The Dedication Ceremony took place at dawn. I would say that most of the villagers (around 150 or so) were present, except the very old. To the Arrakeshi, children are a cherished and valued part of the tribe and they are cared for by all, though their parents are the primary nurturers.
The baby, only a few weeks old, was wrapped in a rabbit fur and carried in the arms of his mother and accompanied by his father, to ‘Padhag Klen’, the huge oak tree on the outskirts of the village. This tree is the centre of worship for the tribe, akin to an altar in other religions. It was there that I saw Jakan the day I went with the women to gather yams. The rest of the villagers, led by Jakan, followed them. All sat as Jakan the Treespeaker took the child and held him up before them. They each held out their arms as if reaching for the baby and Jakan announced the child’s name “Aglik”, meaning “branch of joy”, and called to Arrakesh to accept the child as part of himself, to give him health, strength and happiness and a sure knowledge of his own belonging.
The child was then given back to his mother and she took him amongst the villagers. Each stroked the boy’s head and said a blessing. Even the smallest children were encouraged to touch his head. Then Kattan, the Chief Elder, handed the father a small bow and a tiny bone broach for fixing a cloak, presents to the child from the village.
At the communal breakfast afterwards, there was a keen atmosphere of caring for the new parents and their child. I do not think I saw the child in his parents’ arms for the rest of the morning except when he was feeding, for he was passed around and admired by all.
I have noticed that very few families here have more than one or two children. How this is, I do not know. The children as a whole seem healthy and strong. I suppose there may be some deaths through illness or accident, but with Jakan’s healing skills and the care taken of the children, I still cannot imagine it keeping the population growth so low. As it stands, the population seems to be in perfect balance with the resources available, but how this balance is achieved, I do not feel comfortable in asking at this stage. Maybe at a later date, I will ask Jakan.
A word about names amongst the people of Arrakesh.
From what I understand, first names have meanings, but from an old language no longer used or understood in any depth by the people. In the same way that stories are passed down from generation to generation, so are the names and their meanings, though there seems no tradition of passing names from father to son, mother to daughter or even from grandparent to grandchild. When the language itself was lost, I have not been able to discover, but the Arrakeshi speak Carlikan now, albeit with a strong lilt. Some words are entirely their own. I will write more on this at a later date.
Kattan’s name, he tells me, means “Bear’s gift” – ‘kat’(bear) and ‘tan’ (gift). Jakan’s name is harder to translate, as the Arrakeshi have many words for things that we do not, but it refers to the light that comes through the trees in the early morning. Not the light itself, but the way it breaks to filter through through the trunks, something that cannot really be understood in Carlika where there are few trees at all.
Megda’s name also comes from a concept not named in Carlika – the moment a leaf, falling from a tree, touches the earth. These people have such a reverence for nature that even such an event has a name.
The forest Arrakesh itself has a meaning in the old language – “arr” means forest, “kesh” means “soul” or “spirit”. The “a” as far as I can tell is simply there for ease of pronunciation.
Other names I have been able to have translated -
Grifad (m) = grif (boulder) ad (man)
Padmak (m) = pad (oak) mak (shade)
Felka (f) = fel (pebble) ka (shine)
Hagshu (f) = hag (great) shu (water)
Family names are passed through the father’s side. So Kattanbek comes from the family of ‘Bek’, Jakanash comes from the family of ‘Ash’. Females, when referred to in the formal way, put the name of their family first. When she marries, she takes the name of her husband’s family. So Megda, when she is referred to formally, is Bekmegda. No one seems to have an explanation for this difference in naming between genders. It is simply something they have always done. It certainly does not seem to imply male dominance, as women are just as likely to be elders or even Treespeakers.
Tomorrow there will a ‘dedication’ ceremony, a welcoming of a new baby into the tribe. I look forward to observing this ritual.