Yaay – meaning ‘mother’ in multiple Senegalese languages
What does it mean to be a mother?
Joy. It means pride. It means dedication. Each child, 7 days after their birth, are given a name and baptized by the elders of the mosque. The ‘Innde’ or naming ceremony is not only a celebration for the child, but a celebration for the mother
The mother is gifted with a new outfit, sometimes brought all the way from Dakar to be presented to her on this special occasion. She receives gifts from all attendees, including money, clothes, baby items such as baby-sized mosquito net tents, donations of rice, millet, sorghum, beans, and most commonly – soap. This is one of the happiest days of a woman’s life, other than her wedding itself. Each baby born is a chance to celebrate the mother, celebrating the joy and pride that the child will hopefully bring to the woman.
The best naming ceremonies bring dancing and singing! The entire village attends for lunch, afterwards shuffling and dancing (even in the heat of the day). Another child is born in Mbolo Aly Sidy. ‘Machallah’ – it is through God that this is possible.
Being a mother is not easy, however, as my neighbor Kadja knows. She has now had two sets of twins as well as two older children and one adopted. “I am no longer a human,” she confided in me the other day. “I am just so tired.” Having a child means so much work – bathing them multiple times a day, feeding them while also cooking lunches for the whole family, changing diapers, toilet training others, keeping them away from sharp objects – razor blades, knives (common household items), watching out for the ones that are crawling so they don’t crawl out the door, keeping them from eating goat/cow/sheep poop, and keeping the cows from charging/stepping on the children. I walk past Kadja’s house (she is the wife of the village bread maker) multiple times a day and rarely, if ever, do I see her sitting.
Even though exhausted, Kadja says she loves each and every one because they are each so different. Each one of the twins has a different ‘jikku’ or personality. They thrive from having her around all day every day. Women in Senegalese villages rarely work, staying home and dedicating every second of their time to their children. The ties between mother and child grow strong.
The pride of motherhood only increases with age and the birth of your first grandchildren.
And then there are the ones who have never given birth.
As a woman, it is understood that a main role in marriage is to provide your husband with a child, so as to further his lineage and name. Providing him children to outlive him after he passes away, continuing his legacy. A woman unable to have children sometimes feels like a failure. She has been unable to fill her role to her husband. At times this is means for the husband to search for a second wife, someone who will hopefully be able to provide him with children. My mother Kadja Kaya Kane (pictured above), however, is the third wife of my host father. She has never had children, but has adopted two (I count myself as her third adopted). She was given Kadja (her namesake, now 20 years old) from her older brother, who she raised since she was a baby. She was then given Adama (the son of Maymouna, another woman in my house) who is now 9 years old. Not only did she raise these children like they were her own, but she also has been the ‘mother’ figure to most of the children in the compound. Most recently, she has taken the role of ‘mother’ to Mamoudou, the only son of her husband, and only child of his fourth wife. He is the baby of the family, and when he is hurt or crying, he cries ‘Kadjaaaaaa’. I have learned that, anyone can be a mother, whether or not they have given birth to a child. Being a mother is an idea. It is a mindset. It is a lifestyle.