Babica / Babka

babica, babka f.: midwife.

In traditional Roma societies, everything that is connected with birth is ritually unclean. Therefore, the service of a midwife is "unclean", and very few Roma women perform that service. In some groups of Roma (e.g. among Sinti) until recently, it was customary to burn everything that surrounded a birth – even the caravan where the birth took place. That is why Sinti women gave birth outdoors or, afterwards, if possible, in hospitals.

In India the situation is similar: Members of only a few castes (e.g. wives of barbers [náí]) assist at births. There are well-known cases when, for one reason or other, members provided birth-assistance to women in their own jatis and, as a result, the entire community sank to a lower degree on the hierarchical caste ladder: Original "caste relatives" stopped marrying their members, ceased to accept food supplies from them, etc.

Ritually unclean refers not only to birth, but also to all excretion from the lower part of the body. Members of some Roma societies consider the medical profession to be unclean because doctors come into contact with excrement and "unclean" parts of the body. (The medical profession and healers were also considered unclean in medieval Europe.)

Death and everything connected with it such as clothing of the dead is also considered unclean. Even in societies of settled Roma where, under the constant influence of non-Roma surroundings, the functioning of the Indian cultural substratum weakened, clothes of the dead were burned or sold in flea markets (to Gadže), but they were never worn by Roma.

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