Wednesday, November 17, 2010


Photograph by Laurent Rappa. See more of Laurent's beautiful photographs, here.

In Africa it is not uncommon to see people, especially women, carrying heavy loads on their heads and they seem to do it with relative ease. I have seen a slim woman eating fruit and talking on the cell phone, whilst carrying a baby on her back at the same time as balancing a huge basket of groceries on her head. She walked serenely with the most beautiful posture.
As children we tried to carry boxes filled with groceries on our heads but we were ungainly and most times unsuccessful at keeping the load steady for longer than a few seconds.There's deffinitely a nack to it and I think one develops muscles to do this succesfully.

"I wish I could carry bananas on my head" by Blaseur. Flickr photostream here.

Over the years we have seen people carrying everything from one small object such as a tub of margarine to large household objects such as cupboards, beds, refridgerators .... and the kitchen sink.

Photo from blog here.

Sewing machines and bolts of fabric....

Photograph by Laurent Rappa. Flickr photostream here.


Wood Carrier. Photograph by Martin Harvey. Link here.

Containers of water and laundry.....

See article by Andrew Harding, here.

20 Chickens .....

Photograph by Kassi Cowles. Blog here.


Photo by Laurent Rappa. See more here.

"This is a typical street scene. Men and women carry loads on their head all the time because it's way easier to do than carry it with your hands... the weight is spread out more evenly. I like this picture because while it looks like she is a '"traditional african woman" carrying things on her head wearing her traditional fabric, she is walking around Dakar which is a very modern city with paved roads and a Sharp Electronics billboard in the background." Ashleigh's Gallery , here.

A woman carries a whole cows head away from the market in Lagos. Story here.

"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 percent of their own body weight without expending any extra energy beyond what they'd use by walking around unencumbered" - Jessica Dweck


  1. ..don't think I could do it gracefully :-(

    ...but I wouldn't mind trying for that pile of fabrics :-)))

  2. A wonderful collection of photographs.

  3. Fantastic post Robyn, not only are the photos an feats amazing, your layout is incredible. The sewing machine to your own carving, wonderful!

  4. naice blog!!
    luv ur wrk!!

  5. Oh what a surprise at the end, simply marvelous! xox Corrine

  6. love them all but yours is the best! terrific post! lyle

  7. What a wonderful tribute to these strong graceful people. I have always been amazed by this ability. I can remember trying to walk through the house with a book on my head to help with my posture. Couldn't do that very well. I probably couldn't do it at all now.

  8. ah, robyn, the last photo is my favorite... : ) xoxo

  9. African women seem to have a different centre of gravity from us - they have such beauty and elegance and their superb posture makes me feel ashamed of my slouch.

  10. Your totem at the end was like a magical visual denouement Robyn! This post made we very nostalgic - my sister and I too played at carrying things on our heads but we never did master it. Their is something so beautifully undulatingly graceful about the way African women walk with these load - lovely!

  11. So great to see these photos. I saw some young women in Burma carrying buckets of rocks on their heads, loading and unloading them to a pile and they looked as graceful as models.
    And I love your rendering in sculpture too!
    xoxo Kim

  12. agreeing with lynne your carving! you and all those other strong women brighten the earth.

  13. Look at that gorgeous fabric! Loved this post--it struck a chord as I always used to marvel at women in the Caribbean gracefully carrying things on their heads. I certainly hope they are still doing this there, what an art! I like how you have interpreted these strong women in your sculpture.

  14. a simple matter of
    stacking one centre of gravity
    over another
    perhaps not quite so simple
    i have a sewing machine like that
    inherited from my grandmother
    i use it frequently
    i don't carry it about on my head

  15. Such an interesting theme! Lovely photographs - I know I will go back to see them from time to time! What is my impression of Afrika now? A variety of colours, smiles, beautiful people and the feeling of freedom... I like very much Laurent Rappe's portraits!
    What about wearing loads on one's head - I don't know the roots of this habit, but we'll be ridiculous if we try to do something of the kind! It's not "in our blood". Still, I remember that when I was a child I had tried to keep a book on my head, while walking. Those African women look so gracious, as if they have nothing on their heads! By the way I noticed scissors in the sewing machine - obviously there's not a risk of loosing them!:)
    You wooden figure is so touching! I like the content of the box!!!!!

  16. What a lovely lead up to the last photo.

  17. this was fascinating. i try to carry things on my head too while walking instead of driving and aside from everyone looking at me like i'm a freak, IT HURTS MY HEAD.
    maybe they flatten the plates in their skull as it is still soft when young.
    i love that your totem has something on its head :)

  18. adore your parting comment, work! awesome!

  19. Wow, great post....I lovely photographic are fantastic.

  20. I had no idea that so many things,and so heavy, could be carried on ones' head! These pictures have a surreal quality to me because of how unlikely it looks ( to me!). These women make it look so effortless. Your work is wonderful to see...inventive and stylish. Thanks again for these visual treats!


  22. Amazing photos Robyn! Thanks for sharing some of the culture in your part of the world...I just smiled when I looked at each photo! Ahhhh, but the little surprise at the end is my favorite too!

  23. Love your carving at the end of the post!! I would have trouble carrying that sewing machine "normally"- the cow head is a bit yucky(and really heavy)!! But overall - amazing!!!

  24. such an intriguing post and what a delightful surprise at the your style! I am amazed at the ability of these folks...most of the items carried don't have evenly distributed the sewing machine..and the difficult would that be?

