At BWI Austin, we stand firm in our belief that ALL babywearing is good babywearing. We see the simple beauty of using the carriers and carries of our ancestors. It was through BWI that I learned how to use the carrier of MY personal ancestors, the rebozo. I also learned the “tucked rebozo.” My mother and grandmother didn’t teach me this, I learned it from our lead Educator and ABE, Leigh.
Leigh is a treasure to our organization. An adopted child, they always had an appreciation for other cultures. Before they even wore their own children, they educated their self and tirelessly learned the various traditional carries of other cultures. They are also a scheduled speaker on this very topic at our Texas Babywearing Leaders Retreat. Today they share some of their favorite resources and some of their favorite traditional carriers. Take it away, Leigh:
Traditional carries have been a long time passion of mine, Selendag, Kanga, Rebozo, Manta, and SPOC make up the majority of my stash. I love the simplicity and ease, no acronyms, no fancy tie offs, no saltwater anything, just a baby snuggled up close and occasionally a good square knot. I was familiar with most of these carries long before I learned how to double hammock, and still find them more comfortable than most elaborate wrapping variations.
When I have the opportunity to teach someone new how to wear a baby, I hope that it is a skill that they will one day choose to teach their future generation, something that will help us breathe fresh life into our dwindling family culture. I love these videos, women showing the world the basic skills that were taught to them as children, by their mothers, fathers, grandmothers, and aunts, skills that have made life with small children just a little bit easier throughout history. Even though most of these carries don’t follow the usual rules of modern carries, they can all be done safely. Practice with a doll if you are uncertain, and please follow these guidelines of keeping baby safe.
Tucked Indonesian cradle carry using a Selendag
Cradle carries are not something we teach regularly, but this one in particular is really comfortable with an older baby or toddler in a more upright seated position, and great for nursing a smaller baby. Instead of rings or a slip knot, the long end is tucked twice under the tail, just behind the shoulder blade, locking down the carry and allowing for rail adjustment to be done similar to a slip knot rebozo. This carry is surprisingly fast and easy to do, and could easily be adjusted to carry infant in an upright position.
Selendag measure about 2.5m long and close to 1m in width, made of thin cotton with batik dyed patterns.
Guatemalan back carry with triangle folded shawl
For this carry a triangle shawl is placed across the child’s back, the tails are brought around to the front and tied at the neck, with one tail over the shoulder and one tail under. It looks uncomfortable in the video, but with minor adjustments to the knot and shoulder, it is easily as comfortable as most multi- pass wrap carries. I found that the tail of the triangle easily tucked under to form a seat, but isn’t entirely necessary with a larger child that is used to being worn.
These seem to be about 50in/1.27m square, and mostly handwoven out of 100% cotton.
African Kanga carry, using a towel
This is hands down my favorite back carry. The idea of a tucked, no-knot carry can be difficult to grasp, but physics make this carry not only possible, but incredibly easy and comfortable. The baby sits low on the back, where their legs can easily wrap around the smallest part of the waist, and their weight is evenly distributed across the hips and butt of the wearer. Depending on region this carry varies, in Kenya it is usually knotted at the chest. This carry works great with throw blankets and beach towels.
Kikoy fabric is usually 1.5m long with 5cm of fringe on each end, and almost 1m wide, they are traditionally thin cotton with lengthwise stripping and a few vertical stripes on the ends. They have been mostly sold as Men’s clothing.
Tucked Mexican Rebozo
This carry utilizes the magic of physics again, by being a tucked carry, it is fast, convenient and uses minimal fabric.
Rebozos have been used as shawls for at least the last 600yrs, they worked as sun shade in hot climates, and a wrap in cooler areas, they were used to carry heavy objects and small children, and have been a point of pride for many generations. Early rebozos were cotton or wool, today silk, acrylic and rayon are also popular blends. The shawl is usually 1.5m long, with 20-40cm of intricate hand knotted fringe, and around 60cm wide, but this varies by region. Colors and patterns are regional as well, on the US market it is easiest to find rayon, but they tend to be too slippery to use for wearing babies. Occasionally antique and resale shops will have handwoven cotton rebozos listed as table runners, save the rebozos and buy them all!
Fabric is folded into a triangle, the baby is placed centered on the cloth, the pointed ends come up between the legs, the long ends of the triangle are wrapped across the baby. The baby is put on the back by lowering them down over the shoulder and then pulling the long tails out from between the baby, both long tails are brought over the shoulder and tied at the neck. This carry has a nice seat built in, and is surprisingly comfortable.
Mantas are usually cotton and around 1m square, sometimes larger, a small woven cotton tablecloth works great as a substitute.
Siol Fagu, Welsh Nursing Shawl
This carry works very similarly to the tucked rebozo, the shawl is folded into a triangle and draped over the shoulders. The baby is usually placed high and off center the first tail is wrapped high around baby’s back, tucked across their stomach, sandwiching the tail between the wearer and the baby. The second tail is brought down below the arm, across baby’s butt, creating a seat, and brought across their stomach again to also be sandwiched between the two.
Siol Fagu are typically 1.65m square and have on average 30cm of hand twisted fringe on all four sides. They are almost always fulled wool, and currently only produced by individuals, or one small scale company, Melin Teifi, working with antique machinery. These were worn by women of all economic groups as a shawl, and by industrial and farming women as a way to secure baby in order to get back to work.
Honduran high back cradle carry
Instead of the curved spine position usually seen with cradle carries this one is more seated with legs together across the wearers back. Starting with a rectangle of cloth the child is laid in it lengthwise and centered, the fabric is pulled up on both sides and then the ends are used to swing child onto the back. The head side tail is brought over the shoulder and the foot end tail is brought below the arm and they are tied in the center of the chest. This carry is amazing for napping toddlers, and much more comfortable than expected, with no worry about their head flopping or fighting a sleeping hood.
The cloth used in the video seems to be similar in size to a Selendag, 2.5m long and 1m wide. Similar carries to this are also found using Peruvian manta.