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[eng] Maternal Voices for Resilience: Loa Loa

Émile Munier

In November 2016 I was in Pau (France) at the conference on obstetric violence and human rights in childbirth. It was an amazing and intense event that lasted three days during which I had the opportunity to talk to women from different corners of the world. Our official talks were data oriented and sequenced in a logical order concealing feelings of deep pain and rage for the injustice being done to the childbearing women in the hospitals globally.

At a coffee break, I was asked to sing something with several women who were inclined. I was shy but I accepted. I proposed to sing Besame Mucho, the song I use in my workshops. It is a popular song, so everyone is able to sing-a-along. We started singing and at a certain moment our voices were so intense and strong, that a baby started to cry. We stopped immediately feeling sorry that our singing made a baby feeling distressed. The baby Elea was maybe moved to tears, or scared from the intensity or simply she didn't like our singing... I felt responsible and guilty, babies have sensitive ears and souls.

I asked Elea's mother Mailys if she could sing her a song to sooth her. She started singing in a gentle soothing voice only mothers can come up with, and the baby became instantly quiet and focused on her mother's voice. She was mesmerized. Mailys was singing a traditional lullaby from Basque Country called Loa Loa. I'm so glad I happened to record it. The very beginning is missing but I can share with you almost the entire version of this beautiful song. Elea, the "voice" in Basque (as I was told by her mom), gifted us with her vocal expressions in several further occasions making me foreseeing a bright career.

"Loa Loa" lyrics

Loa, loa txuntxurrun berde. Loa, loa masusta. Aita guria Gasteizen da Ama mandoan hartuta. Aita guria Gasteizen da Ama mandoan hartuta. Loa, loa txuntxurrun berde Loa, loa masusta.

Basques are indigenous to and primarily inhabit an area traditionally known as the Basque Country (Basque: Euskal Herria), a region that is located around the western end of the Pyrenees on the coast of the Bay of Biscay and straddles parts of north-central Spain and south-western France. (Wikipedia). Their origins date to at least 7.000 years ago, before the Indo-European invasion and before the introduction of the agriculture. They are truly native and they managed to keep their cultural identity throughout millennia until today mainly by maintaining they language, that is considered to be unique in Europe. Contrary to many other European languages and dialects, the "Euskara" language evolved and it is currently spoken, written, performed and used in any way by modern Basques.

I couldn't hold my curiosity, and I asked Mailys about her culture. How they managed to keep their language and traditions for so long? "We kept singing and dancing our traditional way", she said after a moment of reflection. In that instant I wished to be able to spend a few years among Basques to ask them ALL the questions I had in mind and to learn ALL their songs and dances!

Basque are known to be traditionally matriarchal - honoring the Mother as the original ancestor and the main guide to the family or clan. Their main deity was Mari, a Goddess of weather and thunders that lived in different caves in the mountain. She was called upon at childbirths. Mailys said that it's been long time since men were considered to be the guide of the family and the society, but that women still enjoy considerable authority (especially within the family), and boys and girls are treated equally. Nonetheless, it is the women who are more involved in maintaining the rites and customs (as in all the other traditional and modern societies). One of the way is singing songs to their children. It is amazing to hear popular Basque singers perform the Loa Loa lullaby: there is manifest fierceness, honor and pride in their voice when they sing about a mom soothing her child while daddy is away (this is what the Loa Loa lyrics is about). Here the version sung by Amaia Montero, the voice of the band La Oreja De Van Gogh.

I might miss important clues about this song, since I don't know much about Basque history, but I find it important that people channel their deep emotions through a very simple song that all their mothers sung to them when they were babies. I am interested in the resilience potential of the maternal voice that is indeed more that a basic strategy for soothing a crying baby.

Though the term "resilience" has several definitions according to the field of studies where it is used, the Oxford Dictionary defines it as "the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness". Today, there is a broad research on resilience for its potential to define the critical moment in our history. From the dedicated page on the Rockefeller Foundation's website we read: "Resilience is the capacity of individuals, communities and systems to survive, adapt, and grow in the face of stress and shocks, and even transform when conditions require it. Building resilience is about making people, communities and systems better prepared to withstand catastrophic events—both natural and manmade—and able to bounce back more quickly and emerge stronger from these shocks and stresses."

The research I am conducting is based on the assumption that the maternal voice and the repertoire of songs mothers perform during our uterine life and infancy is critical to our survival, to our ability to fully develop as human beings and to cope with difficulties in life. Loa Loa is one example that I found on my way but more are coming that I will soon share with you.

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SINGING BIRTH From Your Voice to Your Yoni