Kids are absolutely central to Dzao culture (alongside embroidery).
Usually babies are born at home with the help of the mother- in-law. This, for most, sounds nightmarish, it perhaps is.. "the first is always most difficult!" Tamay would say to me.
Women just seem to do it. Just as we all do, but here though there are no books, no fancy gadgets, no worries. Babes are held close, so close for months. They are never put down. They are either on mumma's back, or on someone else's back or being played with by mum or grandma or auntie or dad or grandpa or the shop keeper or an old friend. They are never left alone, not until they can start to crawl away.
The next step for a little one in Taphin is to get really dirty. They play on the floor discovering all they can find, loving watching bugs, eating all sorts of bits they find on the floor and quickly having it popped out of their mouths by the nearest relative. They play by the fireside, with the corn cobs, amongst the chickens, trying to catch the cat, getting chop sticks and climbing tiny solid wooden stools. When they need a nap they climb on someones back, snuggle in and sleep until they are ready to wake up. The back carries on doing what it was doing before and the babe stands a chance of waking up at the other end of the village but feeling rested and refreshed.
Then they feed. Almost all babies are breastfed, if mum struggles another feeding mum might help out. A bottle is an expensive last resort. They start eating rice from 4-5 months, mushed in warm water and slowly they start to eat other bits as they are ready. Little ones eat when they are hungry, tucking into the rice pan when they want to and eating fruit when it is served. They always join in with family meals and sit at the table once they are able to. Little ones from 4 will be able to use chop sticks, normally starting off with the shovel technique and then moving onto grown up pincer action as they can. All children are offered rice, meat and vegetables at each meal. They often love to eat the veg water, sort of soup poured over their rice. I love watching them shovelling down this goodness.
Play is so important and they really do play. As they grow they move further and further away from the house, until they naughtily go a bit too far and are called back. The wonder of this community is that there are almost always watchful eyes that can keep watch on what they are up to. The littlies play with each other and with nature. They love trying to catch things (namely bugs and birds), playing with water, climbing trees and creating imaginary play. Within the freedom is so much creativity. They are rarely entertained by adults, the adults are busy. They are cared for and watched, but they create their play and do it for themselves, little ones together.
Kids copy so much of adult life too. As soon as they are big enough they are instructed to help. They are given small responsibilities like feeding the animals, sorting vegetables, washing up, de-husking rice. As they grow the responsibilities become greater, they have to move the goats, help to plant rice, feed the pigs and chickens and care for the babies. They are taught little by little to be grownups and to participate in family life. There is no gender at this stage, all children are treated the same, they are all dirty and wild until they decide they don't want to be anymore.
In more recent history, about 20 years ago, school was introduced to the region and it is free up to 16. Everyone goes, from 3, when kindergarten starts. It is hard to be critical of school when mums all around me are embarrassed because they can't write down their name or address. Not being able to read and write is very limiting. There is this whole written world that happens and you don't understand it at all. So the kids go. They learn and then mostly seem to continue a pretty traditional Dzao adult life. At this point it is hard to know what the future is for change is everywhere, this is for a later blog.
What I can conclude is that this "Dzao way" seems natural, it seems good and it seems to work to produce both happy kids and happy parents. I follow the Dzao way as much as I can with my Luna, now 3 and half and tells everyone proudly, she also eats oysters as she is half French! I don't know who she is going to turn out to be, but we never do, isn't that the joy and the mystery?