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Self-Care From Generations Past: Uncovering Rituals and Practices Indo-Caribbean Women Used to Cope

Written by: Shivanie Mangal

Self-care, self-care, self-care! I am sure you practice self-care, but have you ever heard the term from the generations before you: your nani (maternal grandmother), mudda (mother) or ajee (paternal grandmother)? Imagine if you were not born in Canada, perhaps, family, and other relatives that still reside in the Caribbean…Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados etc.? I pondered this and cannot recall a single memory of hearing it being used in my community from the women around me. However, was it portrayed in other ways: little rituals here and there that somehow resembled what we now know as modern day ‘self-care’? Some likeness of practices that helped Indo-Caribbean women cope.

Self-care is the practice of taking an active role in improving one’s own well-being, particularly during periods of stress. Until a few years ago, I did not have a proper self-care routine myself. Simply because it was never modelled to me. It was never modelled to my mother nor the women before her. Uncovering the why’s are crucial and there are many. The idea that women were/are expected to only perform their ‘duties’ and think solely about others. Always other people; a legacy of familial, societal, and cultural expectations of nurturing and caring for others. Their children, husband, in-laws, parents. Giving ourselves endlessly to others, draining our cups. Indeed, as women we have the innate tendency to nurture and care and that is a beautiful thing. But never to the extent that I fear, my granny may have had to neglect herself. Working in fields, cooking, washing, cleaning and much more. Never time to think of herself and perhaps how to take care of her strong hands. Such were the things of a different era of people who we call our grandmothers and aunties. It was not so long ago.

I have come to understand that self-care means many things. If I was to define it from the lens of a more modern and western viewpoint, then no, there were no women in the family taking care of themselves. These days, I am constantly thinking about the women in my family and how they spent their days to extract some sort of semblance of how they took care of their minds, spirit, and bodies. These practices are everyday things I saw from the women around me. It took some work to gather this list and it’s still a work in progress. Here are a few rituals:

1. Beauty Naps: After making breakfast, cleaning, and sending the children off to school, there was always a nap. After all, they woke between 4-5 a.m. each morning. A nice, quiet beauty nap between late morning and lunch was an act to reenergize the mind and body.

2. Weekly Fasting and Morning Pooja (prayers): Always on a specific day, starting the day off with a pooja at sunrise. This also coincided with their 5 a.m. morning routine of rising early. The day was followed by making khichri and no meat for the day. Fun fact: this is an Ayurvedic ritual (yay!).

3. Keeping a Kitchen Garden: A collection of a wide variety of herbs and vegetables grown in small quantities, available year-round. Other than eating organically grown produce, nourishing the body with nutritious foods, and leaving no footprint, there are many benefits to gardening for the mind and body. These include benefiting from being in nature, boosting your mood, good for the heart, reducing stress, mindful activity and the abundance of sunshine/vitamin D by being outdoors. Indo-Caribbean women understood the benefits of nature without even knowing it.

4. A Shot of Vodka Will Always Keep the Doctor Away: It was never an apple. Always a shot of vodka in the evenings especially on the weekends to decompress and engage in light laughter and games.

5. Nightly Body Cream: Sometimes it’s also Johnson’s baby oil, but what soothing and comforting effects to calm the mind and body after a hard day’s work. It was an act of self-love.

6. Afternoon Chatter by the Neighbours: The many conversations happening at dusk each day. Talking about everything and nothing. The sharing of ideas and the occasional ‘gossip’, this ritual served as good camaraderie and friendships among women.

7. Bollywood: All Day, Every Day: Whether in music or movies, singing along to Bollywood music evokes many emotions on a daily basis. It’s more of a way of life in Guyana. What is a day without Bollywood music in our homes?

8. Early to Bed: In modern times, nightly routines are everything. However, for generations, our ancestors have been going to bed regularly at the same time each night. It’s always between the hours of 9pm-10pm. Again, Ayurvedic practices before it became popular in recent times.

9. Sugar Cake, Treats, and Comfort Foods: The smells of sugar cake cooking on an outside pit. The simple act of grating coconuts from trees that are found within the confines of the home. Nothing beats home cooked desserts and comfort foods. This was definitely a labour of love and indulgence for the senses.

10. Singing All the Bhajans (devotional songs with a religious theme): Starting the day with devotion to God and gratitude for abundance and harmony in life. Singing to the sweet melody of bhajans may have served to transform the mind and in a mood of rejuvenation for the day ahead. Just believing in God is a source of comfort and joy.

11. Lighting a Diya (oil lamp made from clay with a cotton wick dipped in ghee): Lighting a diya was considered such a humble act. A practice to rid the home of negativity and invite the goddess of light into the home and heart. Radically unassuming and easing. Aside from the scientific explanation of feeling warm around fire, Indo-Caribbean women had one thing in common with danish people: hygge. This is the practice of inducing a feeling of cozy contentment and well-being through enjoying the simple things in life.

How incredibly simple are these, yet so profoundly unpretentious and modest. It also costs little to no money. I find myself wanting to include some of these in my current practices as a homage to the women in my family, to Indo-Caribbean women past and present. Most of these are not within the context of classical self-care ideas, but it did help Indo-Caribbean women cope…or so I would like to hope. I encourage you to have a conversation or two or three with those older generations of women in your family…you may be surprised. Alternatively, you can also just sit and observe their rituals. How do they take care of themselves? How do they cope? How do they self-care?

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