For those of you who are parents, what do you do to help your children succeed? Do you read books to them? Send them to a good school? Enroll them in extra-curricular activities? Bring them to church? Try to help them make good friends?
Or do you sacrifice a goat or two and shave their heads?
Here, I recently attended a “baby head-shaving party.” When a baby is born, they are given a name when they are 8 days old. On that day, their head is also shaved (for both girls and boys), since I’ve been told that if you don’t shave their head, their hair will never grow nicely and it will always be baby hair. And on that day a big party is thrown for lots of friends and family to come and eat and bless the baby.
But sometimes the family doesn’t have money to throw the big party right away, so then they plan it for later. This “baby head-shaving party” I went to a few weeks ago was for 2 brothers – ages approximately 3 and 6. And their heads had been shaved when they were 8 days old, not the day of the party. So I asked someone why they bothered with the big party so many years later, when the head-shaving and naming were already done? His answer opened another little window into their worldview.
He said that you have to kill a goat (or two if it’s a boy and you have enough money) in order for the child to ever succeed in life. If you don’t kill the goat and share the meat, as a type of sacrifice, your child will never amount to anything in life. So the loving and caring thing that you can do as parents is save up the money to buy and sacrifice a goat or two, hoping that that will help your child succeed. Wow. What pressure!
He said that this practice is rather new and came when “religion” came a few generations ago. So I asked if anyone succeeded in life before that. He said that yes, they did, but that the success back then was different than success nowadays. Nowadays, you’re successful if you have a good job and lots of money. Then, you were successful either if you had a lot of animals or if you were strong in sorcery. Again, wow. Again, the window opens a little more on their worldview.
So I probe a little further and ask if there are still people who are strong in sorcery. (I am, after all, the queen of awkward questions.) And he said that there definitely are, and that that is one reason why he doesn’t go home to the village very often. Out of sight, out of mind. But if the sorcerers back in his village saw him and remembered that he was actually going to college and doing decently well, they may do some kind of sorcery against him to stop his forward progress so that he won’t actually be able to get ahead. Kind of like the whack-a-mole game we played when we were kids – if someone starts to come out ahead, you had better knock them back to their place. Again, wow. Again, the window opens a little more on their worldview.
Now, in addition to the growth I’m experiencing in language and relationships, I regularly run into fascinating but sad parts of their culture like this. Or like the fact that if you put down or tease a twin, a scorpion will bite you. Or like the fact that there is a certain kind of snake that My People are not allowed to kill. Or so many other things.
Why do I care about culture? One, so that I can love My People better. And also so that I can know what they’re thinking to be able to share the gospel in a way that will actually make sense to them and to be able to bring out truths from Scripture in a way that addresses these areas where their thinking doesn’t line up with God’s thinking.
So would you pray for me as I continue to go deeper and deeper into language, culture, and relationships? Thanks! I really appreciate all of you standing with me in this work. It’s such a joy, but I think I can say that it can often be a “heavy joy,” too, if that makes any sense.