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PHOTO CREDIT: Above photo by John Rickman Photography, San Jose, California.

The Sebou: Welcoming a Baby into the Family

 

By Priscilla Adum

 

 

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A sebou is an old Egyptian tradition which is celebrated on the seventh day after a baby's birth. It's a baby welcoming party, and it is celebrated in Egypt by Copts and Muslims alike, for both girl and boy babies. In a way, it's sort of like a baby shower after the baby is born.

Some of the traditions of the sebou include gently shaking and rolling the newborn in a flour sieve or flour sifter, clanging a mortar and pestle loudly, or even clanging pots and pans. The tradition of rolling the baby reportedly dates back to Pharaonic times when newborns were shaken and rolled to shake off any evil spirits, and loud noises were made to scare bad spirits away.

In the sebou ceremony, the baby is given much advice, usually by the grandparents. The baby is instructed to be a good child and to obey the parents always. Salt is scattered and thrown all around the house to ward off the evil eye. There is much singing, dancing and happiness.

Often, dancers were hired to perform for the sebou guests.

Sebou

Sebou Scene in Ebnati

In a scene in the 1944 Egyptian film Ebnati (My Daughter) Nabaweya Moustafa dances with a shamadan (candelabrum) on her head at a sebou ceremony. (Sometimes the movie title is spelled Ibnati.) Here is the video clip:

https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x6rcn2g

The plot of the movie is as follows:

Two women have given birth to baby girls at the same hospital on the same day. One of them is a wealthy woman whose baby dies at birth.

The other woman (played by Aziza Amer) is a poor woman who gives birth to a healthy baby girl. However, her husband has recently been sentenced to prison for having killed a man during the course of a robbery. She is left alone and pregnant. At the hospital, the nurse convinces her to exchange the babies and tells her that this will give her little girl the opportunity to be raised by a loving and wealthy family and not bear the stigma of being the poor daughter of a convicted felon. The mother agrees for the sake of her baby, and the babies are switched. Her child is given to the rich woman.

The hospital nurse then recommends the biological mother as a wet nurse for the newborn, and she is hired by the wealthy woman to care for the baby and breast feed her. In this scene, the biological mother is the one holding the baby and the wealthy mother is standing directly behind her.

Nabaweya Moustafa

During the sebou, one of the women recognizes her as being the wife of the convicted murderer, and she alerts the rest of the women. This is why they all look so upset. The adoptive parents believe that the baby is their real daughter, and they are not aware that a switch has been made at the hospital. They become alarmed at the excessive love that the "nanny" displays for the baby, and they fire her.

The adoptive parents then take the baby and leave the country for 15 years, while the biological mother survives by finding work as a singer in a club, crazy with grief at having had her child taken far away from her. The family eventually returns to Egypt, and the adoptive father realizes that the biological mother is working at this club. He recognizes her as his former nanny, and decides to investigate her.

He discovers that she is the biological mother of his daughter. Years go by, and his wife dies, and he ends up marrying the biological mother. The adoptive parents had also had a son of their own who ends up marrying his "sister" after he discovers that she was not his biological sister at all. It's a very interesting plot...to say the least.

On another note, the actress Aziza Amer (who is the woman holding the baby in the sebou scene) was a pioneer in Egyptian film. She was the one who made the very first full length Egyptian silent film in 1927 called Layla, which featured performances by the famous dancer Bamba Kashar.

Scene from Ebnati

 

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About the Translator

Priscilla is a dancer of Lebanese heritage who enjoys researching the Golden Era of Egyptian dance. She owns a collection of more than one hundred classic black and white Egyptian films which is continually expanding.

Priscilla has also gathered a large library of dance related articles and clippings from Middle Eastern magazines and newspapers, many of which she has translated from the original Arabic to both English and Spanish.

Priscilla currently resides in Central America where she is a dance instructor. 

Priscilla

 

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