A magazine for Africans and friends of Africa...Our Voices, Our Vision, Our Culture

Carrying My Baby African Style
By Bola Ansa
You saw me today at the zoo with my baby girl strapped snugly on my back and you were so fascinated by the concept that you stopped me and questioned me at length. You just stared and marveled. The baby looked so happy, so content, so peaceful, and so secure. How could that be?

And I looked so comfortable too, walking so freely with a 20-pound baby on my back. My hands were free to so whatever I pleased, plus it was so easy on my back. I was constantly moving, so the baby was lulled to sleep by the movement. She could not see my face, but she could hear my voice and feel my body. She knew who was carrying her, and there was not a peep out of her for the three or so hours we spent at the zoo. I only flipped her deftly off my back to nurse briefly, and then back on the back she went!

You wanted to know how it was done. You had tried it, at home, you said and it didn't work. It was awkward; it was uncomfortable for both you and your son. You just did not get it right! You would love to be able to have this peaceful situation as you cook and do some light housework, so you can keep him with you if he frets. I tried explain with words how it is done, but really, I did not learn it that way either. Passed down by generations of African women who had to do it that way to keep their babies with them as they worked on the farm, traded in the market place or did their chores, it is a method I never had formal lessons in learning to do it. One may need a little help with one's first born but only because the baby is so tiny you don't want to fling him unaided on your back. After that it just came naturally. Instinctively, yes, but probably more from observing.

What kind of fabric should you use? You asked. Well, traditionally we (Yoruba women) wear buba and iro, usually a cotton top with coordinating wrapper. My wrapper is a pretty two-meter length of cotton that cost me about ! The wrapper is used to wrap the baby who is then further secured with a sash (oja). The oja is often very ornate and very sturdy. I crocheted myself a sober grey one and it works very well!

We chatted about how weird it looked to the average westerner, to see me going about with a baby strapped on my back and how I deal with the stares and the questions. I told you a woman carrying her baby in front where I come from would look pretentious and silly. What, no free hands? How would she bend over, sweep the floor, do the dishes, cook, clean with the baby in front! But it is really just a cultural difference. I loved carrying my baby in front also until my back gave way.

What more can I tell you?

The method is perfect in all kinds of weather. In warm weather, she remains surprisingly cool, and I can add some shade by carrying and umbrella to shield her from the sun. In cold weather, she is snugly warm with body heat.

I think it is the perfect way to carry a baby!