by Lye Tuck-Po / 19 September 2023
In this blog, my intent was to describe Batek childcare. Except that it's rather boring. My writing of the topic, not the topic itself. While I edit, here are some excerpts:
Bawac has the place of honour in his father’s arms. At one point, ʔeyKaŋkoŋ held the baby and Bawac together on his lap. Bawac tolerated this arrangement for a few minutes but then made physical gestures “suggesting” that three was a crowd. ʔeyKaŋkoŋ handed the baby back to his wife. (Fieldnotes, 13 August 2004)
naʔTaniŋ was engaged in her own “play” (face-painting; hair trimming) while the baby crawled around the lean-to. Her husband got up to go visit other people. From the corner of his eye, the baby espied his father’s movements and made an instant U-turn on all fours.“ʔawɛʔ̃ wants to follow,” said naʔTaniŋ without a pause in what she was doing. ʔeyTaniŋ crouched down, held out his arms, and father and son went off together. (Fieldnotes, April 1996)
Siblings at play, 2016
The early hours of the morning seem to be a time of bonding for fathers and young children. This is the time between sleep and full wakefulness, when children stir long before their mothers are ready to do so. In the cool of the early mornings, warm laps are sought. I have an enduring memory of young ʔeyKapok, himself then barely out of his ‘teens, cuddling his son every morning while they warmed by the fire, quietly answering each of the child’s questions.
Until now (2023), it is common to see young fathers piggybacking their children as they stroll around making work plans with their friends. On treks in the forest, the mother carries the new baby, and the father piggybacks the older one.
Building a house with the youngest one on his back, 2013
A couple on a fishing trip with their child, 2015. The husband has hold of the child while the wife deals with the fish.
Father and children, Kuala Koh, Kelantan, 2016
Everyone will keep an eye out for all children. However, as Karen Endicott (1992:287–288) also observed, people are not always available to care for other people’s children. Because Batek customarily work in the forest as long as they are able, campsites are often deserted during the day and childcare crises do occur.
When we were living at Kuala Yong at the end of my fieldwork,ʔAwɛʔ̃ (aged 18 months) insisted everyday that I sling him up and take him to look at the view from the edge of the bluff or to go visiting other families. As we walked, I would give him a running commentary and point out all the things of interest I saw. Whenever I left them, the adults told me, ʔAwɛʔ̃ would toddle around to the places we had gone together, looking for his missing friend. (Fieldwork recollections, 1997)
The grandparents are generally devoted to the children and they slip easily into the role of caregivers.
Siblings are each other’s most stable companions. Siblings sleep closely together, tumble together, play together, and grow up becoming familiar with each other’s bodies. Mothers often reinforce this fascination by murmuring approvingly “sayɛŋ ʔadɛk” (love [your] younger sibling) when a small child is physically demonstrative with an infant relative. As they grow, little children imitate what siblings do. Sibling ties are expected to endure.
Siblings and a cousin, 1996
When they grow up, siblings will move camp together, feed tidbits to each other’s children first, and aid in secondary childcare. Hence the reason why aunts and uncles are beloved: much of childhood is spent in their care. As naʔTow said in 1993, she consciously taught her children (then going through a quarrelsome period) to love one another because they will be one another’s closest and most dependable friends in adulthood.
Some of the siblings in the photo above in 2010, surrounded by their spouses and children
Children’s links to the wider network are mediated through their parents. Following their parents in the early years of life, the children grow up surrounded by overlapping webs of kin. Those connections afford them access to a familiar set of cohorts and playmates.