A grandmother’s shaving triumph

My people from Vihiga believe that the baby’s first hair must be shaved by the grandmother. 

Photo credit: Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • That shave by grandma plays a critical role in determining whether the child actually belongs to their son or not.
  • If the child lives, he is yours, but if they develop complications after the shave you need to consider doing a DNA test.

The call came a few months after our son Milan was born. They wanted us to take him to the village for his first shave.

I knew about the tradition but amid the flurry of adjusting to parenting, it had skipped my mind.

My people from Vihiga believe that the baby’s first hair must be shaved by the grandmother. 

Apparently, that shave by grandma plays a critical role in determining whether the child actually belongs to their son or not.

If the child lives, he is yours, but if they develop complications after the shave you need to consider doing a DNA test. Again, like I said, it is information handed down to me, I have no scientific proof. 

I was a bit hesitant about making that journey to the village because there were so many changes happening in my life and around my household that I just wanted to stay grounded.

Hell broke loose

So, I proposed a date that was months ahead hoping to buy some time for recovery, and all hell broke loose.

The calls came in from every corner of my lineage reminding me that shaving has to be done in the very initial stages because, supposedly, long hair makes a child grow thin. 

Secondly, everyone wants to know the baby's authenticity early enough before a lot happens.

So, Brenda and I wrapped the baby in a shawl and made the journey to Maragoli, and a party was held that weekend.

It was not a small event; tens of hapless kienyeji chicken and a poor goat lost their lives, and our compound was a beehive of activities. 

As early as 9am, people were streaming in to watch a baby being shaved, their bright faces telling the story of a happy village.

A few minutes shy of midday, the group gathered around my mom as she ran a razor blade over my son’s head, like an earthmover tearing through the bushes to create a new road.

The women crooned to ‘Mwana mberi,’ a timeless Luhyia folk song to glorify the first child, their song accentuated by deafening chants and thunderous ululations.

A number of them were genuinely lost in the proud moment, but I noticed the eyes of several others kept stealing glances at the kitchen to be sure good things were happening.

Inflated balloon

When mom’s razor stopped, my boy’s head looked like the surface of an inflated balloon, not even a single strand of hair was left. It was so clean shaven that when the sun shone on it, you could have seen your reflection.

He looked different, his cheeks more pronounced than I had ever seen. He even had a wider forehead. We ate, drank, and made merry after the exercise, then received gifts and envelopes before the visitors left our compound one by one.

Now, for some reason, women of this generation love baby hair even on their own heads. That was Brenda’s source of sadness; the beloved baby hair on her son had been brought down mercilessly by her mother in law's razor blade, bought new for this exercise. 

Thank God babies grow hair very fast, his head was covered again in not so long, giving him the look and shape we were used to.

We still keep the before and after photos of that day to remind us how he looked with his first hair.

These days we laugh at how a new-look baby was presented to us amidst thunderous ululations from the women of Vihiga... And those women can ululate loudly.

Hillary has raised his son alone since he was six months. hillarylisimba@gmail.com