Flower of Maryam brings life to District Six

A dry Anastatia flower, also referred to as the flower of Maryam or hand of Fatima was used by midwives and women in District Six throughout the years to monitor when a women in labour is fully dilated.

Former District Six residents and staff of the Peninsula Maternity Hospital gathered outside the hospital on Thursday September 14 to observe the installation of a flower of Maryam – also referred to as the hand of Fatima – made from metal, and plant flower seeds ahead of the completion of the new community health centre.

The metal flower, on the side of the building, represents the dried flower of Maryam, whose scientific name is Anastasia, which comes from Mecca and was used by many women in the District Six area to indicate when a women in labour was ready to start delivering her baby.

Midwives at the time would place the dried flower in lukewarm water and it would slowly open up and bloom.

“The Peninsula Maternity Hospital gave life to many. The flower of Fatima, Maryam or Jericho has a Biblical attachment. It is also called the hand of Fatima or Maryam. It was used by traditional midwives many years ago and in District Six. The midwife puts the flower into water next to the labouring woman. As the cervix softens and opens, the flower gently dilates too.

“When the flower is fully dilated, she’s ready to push. I was witness to this when my sister went into labour and then rushed to the Peninsula Maternity to give birth,” said project co-ordinator Jasmina Salie.

The installation of the flower is part of a five-part project.

The project was funded by the departments of Health and Public Works as part of the building restoration which will see the Woodstock Hospital and Robbie Nurock clinic amalgamate to form the District Six Health Facility, due to open later this year.

The project hopes to highlight the spirit of District Six and the pivotal role the hospital and mid-wives played in the lives of those in the area.

As residents recalled the use of the flower, Marina Brinkhuis who started at the hospital in 1968, said she first encountered the flower when she did a home delivery in the area.

“When I did a home birth, I saw the dry flower in a bowl of water. The mother came to me and said when the flower is open the child will be born and I was in disbelief because it looked like a dry twig. Low and behold, when the child was born, the flower was open.

“I haven’t seen it for years, but it’s appropriate to put it on here, especially with Heritage Day (being marked on September 24),” said Ms Brinkhuis.

Saadia Kamish who grew up in District Six said when she went to Mecca 29 years ago, she brought a flower back home to Cape Town.

She tested the flower in water but it didn’t open up so she kept it wrapped in tissue paper and only thought about it years later.

“They spoke about it at the hospital and I told them that I have one at home. I looked around for it and found it still wrapped in tissue paper. I put it in water and it opened. I told my son and he said that Nadia (my daughter-in-law) would be having a baby in a few weeks. I was so chuffed and I couldn’t believe it,” said Ms Kamish.