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The cradle

The cradle is known in Basque as ohakoa (Iholdi, Uharte-Hiri-BN), sehaska (Berastegi, Elosua, Hondarribia-G; Sara-L), kuma (Gorozika, Lemoiz, Markina, Nabarniz, Urduliz, Zeanuri-B) and kuina (Liginaga-Z)[1].

It can be gleaned from the surveys that there were mainly two types: rectangular ones made out of wood and oval-shaped wicker ones, both of which could be rocked. Cots were also used in some locations. In Alava, it was common in the past for the container used to measure aggregates known as a half bushel to be used as a substitute cradle.

Wooden cradles

These cradles were generally closed on all four sides, in the shape of the drawer and sometimes with bars. The majority of them were on rocker arms which meant that could be moved backwards and forwards. Depending on the economic resources of the family, they could be simple or elaborate and embellished. During that period of reclusion, if the woman had to leave the house to hang out washing, collect wood or go to the vegetable garden or to the animal pen had to do so with the head covered with a tile taken from her own roof, and keep it in place until she returned back to the house.

Wicker cradles: Moses basket

The wicket basket, zimentzezko or ziazko kumak, which was generally known as a Moses basket[2], used to be a sign of wealth and only the best off had one in some towns.

Substitute cradles. The half bushel

In much of Álava, the half bushel was widely used as a cradle for children in the past. It was a wooden drawer used to measure grain that was usually hung in the kitchen, where the mother could get on with her household chores without worrying about her baby. There was usually another cradle in the parents’ bedroom in addition to the half brushel.

Cradle mattress and linen

With respect to the mattress, corn husks, and also wool and feathers, were often used to fill the base and the mattress. In some locations, sheepskin was usually put on top of the mattress that acted as insulation and stopped the mattress from getting wet.

Looking after the child

Taking the baby for a stroll in the past

In nearly all the locations surveyed, the people interviewed agreed that the children were not taken for a stroll or hardly at all; they spent practically all their time and hardly ever left the house during the early months.

The first outings

The fact that the children were not taken for strolls did not mean that they spent all their time at home. After the first few months, the mother took the infant with her wherever she went and they were never left alone at home. In the traditional rural society, different farming chores had to be done by women and so when she had nobody to look after the infant, she had to take the child to the workplace and provide the necessary care there, while she carried out her other tasks.

Traditional ways of carrying the child

As has been seen in the previous section, when the mothers went to work in the fields, they carried their children on their backs or inside a basket or the containers to measure grain, which were so usual in the farmsteads in the past.

People looking after the child

The women of the household were usually the people tasked with looking after and taking the children for a stroll. In some places, the mother of the child was the one who usually took the child out for a walk. However, that was not the norm in other places as she usually did not have time given her many obligations. It should not be forgotten that each family usually had a large number of children and therefore the mother had many other priorities and taking the child for a walk was delegated to another woman of the household, who could be the grandmother, aunt or sister.

Childhood development milestones

This section includes two essential aspects of the learning process of the child, beginning to walk and to talk. A third, physiological, aspect was when the milk teeth appeared, beyond the instinct and will of the child, but which marked a change in their eating habits.

The first stpes

Children begin to walk when they are about a year old and helped by their elders. When the child is still in the cradle, they are encouraged to move their legs, accompanied by singing.

Infant babbling

The woman in charge of looking after the child is also the one to teach the infant their first words and interpret their first babbling. Apart from the mother, that person could also be the grandmother, an aunt or an older sister in the past.

Cutting the first teeth

A long time ago, different procedures were used to stimulate children's teeth. These include hanging charms around the child's neck consisting of small bags with the teeth of hedgehogs, mountain cats or horses (Llodio-A; Larrabezua and Bedia-B); it was also quite usual to use necklaces made out of boar’s tusks or ruminants’ molars[3]. There are also records showing that mole teeth were also used in Legazpia (G)[4].

The anniversary of the birth


In Sangüesa (N), even though nothing special was organised, if the family had money, they organised a drinking chocolate party with friends and cousins, and older children had a better meal with rice pudding.

Birthday presents

In a good number of places surveyed, it was not usual to give a present until the 1960s-1970s. The reason for the lack of presents is that birthdays were not usually celebrated and there was little money.

  1. José Miguel de BARANDIARAN. "Materiales para un estudio del pueblo vasco: En Liginaga (Laguinge)" in Ikuska. Nº 10-13 (1948) p. 80.
  2. The name for these cradles comes from the basket in which Moses was cast into the River Nile according to Jewish tradition.
  3. José Miguel de BARANDIARAN. El mundo en la mente popu ­ lar vasca. Volume I, San Sebastián, 1960, pp. 181-184.
  4. LEF. Information gathered by José Miguel de Barandiarán.