The Art of African Ethnic carrying culture in a changing world

25 Feb, 2024 - 00:02 0 Views
The Art of  African Ethnic carrying culture in a changing world Muchaneta Vandira demonstrating baby trapping

The Sunday News

Brian Maregedze

In a fast-changing world, baby carrying on the back has remained alive against all odds. Baby carrying revolutionarised the everyday life in tremendous ways. Multitasking became more possible than ever before. It means ploughing while carrying the baby became possible, doing other chores being another possibility and even taking a break from holding the baby thereby using the back to carry the baby made life easy. This is still true today despite advances in the use of the perambulator (pram) and the strollers. To those who may not have the pram, don’t feel left out. Baby carrying culture still has value and essence. 

Diasporic experiences are used to reflect on baby carrying and recentering caring for babies in this 2023 publication, The Art of African Ethnic Carrying Culture by Muchaneta Malesa Vandira. Recollecting memories while staying in Netherlands, growing up in rural Zimbabwe, Muchaneta accounts for how some individuals upon seeing her using Mbereko (baby sling) indicated signs of surprise to this culture. Muchaneta moved to the Netherlands at the age of 22 and points to a number of cultural shocks including change in diet, power supply, language among others.

Pram- Image taken from Silver Cross Australia

Using, The Art of African Ethnic Carrying Culture to reflect and write African ethnic carrying culture, Muchaneta situates 2008 as a locus of writing her experiences in a home away from home-Netherlands.  More interesting is that Muchaneta takes stock of the societal changes from the early 1990s when she left Zimbabwe and also the changes spanning close to three decades. Collegiality in Zimbabwe of the early 1990s whenever raising children is accounted for in contrast to the western world that Muchaneta found herself. For instance, siblings carrying their siblings, neighbours looking after their neighbours’ children in their absence form a common thread in Zimbabwe’s recent past. This is however, not the case in many parts of the world. Muchaneta vividly points to how she has become a torching bearer of educating young couples to carry their babies on their back using the baby sling. 

On a practical level, it is a method of transport for infants before they are able to walk and reflects an adaptation to the physical environment where prams are not available and also not suitable to the natural terrain. Carrying the infant on her back also enables the mother to be close to her child, ensure its well-being at all times, while being able to have her hands freed to do work. Even when the child is older, the mother will continue with this custom if there is a physical reason, such as a handicap. The Xhosa saying of “the elephant does not complain about his trunk” depicts the acceptance of this task. 

Back-carrying proffer space for bonding; physical closeness, being swaddled and feeling ‘held’, being in-tune with mother’s physical rhythm and generally feeling ‘safe’ in the high position on mother’s body. Put simply, baby carrying provides a ‘secure base’ for the infant, one that is physically and naturally felt.

The Art of African Carrying Culture goes beyond the biases that locate baby carrying as a preserve of only females but demonstrate that even males are equally caring and capable of bonding their offsprings using Mbereko (baby sling). 

With mobility, migration shaping the everyday life of our modern world, young couples from Zimbabwe and beyond find themselves away from their extended families. It is in this context that Muchaneta’s 2023 publication becomes a manual guide to those starting the parenting journey.  Online consultations form part of what Muchaneta is doing to educate young couples to appreciate and welcome the parenting journey with easy.

Muchaneta’s book is refreshing as she delves into the National Archives of Zimbabwe’s pictures, knowledges from the elderly on baby carrying using the baby sling well grounded in indigenous knowledge systems. For young couples, parents, heritage enthusiasts, this book is a must. This book is a treasure, and it is no wonder the baby sling is vital in our everyday parenting journey procured under Mbereko, a company founded by Muchaneta Vandira.

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