Sunday, December 4, 2011

How do thay do that

One of the visuals I see every day that has fascinated me since we arrived here is the elegant way a person can move about while carrying things atop their head.  Those "things" which I've seen - being anything from melons, potatoes, and onions to sacks of unidentified items - resting directly on the head,  inside a bucket or on a tray of sorts nestled ever so magically on a little cloth wrap. You name it and they can carry it!  I poked around the web and found an interesting article I've included at the end.

This woman receives more than extra credit - not only has she got the items atop her head. She's carrying her baby in front **AND** if you look closely she has another baby wrapped up on her back just above her waist. Now that's incredible!

(from SLATE online)

Head Case

The art and science of carrying things on your head.

As floodwaters continue to ravage Pakistan, photographers have documented the devastation in harrowing detail. As in most coverage of Third World disasters and the developing world, a number of images show people carrying heavy stuff on their heads with relative ease. Would we all be better off carrying bulky packages on our heads?
Only if we're ready to invest years of practice. With most load-bearing methods, the heavier the weight, the more energy you need to burn to carry it. Not so with head porterage. Based on studies of women of the Luo and Kikuyu tribes of East Africa, researchers have found that people can carry loads of up to 20% of their own body weight without expending any extra energy beyond what they'd use by walking around unencumbered. Above that figure, however, metabolic costs seem to increase proportionally with load weight. But don't start stacking groceries on your head just yet. The subjects in these studies began head-loading as children and had developed a peculiar gait that's one-third more efficient than the one we're likely to use.

For untrained controls who have not had years to strengthen the right muscles and build up spinal bone density, carrying things on your head actually requires more energy than using a backpack. And although the Luo and Kikuyu women did not have a significant incidence of musculoskeletal injuries, apart from permanently grooved skulls, other populations of head loaders have reported severe neck pain and generally prefer the stability and freedom of movement that back-loading affords. According to one study, many Xhosa women in South Africa employ head-loading because it happens to be well-suited to the rough, rural terrain and the particular objects they carry—like buckets of water and bundles of firewood. When they move to more urbanized areas, they ditch the practice. (The women also believed that head-loading was less socially acceptable in the city.) On the other hand, in Ghana, young females from the depressed rural north flock to big cities to labor as head porters, or kayayo, carrying absurdly large loads on their heads for as little as $2 a day.

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