in which parents display all the profusion that their circumstances admit of. Mr. Franklin happened to be at Shiraz, when the son of Djafar Khan, prince of that city, was circumcised. All the bazars were illuminated, and adorned with lustres and coloured lamps; the walls were hung with beautiful tapestry, and decorated with mirrors, flowers, and pictures; and the shops were embellished with the greatest care. Companies of musicians and female dancers were to be seen night and day, in the streets and public places, exhibiting pantomimes and other entertainments. These festivities lasted a whole week.

The Persians have no family name. Every male at his birth receives one taken From the Old Testament, the Koran, or the Mahometan history, or compounded of two words, the first signifying servant, and that which follows being one of the epithets of God. They have also pre-names and surnames, to which they affix the names of their father and ancestors, if they are desirous of indicating their descent. In the pre-name it is common to add-to the word abou, father, that of a man's son: the surname is almost always an epithet or title of honour. This practice is common among the Arabs, as well as the Persians. The great Saladin, for instance, was called Aboul-Modhaffer Yousef-ben-Ayoub Selah-eddin. His pre-name was Abou'l-Modhaffer, father of the victorious; his proper name, Yousef, that of his father, Ayoub, ben signifying son; and his surname, Selah-eddin, the support of religion. To these denominations is sometimes appended an adjective denoting a person's birth-place, or the tribe to which he belongs.