Lifelines: The Black Book of Proverbs

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Baby slings ancient and modern

Creation: Spring & Easter
A child who is carried on the back won't know how far the journey is. (Nigeria)

When I lived in Ghana, I carried my babies on my back like other mothers around me. Women in many cultures invented this method before the current “baby wearing” trend.

I had twin babies, and when the pressure was on, I would have one baby secure on my back, and the other in my arms. Or I would carry one till he slept, and then put the other one to sleep in the same way.

I can’t remember my babies crying when they were close to me on my back. They could perhaps feel as cushioned and connected as when they were in the womb, moving around with me, feeling my emotions, hearing my heartbeat, and listening to me speak. In addition, they could watch people’s faces, and generally view the world from just below my shoulders. What suited me best about this method was knowing staying close to my baby while having my hands free.

Strapping on my baby was a skill I had to learn. I would lift my baby onto my back, with his feet on either side of my midriff. Then I would balance him on his stomach, bending so I would be just about parallel to the ground. Now I would briskly pull a large piece of cloth over the baby on my back, bringing the two ends tightly across my breasts. I would secure my baby by knotting the ends of the cloth, or tucking them in so tightly they would be unlikely to come undone. Then I would tuck the other side of the cloth under my baby’s bottom, and bring both sides around so I could knot the cloth just above my waist. Then I would stand, with my baby pressed to my back, his head, arms, and legs free. If one set of knots or tucks loosened, the other set would keep my baby in place till I could adjust the cloth. Little girls manage to keep babies firmly on their backs, but curves help a lot in keeping the baby secure.

A woman called Ann More has contributed to the current popularity of the “baby slings” that even celebrities are wearing these days. Despite her protests, she is termed the “inventor” of this way of carrying a baby.

Moore was a Peace Corps volunteer in Togo when she noticed the bonding between mothers and babies carried on the back. She returned to the US and wanted the same closeness when she had a daughter whom she named Mandela. Her attempts to secure her daughter on her back did not work well, as the baby kept slipping. So Moore and her mother designed a baby carrier that was similar to those Moore saw in Togo. Baby Mandela, on her mother’s back, took part in the march from Selma to Montgomery with Martin Luther King Jr.

Encouraged by people’s admiration for the baby carrier, Moore patented the idea in 1969. She and her husband formed a company to introduce the Snugli sling to the US market. Today, these slings are made of all kinds of styles and materials, with or without hoods, designed to be worn on the chest or on the back. Even men now wear baby slings.

And women of Africa, Asia, and original communities of the Americas continue to wear their babies on their backs as they have done over centuries of multi-tasking as hard-working mothers.

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When the occasion arises, there is a proverb to suit it. (Proverb from Rwanda and Burundi)

Welcome to this space where we can talk about proverbs that we can relate to (or not), and proverbs that make sense to us (or not). Most of all we can discuss how proverbs make us think about life and living. We can also share experiences of proverbs that have provided us with lifelines or just the chance to reflect.

Some of the proverbs here may also be found in "Lifelines: The Black Book of Proverbs", published by Random House and authored by Askhari Johnson Hodari and me. The foreword is written by Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

One of the unique features of our book is that we arranged the proverbs according to life cycle, in sections including, Birth, Childhood, Love, Marriage, and Intimacy, Challenge, and Death.

For more proverbs and for information on Lifelines: the Black Book of Proverbs, please visit us at