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Huichol Labor Pain Relief Custom
Status: Probably Real
An anonymous contributor sent me a link to this image depicting an ancient Huichol Indian labor pain relief technique. The text reads:
Huichol Indians are descendants of the Aztecs, and live in the mountains of North Central Mexico. During traditional childbirth, the father sits above his labouring wife on the roof of their hut. Ropes are tied around his testicles and his wife holds onto the other ends. Each time she feels a painful contraction, she tugs on the ropes so that her husband will share some of the pain of their child's entrance into the world.
image

Do the Huichol Indians really have such a custom? I assumed it was a joke, but after googling for a bit I came across a scholarly article that mentions this practice and also provides a source to back up the claim. The birthing tradition is mentioned at the very end of the article (I don't know who the author is):
I would like to leave the audience with one parting thought/image, from a yarn painting pictured in Art of the Huichol Indians (Kathleen Berrin, ed., 1978), which was created by Guadalupe, who was married to Ramón Medina Silva (a mara’akáme). The two of them participated in the filming of a peyote hunt (pilgrimage) in 1968, which became a documentary, To Find our Life (Furst 1969), and were the subjects of several ethnographic works on the Huichol... Here is the title of the painting and description (from the book):

How The Husband Assists in the Birth of a Child:
According to the Huichol tradition, when a woman had her first child the husband squatted in the rafters of the house, or in the branches of a tree, directly above her, with ropes attached to his scrotum. As she went into labor pain, the wife pulled vigorously on the ropes, so that her husband shared in the painful, but ultimately joyous, experience of childbirth. (Berrin 1978: 162)
So, given that the scrotum-tied-husband custom is apparently mentioned in Kathleen Berrin's Art of the Huichol Indians, I'm inclined to believe that the custom is real. Though, of course, the Huichol woman who created the yarn painting may have intended it as a joke. I'll need to do more research to get to the bottom of this.
Categories: Birth/Babies
Posted by The Curator on Tue Jun 06, 2006
OMG!

is there not a possibility that that wife might tug a bit too strong and pull the scrotum off?
Posted by tapnclick  on  Tue Jun 06, 2006  at  05:54 AM
There's a kind of poetic justice to that custom... grin
Posted by Nettie  in  Perth, Western Australia  on  Tue Jun 06, 2006  at  06:42 AM
So, not so much alternative pain relief as alternative contraception... smile

And, guys, just because the pain is "shared" doesn't mean it's halved, okay?
Posted by Nightbringer  in  Perth, Western Australia  on  Tue Jun 06, 2006  at  08:51 AM
None for me, Thanks sick
Posted by oppiejoe  in  Michigan - USA  on  Tue Jun 06, 2006  at  10:09 AM
I thought I also saw this referenced in a movie or television show. Although, I have to wonder - was this a tribe full of one-child families??
Posted by Maegan  in  Tampa, FL - USA  on  Tue Jun 06, 2006  at  12:38 PM
That would partly explain why there's not a huge population of these people.
Posted by Accipiter  on  Tue Jun 06, 2006  at  04:59 PM
see the image here:

http://freshgasflow.com/visual/digital_art/share_the_pain.htm
Posted by p nazeem  on  Tue Jun 06, 2006  at  05:47 PM
My teatcher atualy told us about this tradition in our sex-ed class, back in junior high. But i think she skipt the part about the elaborate ropes and hut climbing bit. Basicly just grabed em with her fist..... indian woman, not our teacher.
Posted by mofex  on  Wed Jun 07, 2006  at  02:30 PM
Nuts I say! Totally nuts!
Posted by Nigel  on  Fri Jun 09, 2006  at  07:40 AM
I don't get why the husband would need to be on the roof, in the rafters, or up in a tree (in different versions cited here).
Couldn't the same operation be performed with him anywhere reasonably near the mother-to-be?
Posted by Big Gary  in  Muleshoe, Texas, USA  on  Fri Jun 09, 2006  at  06:42 PM
in many countries the husband is not physiically near during birth ...it being regarded as a "woman thing"
Posted by okado  on  Sun Jun 18, 2006  at  04:59 PM
I can believe it.

At least some of it.

