Kenya: Pokot – The Parpara Ceremony

The Pokot are a Nilotic people. They live in Western Kenya, in the districts of West Pokot and Baringo, and in Uganda, in the Karamoja region. We look at the Parpara ceremony, a rite that any Pökot woman must do before delivering her first child.

It is a long rite that lasts the whole night. Usually it takes place around the seventh month of a woman’s pregnancy. The presence of the father of the child is very important in this ceremony, since the child to be born is going to belong to his family.

Parpara is done only once for each woman. The only exception happens if that woman does not manage to give birth to an alive baby. In this case, it would mean that the first Parpara was not done properly, thus, it has to be repeated. The people involved in this rite are the wife, the husband, the father and mother of the husband, the close relatives of both sides, and two young children – a boy and a girl – who act as a kind of godparent to the child still in the womb.

Some days before the fixed date for the Parpara the husband brews more than six gourds of beer. Once the beer is ready, the relatives of the woman and the parents of the husband are invited to their homestead. The family of the husband must welcome the relatives of the wife with a couple of gourds of beer. After a few drinks the father of the husband, that is the future grandfather, starts a song to welcome the guests. When it gets dark, the guests are led into the fold of the goats which is inside the house where the Parpara will take place.

The master of the rite is the grandfather of the husband, or the father of the husband, if the first has already passed away, and he is called “porporin”. As soon as the relatives of the wife are out of the fold the “porporin” gives the small boy, who helps in the ceremony, a big container of honey plus, a smaller one.

The presence of the boy and girl is very important, they foretell the successful birth of the young mother to be, who is often at this stage is glad for her pregnancy but nervous. After the event, the small children can go to sleep till early morning. Meanwhile, the adults continue dancing and singing inside the hut.

When the time arrives, the “Porporin” starts the rite, taking a dish made out of wood and puts it inside some dirt from ant-hill roots from a fig tree, and pieces of bark from another tree. Then, the man starts to mix all those ingredients together, making a sludge substance.

As the old man moves his hands slowly and with pomp, the others respond to his song. Every now and then he stops, and takes a sip of beer, and then continues. The singing lasts for a while, because the old man mentions many of the known sins and mistakes done by their forefathers that need to be cleansed, so that their sins do not affect the child birth.

After that, the old man takes a brand from the fire and puts it into the dish made out of wood. He takes a drink, takes a breath, in which people can talk about anything else, and after a while, starts again with the same ritual. The young couple does not need to be there yet, though the husband can be around. People will continue dancing and drinking the whole night.

At dawn all the people who are in the homestead, relatives and guests, come close to the hut where the celebration has been. Now the couple are told to seat at the narrow entrance of the hut. The two small children, the boy and the girl, are brought and sat on their sides: the boy at the right and the girl at the left. The husband is completely naked, and his wife is sat on his left hand, she is covered with a wrap of skin of animal. The “porporin” starts again to mix the sludge substance and sings.

Once that is finished, the mothers of the couple go outside the hut and remain standing in front of the entrance. The “porporin” takes a small container with honey, and two small gourds of milk, one from a cow that has delivered recently and the other from a goat. He gets a piece of a branch from a palm tree, and smears the mouths of the husband and wife, first with milk, and then with honey, but they cannot lick it. Both milk and honey are symbols of prosperity and sweet future. Some of the milk and honey is also poured on their heads. The remaining milk and honey is given to the two small children, seated on their side to drink.

Once they have finished that, the everyone joins together in the ceremony to sing. While all the people present sing, they go around the couple and the two children sat in front of the door of the hut. After the song, they all go out of the hut, and now the couple and the two children must sit in front of the door, on the outside. They are sat on a white goat skin; their legs must be closed together. Around this time, the sun comes out, and since most of the Pökot houses face east, the sun should light on them. Then the “porporin” takes the basin full of mud, and spit into it.

Soon after, all the people present, both men and women, spit into it as well. The spitting, done in a special way, is a sign of blessing. Everybody is blessing those to be parents, everyone is with them. The old man continues with the ceremony, quietly he smears the husband, and then the wife with that mud. He smears a bit the two children as well. After that the pörpörïn washes the bodies of the couple with milk and pours a bit of honey on them, as signs of cleansing and sweet future blessings.

Once the ceremony at the entrance of the hut is over, all the people present go in procession to the kraal.

At the entrance of the kraal there are two twigs. The master of the procession removes them, and they all go into the kraal. They go around them three times, following their right hand, and they keep singing.

At the end, the porporin calls the young couple to come to the middle of the kraal, and blesses them. The whole ceremony of Parpara ends. The child delivery will be with no problems. If it does, perhaps there will be need to repeat the “parpara” again.

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