Baby carrier

Kayan mothers fasten stable wooden carriers on their backs to hold and protect their babies. As a woman moves, the ornaments on the carrier rattle to repel evil away from her child. Observe the carving on the spine. The Kayan believe infants’ souls are vulnerable until age two, the point at which souls attach securely to the body.


Collection Connections 

  • Baby Carrier

    Baby Carrier

    Africa: West Africa, Mali

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  • Baby Carrier

    Baby Carrier

    Asia: South East Asia, Indonesia, Borneo

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  • Baby Carrier

    Baby Carrier

    Asia: East Asia, China, Southern China, Guizhou Province

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What do the baby carrier’s protective elements tell us about other Kayan culture and beliefs?

responded: Jan 29, 2012

Posted by Colleen Walker

148
Recommend this Response
Native cultures are often misunderstood by the general population. At face value, these cultures were often thought to be unintelligent and primitive savages, and therefore lesser human beings. This piece of material culture shows us that the Kayan Culture (and probably other native communities) were not as barbaric as they seemed. There are three key things about this Kayan baby carrier that help to disprove the myth about native cultures: when it was made, its design(technology), and its ornamentation. Baby carriers in native cultures were usually made by the mother during her pregnancy. This demonstrates a level of preparation for the baby's arrival. This is much like modern day preparations such as: buying clothing and preparing a nursery for the baby. When we picture the mother sewing and constructing this carrier for her baby, we are more likely to see natives as human beings with the ability to prepare and care for their young, just as we do. The ornamentation on the baby carrier is an example of the unsavage-like care that these people gave to their children, as well as the lengths they would go to to protect them. in the end, this baby carrier is a way to protect the baby on all fronts. The baby is not only protected physically by the contraption, but also spiritually by its ornate design. The Kayans in particular believed that the rattling of the ornaments warded away bad spirits. The design of the baby carrier demonstrates intelligence and resourcefulness. They knew that having the baby in an upright position and close to the mother's body was the optimal position for health and comfort. By using wood, they knew it would provide stability and ensure that the baby stays in an upright position. This one piece of material culture from the Kayans demonstrates to us their ability to prepare, care and think intelligently and with the safety of their young ones in mind. It makes us realize that as a culture, they were not so unlike us and that they did many of the same things to prepare and care for a baby that we do now, disproving the myth that all natives were savages.

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