Algerians pride themselves on celebrating their female new-borns as much as males, if not more
The popular proverb in the Algerian East says, “The father of a girl is blessed,” because girls can be a source of sustenance. Some families celebrate female babies as well as male ones, if not more. Many Algerians boast about the customs that honour girls.
In the centre of the city of Annaba, 600 km east of the Algerian capital, the women of one of the ancient families in the city gather, adorned in traditional dress. They walk among the members of a female singing group, led by a woman carrying a two-year-old girl in a beautiful traditional dress.
The scene of the street where the traditional Ottoman ‘hammam’ is located harkens back to the time when women celebrated the first bath that girls had in the hammam. This tradition was known as “the first solitude”. It is also known in Annaba as ‘the bath of the angels’, or as other families call it ‘the first bath’. It is a traditional ceremony performed by the family of a girl of about two years, during which females in the family and their friends are invited to the hammam where the celebration takes place.
A Girl is a Livelihood
Houria Hashemi Rashedi is a professional hairdresser who organises celebrations for the families of Annaba. Relying on her knowledge of customs in the city, she informs families of what is permitted or forbidden during the celebration. The first bath is the right of the girl over her family if they are well off.
Houria tells Aljazeera Net, “Unlike most families, this custom suggests that families are proud of the female child.” She adds that women dress a girl of around two years of age in what is known as ‘fouta’, a special towel for the hammam. Party items including henna and showering tools are also brought. Upon reaching the entrance of the hammam where the party is to take place, a band performs religious chants and traditional songs amid the ululations of the women invited to the ‘first solitude.’
The girl, in whose honour the ceremony is held, is entered into the bathing hall and, according to Houria, an egg is broken on her head. During the ceremony, she is surrounded by the young girls of the family who carry candles. Breaking the egg symbolises her exit from one stage of her life and entering another.
Customs and rituals
The girl’s mother supervises her bathing. The female invitees also bathe amid ululations, and they open the girl’s trousseau, which includes a towel, sabots and bathing items. The mother also distributes symbolic traditional gifts to the invited young girls.
According to custom, the hammam is perfumed with incense and perfumes and covered with sweets. Some families work on applying henna to the girl. Then, she is given a golden anklet along with a chain bearing the palm of the hand as well as a golden chain of a fish.
According to custom, the anklet, the palm of the hand, and the fish chain prevent the evil eye. That is why the women in some of these ceremonies repeat the phrase “a fish goes and a fish comes” in order to repel evil spirits, according to custom.
Celebrating the Female
Houria Hashemi Rashidi points out that this custom is like the ‘aqeeqah’ for the male, in which an animal is sacrificed and food is distributed to female relatives and neighbours as a gift and charity. This is a celebration of girls and a belief that they are a livelihood.
Lunch is brought to the invitees in the sitting room in the hammam, accompanied by tea and various traditional and modern sweets. Women take pictures with the girl to keep them as souvenirs until she grows up.
Photojournalist Zina Canon Dembri tells Aljazeera Net, “Many Algerian families still adhere to this custom. In fact, this custom has returned strongly over the past five years”.
A band known as Suria chants religious songs, hymns and prayers for Prophet Muhammad, may peace be upon him. According to the families that practise this custom, they celebrate girls from a young age to teach them to be proud of themselves and of being female.
Source: Aljazeera.net (Original Content -Arabic)