  25. Amazing! I've always wondered how they do that... Do they give lessons? Just think how cool I'd look walking around at school with my computer on my head! The photos are wonderful,especially the last one!

  26. I have a lot of family in Guatemala, and the indigenous women there carry huge things on their heads too! And always with grace and no extra effort. It's quite amazing.

  27. I loved learning about the amount one can carry without expending any more effort than walking...amazing. Your totem at the end was a beautiful, whimsical surprise.

  28. Chris, I mastered the empty box but not one filled with groceries.

    Thanks Jill.

    Katherine, thanks so much. There was a time when we saw many old Singer sewing machines being used outside trading stores. I know progress is good but I do miss seeing them.

    Thanks Aarti.

    Corrine, glad you enjoyed the surprise :-)

    Lisa at Greenbow, it is a little easier with a coil of fabric placed on the head first.

    Lyle, thank you. I have been thinking about you.

    Lynne, thank you :-)

    Weaver, I'm wondering if the good posture comes from this practice. Remember the teacher putting a book on our heads to improve posture.

    Kendalee, when we lived on the farm we would often give the wives of the induna a lift to town and back and they would sometimes travel the whole journey with a tiny packet of flour or packet of crisps on the head.

    Kim, I should imagine you saw similar things in 3rd world countries all over the world.

  29. Neva, thank you so much!

    Collage Whirl, the fabric is particularly beautiful. we have Shweshwe fabric here in South Africa which is my favourite.

    Thanks Bicocacolors.

    India, you won't believe it but I did think of your grandmothers sewing machine when I posted this photo. Her story has stayed with me since the day you posted it.

    Thanks Rossichka, I'm glad you noticed the scissors!

    Penny, hope that knee is not being too much of a bother!

    Paula, I would love to catch you walking down the road with something on your head. Try a coiled cloth on your head first :-)

    Thanks Cat.

    Diana, glad you enjoyed the journey.

    Lrc, you would be surprised at some of the things we see. All adding to the wonderful flavour of life in Africa.

    Raquel, thank you!

    Cynthia, the top photo especially made me smile, though the 20 chickens were pretty amazing too.

    Pat Oogleboops...we have a few Pats here), yes the cowhead makes me squeamish too.

    Lisa, we saw a rusty old car door balanced on someones head at the scrapyard this morning.

    Thanks Sharmon, I did have a few lessons as a child but I think it takes a lot of practice ... and necessity.

    Bridgette, the grace with which they carry heavy things is what amazes me too.

    Hazel, glad you liked the surprise :-)

  30. Coming here is like opening a precious book! Stunning photos, particularly your interpretation.

    Love Brigette G M, too, from below.

  31. Robyn...another fascinating post, beautifully presented! What more can I say....such grace and ease and your work at the end, the perfect punctuation. Many thanks for all you give back to the world!

  32. Wow...amazing photos and your sculpture is lovely too Robyn...just stunning images!

  33. Such elegance in a work a day world.

    Your sculpture is gorgeous too.

  34. Blessed with Grace and Strength.
    Wonderful photo.
    I also like your piece at the end.
    Take care.

  35. I like your interpretation Robyn. Beautiful arrangement of objects. So you!

  36. Robyn,

    I remember a friend of mine who lived in the Ivory Coast showing me her photographs of women carrying their clay pots on their heads. I was so amazed and wished I could do likewise. That was 30 years ago--I am glad that this tradition carries on!

  37. Fabulous post, Robyn! The photo of your carving/sculpture/assemblage is stunning. Thank you!!

  38. An intriguing journal on a necessary chore...

    your sculpture as the last image is simply charmed

  39. I must try transporting my stone blocks this way :D
    Have a lovely weekend Robyn!

  40. All so beautiful, ahhhh, but the last is exquisite... roxanne

  41. Such graceful burden bearers...better than the American shlep...another intriguing post, Robyn. You amaze me!

  42. Fantastic post...oh to be so graceful.

    Your carving at the end of the post made me smile.

    Jacky xox

  43. Growing up I had a paper route and I would carry the bundle of newspapers on top of my head - the paper thought it was so cool they published a photo of me doing it. I still have the clipping.

  44. that's an interesting fact you finished with and I'm intrigued by your sculpture. Is that a permanent fixture on her head? Are you thinking of doing a series like this?

  45. Super post! Love those chickens! Your carrving is super - love that background too!

  46. Robyn

    How did u know. I always balance a pineapple on my head. Wink wink.

    Have known some lovely Somalians. So elegant.

    Sitting by fire. Sipping a good drink. Wishing a great blogger a happy Thanksgiving wish. Thank you for many thoughts.



  47. Amazing how different cultures adapt and adjust to their circumstances- they don't have cars, wheel barrows, hand carts, or apparently a husband to carry the heavy stuff for them :-)
    such beautiful colorful photographs of women- and your sculpture fits in with the beauty.

  48. dear Robyn...this post brings back so many many memories of the Africa in my heart and soul. I remember these women of my childhood all too well. And I also remember them carrying babies on their back. We had a nanny/maid who was from Basutu Land and she would carry me everywhere on her back...I loved this and we called it belettah (I don't know if that's how you spell it but it sounds like that phoenetically). Such beautiful pics Robyn. I hope you are well...we are trying to settle in a bit. xxx

  49. great possibility to open new cultures and worlds with this photos...