20 January 2017

Redefining Headwork in Asia

Carrying on the head is a common practice of human-powered transport in many parts of the world, as an alternative to or in combination with carrying a burden on the back or shoulders. People, especially women, have carried burdens balanced on top of the head since ancient times, usually to do daily work, but sometimes in religious ceremonies or, as a feat of skill, such as in certain dances.

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Carrying and balancing a load on the head is widespread all over Asia. Today, women and men may be seen carrying burdens on top of their heads where there is no less expensive, or more efficient, way of transporting workloads. In India, women carry baskets of bricks and containers with concrete to workmen on construction sites.

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Women in Asia in particular may have practical reasons for carrying on the head, as for many women it is well-suited to the rough, rural terrain and the particular objects they carry - like bundles of firewood on the Indian beaches of the Bay of Bengal.

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Mountain porters, frequently called sherpas in the Himalayas (after the ethnic group most Himalayan porters come from), are an essential part of trekking and mountaineering. A porter's gear is typically simple but effective. A headband aka tumpline runs underneath the load and over the crown of the head, which bears most of the weigh. Tumplines are not intended to be worn over the forehead, but rather the top of the head just back from the hairline, pulling straight down in alignment with the spine. Nepali porters can carry loads weighing more than 100 pounds (c. 45 kg), mile after arduous mile, over steep Himalayan terrain.

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Street portrait photographs of diverse people who balance loads on top of their heads in Matt Hahnewald's

2 comments:

Konni Hahnewald said...

It is extraordinary: women carrying such heavy loads... and such a shame at the same time!

Matt Hahnewald said...

Yes and no, Konni. There is an interesting, yoga-related school of thought about the physiology of head carrying and its positive effects on the spine. Feel free to check out: Heal Your Spine with Head Carrying.