A Visit to the Traditional Midwives in Kobar Casamance


We were invited to meet with a group of five local traditional midwives and a home birth mother (who will soon be having her third home birth) who live in the small but growing community of Kobar.

When we arrived they were awaiting us, seated under a very large mango tree in the yard of the senior midwife, Sonyoung.

Many of these women are Jolla people, but not all; several languages are spoken among these women. So, the conversations, even between the midwives undergo numerous translations so that all can understand.

The goal of our meeting was for us to learn about the various local herbs used by traditional midwives for pregnancy, labor birth and post partum. Their goal was to learn our labor and birth techniques and to discuss their dream of building and operating a birth center in this small community.


There were 6 herbs and plants which we were introduced to; all of them are used in the last two months of pregnancy (and last trimester) and are designed to make labor easier and shorter.


  • Use the bud and make a tea
  • Use as a bath

“Ku- bom-boe”:

  • This is the bark off of a tree
  • You peel off the outer bark and soak the inner bark in water.
  • It will make a gelatinous substance, like okra
  • Drink as a tea
  • Once you start to push the baby will come fast


  • Has little red flowers
  • Make a tea
  • Use as a bath

“Bu-jing-kup” branches:

  • Take leaves and make a tea
  • During the last month of pregnancy, put the liquid into a bucket and do this ritual before the bath:
  • o Take your right hand and take 2 sips
  • o Take your left hand and take 2 sips
  • o Now take the bath

Dried brown banana leaves:

  • Boil the leaves
  • Use the water for a bathe
  • As a sitz bath before ne after birth
  • As a drink
  • Also use the liquid as a massage during labor

“Kakonana” or “Kaput-tananay”:

  • Womb cleaner!
  • Has yellow flowers and pods
  • Make a tea to drink throughout pregnancy
  • Also used to reduce menstrual cramps – drink 3 times a day

“Bo-baranap” or “Solom”:

  • Has velvety black berries
  • Use the leaves
  • Pound the leaves and put them into a sealed container
  • Then soak in water overnight
  • Strain
  • Cook with sorghum or rice flour to make a porridge
  • Eat porridge for the last month of pregnancy
  • This is designed to keep everything strong in your belly*****

****It is customary not to discuss the fetus!! The fetus is not a physical being but a spirit space and only God can know what is happening there. Instead you can ask, “How is your belly?”

Questions asked:

How do you treat post partum hemorrhage?

  1. Many Jolla women wear bracelets made of iron which is used as a form of protection for them.

In birth there is a lot of water, meconium and blood. If there is too much blood the Jolla woman takes her bracelet and sucks on it.

  1. Also - will place a woman in a very high concentrated salt bath.
  2. Last resort – the hospital.

What do you do with the placenta?

  1. Dig a hole in the ground to bury the placenta. Encircle the placenta with the umbilical cord.  Make sure the end of the umbilical cord extends above the ground, like a baby plant. Failure to do this, especially leaving the end of the cord above ground, may lead top infertility.

What do you do it the baby is not breathing adequately?

  1. Hold the baby upside down
  2. Stimulate the baby with shaking cloth around it

What positions do women birth in?

  1. Lying on their backs.
  2. I demonstrate the various positions we use for pushing, including my favorite “The Rotisserie”.

Why do some women not birth at the Kafountine clinic?

  1. Not allowed to bring herbs or other non-Western aids there
  2. Not like numerous medical interventions and drugs
  3. Not like the treatment laboring women receive from the sage femmes and mattrones

Why so do you want your own birth center here?

  1. It is difficult for worm to get to Kafountine for prenatal visits and especially in birth. Plus, it is difficult for their family members to visit and take care of them.
  2. There are difference between Carolinke people who are numerous in Kafountine and the Jolla people.
  3. They could practice their own traditions

While we are meeting the Sonyoung’s husband picks grapefruit and mandarins from the trees in their yard and Sonyoung peels them and serves them to us.

We are invited to share lunch with them before we head back to town. But first we had to sing for them, “I Love Being a Midwife”.