Thursday, April 26, 2012

The World Wrapped Up

We have a beautiful collection of slings in our library - stretchy wraps, woven wraps, mei tais, ring slings and soft structured carriers. All wonderful modern slings in organic cottons, silks, wool, gauze and linens, some with prints, some with embroidery. Modern slings are a joy - an amazing parenting tool and, let's face it, a gorgeous accessory too.

But all our twenty-first century slings are based on the ancient traditional baby slings from around the world; slings that have been the workhorses of generations of women for thousands of years.

It's easy to take for granted the carriers that we use today to hold our children as we tend to the washing, food gathering (OK, shopping) and cooking. We often forget that modern babywearing is also a way to honour our sisters (and brothers) down the generations.

Every time we reach for the limited edition wrap, or pull on a silk ring sling for a special occasion, we are keeping alive the traditions of our babywearing forebears around the world.

Here's a round-up of where our modern slings had their origins, with some history, photos and information.

The wrap, and its cousin, the stretchy wrap, are based on the simple pieces of cloth, such as the kanga, used throughout much of Africa
or the fudha, its North African relative.

The mei tai, and by extension its modernised sibling, the soft structured carrier, are a western take on mei tai carriers from China.

The podaegi is a traditional Korean sling. It is related to the mei tai by having a fabric body with straps. But the podaegi has only two straps, and a body - the blanket - which is much bigger than the mei tai It ties in a different way, and has a completely different feel when worn.

Most modern podaegi are narrow-blanket podaegis, made for comfort, ease and style. The traditional ones were quilted, with wide blankets that wrapped around mother and baby for warmth.
Podaegis are supremely comfortable for toddler-carrying - one of the best-kept secrets of the babywearing world!

The ring sling is based on traditional rebozos from South America.
The rebozo has been used traditionally to help in labour, and to "turn" babies in utero.

A similar one-shouldered carrier is the Indonesian Selendang.

There are, of course, myriad other slings from around the world. Here in the UK, Welsh Shawls were used to carry babies, until the pram bulldozed its way into monopoly. Some, however, still keep the tradition alive: and if you're interested in a referenced, comprehensive cultural history of carrying babies around the world, there's a wealth of information here.

Each time you lean down to kiss your baby's head while pegging out the washing, or sing to your snugly-slung baby while you take a broom to the floor, you're taking your part in the long history of global babywearing. Happy carrying!

Do you know of any other traditional slings? Were you carried in one? Let us know on our Facebook page.