The use of infant carriers wasn’t a novel concept in North America in the 20th century but it had a stigma of poverty or transience attached to their use in the West since the European Middle Ages. The post-war (WWII) Baby Boom seems to be the impetus for changing attitudes about infant carriers over the following half-century. Patents for infant carrying devices were filed in quick succession after WWII ended. Even though traditional infant carriers were known of and in use, North American parents wanted innovated forms made of new materials for their modern lifestyles. Yet even then, many people were suspicious of use infant carriers and the implications for the relationship between parent and child.
In 2004, Alma Gottlieb published a unique ethnography on the babies of the Beng people in Côte d’Ivoire. The majority of ethnographies focus on the culture of adults or verbal children. Babies, if considered at all, are described in the context of their relationships to adults and older children. Gottlieb’s work focus on infants as the subject in The Afterlife is Where We Come From: The Culture of Infancy in West Africa. I hope that her work inspires more ethnographic research into the cultures of infancy around the world. For me at least, the subject is endlessly fascinating. I recommend the book to everyone interested in anthropology, parenting, or infants.
In Indonesia, the Luwu people of South Sulawesi wrap the newborn and the placenta (known in the west as a lotus birth) together in a sarrong. The placenta is referred to as the newborn’s “older sibling”. When the placenta is ready to separate from the infant, the father carries the older sibling out of the house, in a sling (just like a baby) and buries it near a tree.
In East Nusa, Tenggara Province, sarrongs are also used as baby carriers, in East Flores they are referred to as wėngko molė , or “making the blanket”– wėngko refers to the placenta. Infant carriers are considered an artificial womb, a substitute placenta for the baby.