Bernice Johnson Reagon, founder of the Grammy award-winning African American female a cappella ensemble Sweet Honey in the Rock, said it best:
What's necessary to our survival is sacred.
What is necessary to humankind's survival?
Women's pro-creative power. If women don't push babies out of our bellies, the tribe of human beings ceases to exist.
(The ancient Hebrew word for "tribe" also means "mother." The word for a clan within the tribe, batn, also means "belly." No healthy women's bellies, no clan. No healthy mothers, no tribe.)
I've been looking into human evolution recently — a good place to look for the origins of belly magic.
Although not all scholars agree on sequence and significance, a few things happened as human beings evolved:
- We began walking upright, on two feet.
- The female pelvis, adapting to bipedalism, narrowed the birth canal.
- The advent of cooking in effect pre-digested our food, allowing us to get by with shorter intestines, making more energy available for brain development.
- Fetal brains and heads became larger.
- Given the relatively narrow birth canal, infant and maternal mortality increased during childbirth.
With childbirth such a life-or-death proposition, it's no wonder that women developed traditions of dance, rituals, birthing practices, and herbal potions that conditioned our bodies to survive childbirth and to birth healthy infants. What we call "belly dancing" is one trace of those traditions.
The impulse, even the instinct, to touch a pregnant woman's belly may be ancient. And it's certainly intrusive when uninvited. A Pennsylvania woman recently made national news when a neighbor touched her pregnant belly without her permission. He faces charges of harassment. (The geography reveals its own irony: The incident occurred on Tip Top Circle in Lower Frankford Township.)