Children and their nurture in the environs of Babtai

Auksuolė Čepaitienė

Infancy and childhood according to anthropologists is one of the life stages of a human being, which is marked by distinct physical, social, and mental features, and particular relationship to adults, family and community. To have children, and to reproduce themselves – it is a physical certainty and a social aim of all societies to continue their existence. Societies and communities nurture and educate children in the way they would be ready to take their future roles.

The chapter is an ethnographic account of parents’ and adults’ behavior with children – care, feeding, clothing, educating and social treatment. Its background is the ethnographic material collected in 1979–1980 by the 9–11 class students of Babtai Secondary School – those who attended the local lore study group. The material includes the stories and memoires of local people about nurturing of children in the surroundings of Babtai at the beginning and the first half of the 20th century. The methodological guidelines for collecting this material were the questionnaire compiled by Angelė Vyšniauskaitė, an ethnologist who was one of the first to study folk behavior and ideas about childhood in Lithuania.

The chapter includes the description of childbirth and postnatal care; naming: baptism; daily infant care and measures; mother’s working activity and infant care; folk beliefs, superstitions and protection; the growth of a child; clothing; child socialization and the adults’ world; education, norms and methods; school, childhood activities and games. The ethnographic material is classified taking into account the aspects of physical and emotional care, age and gender, relationship with parents, family members and adults, local ideas about nurture of a child and its customs. A considerable part of ethnography covers the material aspects of childhood culture – the means of infant and child care, cradles and beds, baby carriages, clothes and playthings.

The ethnographic material of the chapter allows stating that a child was waited in a village family and the role of both a mother and a father in child’s caring and educating was most important despite the differences. The account provides a variety of local ethnographic details that are related to how individual families understand the nurture of a child as well. But in general the local ideas and behavior goes in accord with general understanding of a child and childhood in traditional agricultural society.