La Ombligada -- Ties to the Future
There is a cultural tradition known as the “la ombligada” that is performed on newborn Afro-Colombian children of the Pacific Coast. It is one of the oldest cultural traditions and is performed exclusively by midwives (parteras).
The midwife’s role is to watch out for the well being of the infant and the mother before and after the birth. Once born, the midwife will tie (ombligar) the child to certain elements that are thought to then influence the child throughout his/her life.
Let's say that the mother wants her child to be strong, or wealthy, or gifted in some way, then the midwife will tie certain elements to the child’s umbilical cord. For example, if a wealthy child is wanted, pieces of gold are placed on the umbilical cord and then tied on with cloth. If the mother wants a child that will be lucky in love, the beak of the tominé (a bird from the jungles of Chocó) is used in place of the gold. Toenails of animals are also often used – those of an armadillo mean the child will be a good miner. These elements remain tied to the child’s umbilical cord for 8 days, or until the cord dries and falls off. Then the belly button is treated with certain dried, pulverized plants.
Once, the ombligada was performed on nearly every Afro-Colombian child in Western Colombia, but fears that the tradition was contributing to the high infant mortality in the area lead Colombian health officials, with support from UNICEF, to try to eradicate the practice in 1991. However, once again, it is reemerging, particularly in cities like Buenaventura, where there is now even an organization for parteras. Today’s parteras are using antiseptic knives to cut umbilical cords and alcohol to treat the cord, in addition to cleaning the elements used to prevent Tetanus and other infections.