*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.
Just kidding! My files were out of order and I almost missed one of my favorite objects. The image above is two sides of the same sculpture (1977.394.15), found in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. This type of sculpture is often called a “primordial couple,” and was probably made for display at a funeral. Much funerary art across cultures features themes of rebirth and new life, emphasizing the cyclical nature of life.
Created by the Dogon people of Mali around the turn of the 19th century, it consist of simple forms- cylindrical arms, legs, and torsos that recall the shape of the wood from which it was carved, linear patterns for facial features and scarification- yet recalls an important aspect of Dogon attitudes toward marriage, that is it a partnership of independent equals. Note that they are similar in size and complementary in pose (check out her labret piercing to match his beard, her hands on her knees to match his over his lap, etc.). This is a technique meant to imply unity in purpose and equality of importance.
For our purposes, the quiver on the man’s back that would have contained arrows (signifying his role as provider and protector) is paired with a worn baby on the woman’s back (signifying her role as child bearer and nurturer)! Because some of the iron adornments are missing or compromised, I suspect the same fate befell the fabric that would have kept her baby close in a low torso carry. Fabric is one of the most fragile materials used in works of art, and it is difficult to preserve. Side note: if you’d like to check out a fabric for this kind of carry, our Twinsburg lending library has a kanga and several educators who can help you learn to use it safely!
Other details of the sculpture reinforce themes of family and ancestry: the enlarged navels are a reminder of where the couple themselves originated, and the small figures carved into the legs of their seat are likely images of ancestors, who literally and figuratively support the couple.