*This post was originally written as a Facebook post for Babywearing International of Cleveland for International Babywearing Week 2016. Some edits have been made for clarity.
Art historian checking in with a carrier that functions like a work of art! The decoration on this ba, by the Dayak people from Borneo, serves to beautify AND protect the baby carried within! This one comes from the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston (2014.839), and features a protective symbol on the back panel. I admit this is outside the scope of my study, so I've quoted some background information on these carriers from an expert below:
“Dayak baby carriers, called ba, resemble small chairs without legs, supported on the mother’s shoulders from straps, like a backpack. The seat is made of a semi-circular plank to which the woven basketry back is attached. This wood and rattan basket is usually lined and covered with hand loomed cloth and finished with a beaded panel at the back depicting powerful protective symbols and further embellished with tassels, bells, teeth, claws, or cowry shells and strings of large beads.
The Dayak beaded baby carrier or ba was created for two reasons – to display the prestige and wealth of the family, and to protect the baby when it left the safety of the communal longhouse and compound. They were used only when mother and baby were away from home.
The source of the protection offered by the baby carrier was primarily the beaded panel called the aban, which faced outwards from the rear of the ba. The Dayak are animists and their world is populated by powerful spirits, many of which are dangerous to humans. The designs of most women’s art are defensive, designed to erect barriers between their families and the malignant spirits and this is a particularly important role of baby carriers, which guard the baby from the rear.”