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Accurate Terminology for Baby Carriers (and why it's important)

"The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore. We don't just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary." -James Nicholl

For the majority of those growing up in the US, Canada, and most of Europe, babywearing is not a terribly ingrained part of our culture. Many of us are the first generation to wear our babies in a very long time (which is why things like TICKS safety rules are so helpful.) That said, while there are some baby carriers whose history is very American/European such as German-style woven wraps, ring slings, and full buckle soft structured carriers, there are several carrying styles that we have borrowed from other cultures who have been wearing their babies for many, many generations. As such, it is a sign of respect to those cultures from whom we are borrowing not to bastardize their language, misrepresent their culture, or water down the meaning of their words. As much as possible, we try to refer to carriers by their true, full names.

This page is under regular construction as we are constantly learning more. The rest of the website is slowly being updated; please forgive us while we make all of these changes, as all work is done on a volunteer basis with a screaming toddler underfoot. If you find a page on our website that needs cultural updates, please let us know in our Facebook group!

Rebozo

What a rebozo is: a rectangular garment, typically worn by women, and native to Mesoamerican culture. Rebozos are handwoven and have a lot of significance to Mesoamerian culture. One of their purposes is to carry a small child, but it is not their only purpose.

What a rebozo ISN'T: a short woven wrap, a tablecloth shorty, a specific type of carry, or a specific type of wrap pass. Shorty wraps are just that: shorty wraps. The carry reminiscent to the way a rebozo would be used to carry a baby is called a Traditional Sling Carry. The similar pass used in multi-pass carries is referred to as a sling pass. As such, some woven wrap carries have had their names changed to reflect this. (Double Rebozo Shoulder to Shoulder, DRS2S, is now called Double Sling Shoulder to Shoulder, DSS2S, for example.) While the Mesoamerican Rebozo initially inspired the current German-style woven wraps, the two are not the same and the terms are not interchangeable.

For more information: A Statement on Rebozos from Babywearing International

Kanga

Africa has one of the oldest traditions of babywearing. It is so ingrained in their culture that it is not something that is really discussed, the way Westerners refer to "babywearing" and "babywearers." That would be like us talking about moms who "stroller" or "carseating moms." It's just normal for us, just like babywearing is for them.

Most African cultures utilize a low back torso carry for their babies. The most readily recognized term for the cloth used for this purpose is a Kanga, a rectangular garment used by women of the Africa Great Lakes region, such as Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda. It typically has a contrasting border and a quote in the center.

There are several names for the fabric used to carry a baby in Africa depending on the area, though. The kanga originated from the "leso" which was essential 6 handkerchiefs pieced together 2x3. The Yoruba women use two pieces of fabric, a large "iro" and then a sash-like "oja."

That is all to say that the Kanga is more than just a short, wide piece of cloth. A short woven wrap used for torso carries is not a a kanga. A peshtemal or towel used for torso carries is not a kanga. A torso carry with tucks is not a "kanga carry."

Meh Dai/Bei Dai

A meh dai (Cantonese, pronounced "meh dye") or bei dai (Mandarin, pronounced "bay dye") is a carrier native to China. The meh dai we know in the western world consists of a rectangular body panel, two horizontal waist straps at the bottom, and two angled shoulder straps. While some Chinese mei tais reflect this design as well, some have all straps horizontal and worn around the body like belts, and some related carriers like the Hmong "Nyia" lack the waist strap entirely and are worn more like the Korean Podaegi.

When meh dais first gained popularity in Western culture, they were referred to simply as "Asian-Style Baby Carriers" or ABCs; however, the term "Mei Tai" was later used in order to properly give credit to the culture from which we were borrowing from. Unfortunately, "mei tai" was not an accurate transcription of the word's original pronunciation, and so we now use either "meh dai" or "bei dai" to more properly represent the carrier's source.

That said, a meh dai is a meh dai, and the name should not be butchered and pieced apart (such as referring to a "wrap-tai" - the correct term is a wrap-strap meh dai.)

For more information, click here.

Onbuhimo

The Onbuhimo is the traditional Japanese baby carrier. The term "onbu" means "on the back" and "himo" refers to a long, flat strap. Some babies were carried using a kimono, with the baby simply tucked into the back of the garment and held up by the "obi" belt of the kimono. The Onbuhimo was a carrier with straps on the top and loops (or modern, rings) on the bottom.

Modern variations include "reverse onbuhimos" (with double rings on the top and the straps on the bottom) or "full buckle onbuhimos" that have backpack-like buckle straps.

"Onbu" is appropriate to refer to "carrying on one's back" but is not an accurate or appropraite shorthand for the actual carrier. The word should not be further chopped as a modifier. For example, a full buckle onbuhimo should not be referred to as a "buckle-bu." A reverse onbuhimo should be referred to as such, not as a "reverse onbu" or "ruck-bu."

For more information, click here.

Podaegi

A podaegi (poh-deh-gee, with a hard G sound) is a traditional Korean carrier, made up of a wide blanket (much wider than most standard baby carrier body panels; the blanket typically wraps around both wearer and wearee) and two horizontal straps along the top, horizontal to the ground.

A "narrow blanket podaegi," whose blanket width is much more consistent with most Western-style baby carriers, is based more on the Hmong Nyia and should be referred to as such.

A podaegi should be referred to as such, and the language should not be chopped, such as referring to the carrier as a "pod."

For more information, click here.

Other Examples

There are many examples of traditional baby carriers that have great history to specific cultures. The Peruvian Manta, the Inuit Amauti, the Indonesian Selendang, the Welsh Siol Fagu.

These are all fantastic pieces of cultures that can be adapted to our own child-rearing. The important part is to remember where these traditions originated, and to try to properly represent the original culture and language and not butcher or bastardize their language.

Related: The Didymos Prima

For the sake of education, the Didymos Prima will also be included on this page, although it is not a traditional carrier of any particular culture. The original name of the Didymos Prima was the "Didymos Indio," which was one of the first of the modern German-style woven wraps on the market. The problem is that "Indio" (unbeknownst to the founder) actually has a deep negative connotation within Mesoamerican culture and is used as a racial slur. Recently, Didymos has addressed the issue and renamed their original wrap as the "Didymos Prima." As such, the wrap should always be referred to by the new name.

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Topic revision: r5 - 2017-05-08 - AlyssaLeonard
 
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