The Zambian baby carrier uses the chitenge extensively for transporting the baby. When the majority of Zambians were babies or toddlers, most were being carried around on their mother’s backs using the chitenge. It is a familiar sight of mothers carrying their babies on their backs and other loads on their heads.
Although the chitenge used for carrying different kinds of loads is still called chitenge, the one used for carrying a baby is known by a different name, its known as “Impapa” or “Inguwo”, in one of the local languages.
It is the most popular method of carrying babies in Zambia. Even Babies themselves know the difference between the chitenge used for carrying them (Impapa or Inguwo), from other chitenges.
The modern Zambian woman uses all types of baby carriers for carrying her baby around, but the chitenge still reigns supreme. It has proved to be a very convenient way of carrying a baby especially when someone is burdened by some other loads.
Women master the art of carrying babies when they’re still young. In this way, they are able to go about with their household chores with their babies wrapped in chitenges on their backs.
There’s a lot of skill involved in carrying a baby using a chitenge. Like when tying on an infant, the mother gives support with one hand while she secures the wrapper with the other.
First, she bends over at the waist and puts the baby on her back. Then she makes sure the baby is balanced. Lastly, she covers the baby with the chitenge and secures the baby by tying the chitenge with a firm knot at the front. The chitenge is tied over the shoulder and knotted in front between the breasts more like a string.
This method of carrying babies is not only restricted to Zambia but to the rest of Africa and some other parts of the world. The only equipment the woman needs is the chitenge or a piece of cloth known as a wrapper. In Mozambique, the piece of clothing is known as a Capulana. In Kenya, some call it Kanga and others call it Pagne.
The chitenge has some advantages of its own compared to the western types of baby carriers. One of them is that mothers are able to keep in touch with her baby’s needs. Like, if the baby is wet or feverish, she will feel it. Also, it enhances the bond between mother and child. From an early age, a baby needs tender care, including close body contact like what the chitenge enables.
The Zambian baby carrier finds the chitenge a more convenient and a less expensive way of carrying a baby. One reason is that it is cheap and can be found in all corners of the country.
Apart from the chitenge being a popular mode of baby carrying, it is also used as a wrap-around skirt by most Zambian women, a purse for carrying money, a bag for groceries, a cushion for carrying loads on her head and as a headgear. The list is endless. So next time you are in Zambia, don’t forget to get yourself one!
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