It is aztec.
Posted by pestilential  on  Thu Aug 17, 2006  at  10:00 PM
I've been through some research myself, after receiving this picture along with some comments from a friend. However, I haven't been able to find any serious source of information in which this habit is documented.
Which is more, the only "proof" of this custom is always this same drawing on top of this page, and no other document can be seen on the internet. Even on youtube.com you can only see a video of the same picture, and not the act of giving birth itself, which inlines me to think that this a beautiful hoax.
Don't you think it is quite difficult nowadays to not to have a hundred documentaries illustrating the process?? I think that no tv channel would miss the opportunity to show this habit at prime time...
Posted by Retruencanos  in  UK  on  Mon Sep 04, 2006  at  05:22 AM
<img >The <a > has the original artwork in yarn. You can <a >zoom in</a> and take a good look.

The things them heterosexual people do....
grin
Posted by Jacob L.  in  The Rainy Vancouver  on  Wed Apr 04, 2007  at  03:03 PM
It is basically a form of <a >couvade</a>, where the husband shows/experiences sympathy to his wife's pain.
Posted by Jacob L.  in  The Rainy Vancouver  on  Wed Apr 04, 2007  at  03:06 PM
LOL I truly love the Huichol and lived with them for ten years, almost, and miss them so, except for the one I married. This is just art, and the expression of artiest that has been passed down over years when the Huichol found they could sell their art if an amazing story fallows. I sat up many nights in their homes talking and discussing some of these extrapolated deeds and how they were applied.

I personally never meet Ram
Posted by berto  in  No. Ca.  on  Sat Jun 30, 2007  at  02:04 PM
Also, the Huichol are not decedents of the Aztecs, they are pre-Aztec. The Aztec had a God with a Hummingbird head; this represents the Huichol, or the ancients ones as they were called. La Chupa Rosa (sp), the rose succers, because they only tasted the sweet things in life. Other interesting facts, the sign for the people in the Huichol art is the Star of David. (Lost tribe?) The highest form of mara
Posted by berto  in  No. Ca.  on  Sat Jun 30, 2007  at  02:29 PM
Personally, I'm more interested in the fact that she seems to be giving birth to Cthulu's heir.
Posted by Ralph  in  USA  on  Tue Mar 11, 2008  at  07:55 AM
I am Huichol. My family left the mountains of San Luis Ppotosi to fight in the Revolucion and in so doing, gained rights for us and many others who had been denied basic human rights because of who they were. This legend is pure fantasy, probably created to help sell art and small handcrafts by wrapping them in an outrageous story. Today I think it is perpetuated as a joke on the people who believe it more than anything else. This seems to follow an old western saying of "When the legend becomes fact, print the legend." In other words, go with what sells.

When my son was born I was wearing traditional dress to welcome him into the world but I can tell you, I was there to hold my new son. I was not crouching on a roof with rope around my nuts.

We are contemporaries of the Aztecs and anthropologists like to say we were there first. We have a spiritual explanation for our creation which works for us and it does not matter who came first. We survived my moving to the high mountains as did other civilizations of Central and South America as our Aztec friends were killed by Spanish guns, smallpox and religion.
Posted by Juan Miguel Herrera  in  Arizona  on  Tue Jul 08, 2008  at  06:32 PM
I just returned from Tepic, Mexico. I spent alot of time there as a missionary working in a Huichol village tirelessly shoveling dirt, breaking rocks in the ground, and excavating their land alongside them while our women missionaries did Vacation Bible School with their children. Although the entire time we were there we were under poor sleeping conditions and didn't get enough hours of sleep each night, and although the work was tireless and the work conditions made it twice as difficult (ie. either really hot weather or deep muddy-wet clay ground on wet days) it was the most rewarding experience i think i'v ever had. The Huichol people are undeniably a light-hearted tribe. The majority of them in this village were Christian. They showed so much love for us. Their children wanted to play with us all day long. The adults joke about everything light-heartedly.

The point is, I was in a Huichol village just 2 days ago, before making the adventure back home. I can tell you from personal experience that while I don't know anything about this tradition and haven't ever heard of this being the case, I, knowing the Huichol people, doubt that this is their type of tradition.

Also, knowing their sense of humour, I could definitely see the women making this up as a joke.

smile
Posted by Mark Mackend  in  Washington  on  Sat Jul 12, 2008  at  12:13 PM
Hectic. Takes a pretty revengefull wowan to dream up revenge like this. be it real or not. Yeah, i can imagine that this could have cause a host of interesting relationship issues.
Baby, Look, you tugged to hard and now he will never have a little sister. :-D
Interesting read though
Posted by Ben  in  South Africa  on  Tue Oct 28, 2008  at  09:28 AM
Why is he in the roof above her?

So, she can't see that he's actually not really there!
Posted by Ashley  in  Indiana  on  Mon May 18, 2009  at  09:51 AM
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