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Untold Stories With Claudia

Guarda Kabesa

In my home country, Cape Verde, an ancient tradition has captured the hearts of new parents. In the past, families embarked on a peculiar journey to protect their newborns.
At that time, healing a newborn’s belly button was not a common task. Folk remedies ranged from natural tinctures to chewed tobacco, which often led to serious infections, taking the lives of fragile children in the early days.
Legend has it that the death of the newborns was caused by witches that would take their innocent souls when they were the most vulnerable.
In response, a tradition of protective rituals emerged in the community. Locals call it Guarda Cabeça or seti in cape verdean creole, which means Head Guard or Seven in relation to the 7 nights after birth. When the clock struck midnight, on the 7th night, the village united in a solemn gathering around the sleeping child.
Underneath the baby’s pillow, an open pair of scissors was lurking, ready to sever any connection with any mean forces that dared approach. Aloe vera and sea salt were strategically placed in every corner of the house to form a protective barrier against supernatural entities trying to invade. And as the village gathered around the newborn, a peaceful song of protection echoed through the air.
Na oh minino na,
Sombra rum fuji di li
Na oh minino na
Dixa nha fidju durmi
When my son Kunta was born, we had to adapt the tradition a little bit. Living here in the UK, I was fortunate to have the support from my parents who travelled all the way from Cape Verde to be here on my first month as a new mum. I confess that I was still worried about the healing process of the umbilical cord, and surprisingly on the 7th day, that tiny remnant fell away, and a wave of relief washed over me.
As the day was coming to an end, my mom prepared a hearty pot of soup, while my dad happily placed a bottle of whiskey on the table, anticipating the arrival of the village. Traditionally, for this event you don’t need to invite the community, they would join in without notice.
As midnight descended, connecting continents and generations, a Zoom call bridged the gap between my family in Cape Verde and us here in the UK. Gathered around my newborn, with the small scissors under his pillow, we serenaded him with that protective song. The ambiance was a mix of exhaustion and joy, my tuneless voice as I tried to join in while my dad, positioned behind me, lent his seasoned choir-worthy notes to the chorus.
Yet, the pinnacle of this digital gathering came with the tender words of my grandmother, a timeless blessing to shield and guide Kunta on his journey through life. As we ended the meeting, a quiet gratitude filled me — no unexpected guests had arrived. In that moment, all I desired was the comfort of my bed, the gentle gaze of my baby, and the comforting quietude that wrapped around us.
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Untold Stories With Claudia