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couvade

couvade (kōvädˈ) [key], imitation by the father of many of the concomitants of childbirth, at the time of his wife's parturition. The father may retire into seclusion as well as observe various taboos and restrictions. One explanation for this custom is that the father and mother of a newborn both have to be cautious and avoid foods and activities that might, through supernatural means, bring harm to themselves or the child. Another explanation contends that the father simulates the wife's activities in order to focus evil spirits on him rather than her. A third reasoning is that the father asserts his paternity by appearing to take part in the delivery. Indigenous South Americans (see Natives, South American), such as those of the Guianas, the Caribs, the Arawakan Guayapé, and the Northwestern and Central Gê of E Brazil, believe that the child has a stronger supernatural bond with the father than with the mother and use the couvade to reinforce this bond. In extreme forms of couvade, the man may mimic the pain and process of childbirth and expect his wife to wait on him in the following days. The practice has been noted since antiquity, in such widely dispersed places as Africa, China, Japan, India, among native populations of North and South America, and among the Basques of France and Spain.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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