A pale smile appeared on Ali’s face, who had just become a father for the first time with the birth of his son Ahmad. His smile was mixed between joy and apprehension: joy and happiness at the safety of his wife and new son, and concern for the endless requirements of getting a new baby’s “Alwelad” sessions.
The Yemeni people are known for extensive customs and traditions in social events like marriage, death, and childbirth. The last of these involves a traditional process known as “Welad”.
Although the expensive costs of Welad may not be borne by the family, it is necessary for all to follow the traditions. Anyone who breaks these habits loses the respect of their family members or society, or may be seen as a deficient or defective member of the community.
There are several rituals practiced to celebrate the arrival of a new baby. The specific rituals practiced derive from a family’s heritage, which itself is based on regional customs and traditions. Therefore, these practices reflect the tremendous diversity present in Yemen’s families. However, the habits of most Alwelad are similar across Yemen’s regions—a prime example of which is the San’aani Welad.
The Welad ceremony begins with the declaration of the birth of the new baby where all the family, friends and neighbors are informed that they may begin daily visits to the new mother, or “Waledah.”
This ceremony continues for thirty to forty days. During the first fifteen days, female family members visit the Waledah in the morning or afternoon with gifts for her and her baby. These gifts vary from woman to woman. Some give money, while others may clothes or gold inscribed with an Al-Koursi verse. These gives are called “farha” in reference to the happiness that these gifts are intended to represent.
Most women prefer to give money as their gift in order to help with Waledah with the costs of the Welad ceremony. The prodigious costs of the Welad are reflected in an oft-repeated Yemeni proverb: “two wedding parties are better than one Welad.”
Throughout the ceremony, the Welad home should smell of a special kind of Bakhour incense known as “Tathweer.” Tathweer is prepared specially for Welad, and is believed to expel evil spirits from the home of the newborn.
After the first fifteen days of the Welad, the Waledah leaves the small room she has inhabited for the past two weeks and relocates to a larger room called the Dewan. This translocation is celebrated with family and friends, and the Waledah dresses in an embroidered dress with silver and gold on her head. In the Dewan, the Waledah is not allowed to reside in normal conditions. Her bed, called the “Martaba,” is raised to elevate the Waledah higher than her visitors, and the walls are decorated with Koranic passages, pictures, antiques and Rihan vases. These preparations are known as “Sejaf.”
While in the Dewan or other rooms of Welad celebration, the Waledah wears traditional cloths of coral, gold and silver.
In Dewan, the family and friends make “Ben,” gifting a variety of foods to the women in attendance. Cakes and cookies are common, but most prominent are “Lasis” beans, prepared in a traditional Yemeni manner.
The Dewan is traditionally a time for talking and joking, but the ceremony is also a time to remember Allah, his messenger, the prophet Mohammed (PBUH), and the ethics and miracles of both.
The last day of Welad is called “Wafa,” which signals the end of the ceremony. The day before Wafa, the Waledah will apply Naqsh on her hands and legs in preparation for her trip to a hamam on the day of Wafa. After her return form the haman, the Waledah will dress in Qumbai, Sumata or other traditional clothes.
On the afternoon of Wafa, the house is full of guests. A singer is usually present to sing Yemeni folk songs amidst the smell of burning incense. This ceremony brings about the return of the Waledah’s normal life after forty days of comfort, money, and many, many gifts.
Despite its costs and inconveniences, this Sana’ani custom still stands out as one of a beautiful tradition that distinguishes the people and social solidarity of Sana’a and some of the areas across Yemen