Burden they carry
While living in Bali for a short time, I couldn’t help noticing the local women carrying burdens on their heads. I have been travelling to developing countries a lot in the past years and similar custom seems to be part of a daily routine.
At first I was both surprised and amused but by the end of my stay on the Island of Gods, I was fascinated by the ease with which women seemed to carry heavy loads on their heads. I became interested in knowing more about how they develop this ability of holding balance while they carry a big basket full of fruits and vegetables on the head, other loads in the hands sometimes while riding the bicycle or motorbike.
I was living in a home stay at that time owned by a large Balinese family. I had the chance to witness ceremony preparations including big arrangements full of fruits and cakes which women are required to carry on their head, by tradition, in order to take them to temple as offerings to the gods.
I asked my host how do they get the dexterity of carrying burden on the head, she kindly explained that girls are trained at an early age by the elder women in the family and they have to practice quite a lot to reach a level of balance and confidence. She told me all this with a trace of resentment in her voice, it seemed to me, without however questioning the custom itself.
I believe religion and tradition play a strong part in the lives of these women. Even though they have been in touch with modern ways of weight transport they prefer carrying the load on their head going to the market, as merchants or just to shop, on construction sites or on paddy fields, you name it.
Researchers didn’t miss the subject over the history. A recent study led by sport scientist Ray Lloyd on women from different environments, show that the experienced head-loaders reported that neck pain was a big problem to them and they usually give and receive neck massages after returning from fetching water. The overall result of his study proves, in fact, that “head loading in not more efficient than other methods and it is very painful for women”.
Coming from an environment where mothers, very often, wouldn’t allow their grown up children to carry shopping bags from supermarket back home I developed an enormous respect for women all over the world who, from ancient times, kept the custom alive with both grace and pride, even with a smile on the face.