Our family has embarked on virtual travels to various countries and regions. To explore these countries and their cultures, we have followed along with the festivals, cooked and eaten traditional foods, learned of traditional handicrafts with hands on exploration, along with many activities to immerse ourselves. Chronicled here are some of these activities.

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Saturday, March 8, 2014

Our attempts at Carrying a Load on our Heads

Woman carrying loaded container on her head
Photo Credit: G-Lish Foundation
How do you carry load? We use back packs, carry things in our arms, or in a bag over our shoulders. In most areas of West Africa, loads are carried on people's heads, a way of life that generally starts at the age of 12. 

You can watch a very short clip of a woman walking while carrying a load here.

According to some researchers in biomechanics, African women can carry loads of up to 20% of their body weight with no increase in their metabolism, which means they don't burn any more energy than if they were carrying nothing. With the use of energy, some women carry up to 70% of their body weight! Apparently, this method evenly spreads weight, while the spine carries this weight rather than the muscles. Other research though has noted that sore necks are a common problem, and that carrying on one's head is not the most optimal way of transporting loads, and is no better than a back pack. 

Zou, Benin
Photo Credit: Willem Heerbaart
We decided to "give this a try". First, I had them hold a 10 lb bag of potatoes, noting that its weight is only half of 20% of Elle's body weight, hoping they could imagine carrying the equivalent of two bags of potatoes on their heads. Then, before I could hand over a kleenex box to see how tricky balancing would be even with something quite light, Elle had a bag of potatoes on her head. And of course we all followed suite!

We tried with a plastic bin, a package of toilet paper, kleenex boxes, and of course bags of potatoes. 

After some practice we could walk a few lengths with the potato bags balanced on our heads. The potatoes moved around to accommodate the shapes of  our heads. The other items, though much lighter, mostly slipped off. 

Hubby was so comfortable, turning on a dime with his potato sac, you'd think he'd been doing it for years! 

Though there is no real comparison to the loads carried on a daily basis in West Africa, it was an interesting exercise, not to mention fun!


  1. I've always been in awe of the African women who can heavy massive loads on their heads. It's incredible, isn't it? Good job, all of you, for trying this very difficult task!

    1. It really is amazing...It was fun for us, but then it was for about 20 minutes, goofing off in the living room :) Not the same if our daily chores depended on it!

  2. Ha! Now this is my kind of learning. Of course, I wouldn't actually be able to manage it, given I find walking without banging into everything within a five mile radius a near impossibility (I am THE most clumsiest person I know!) Walking with stuff on my head would be tantamount to a disaster! Great fun though!!

    1. Lol! Our family and friends have dubbed Hubby and I the clumsiest pair to live - I'm always (I mean always) dropping and breaking things, and he somehow manages to walk into a wall or pole of some sort nearly everyday - we would be an absolute menace if we had to actually manage with loads on our heads! Luckily, the kids have not inherited either of these... quirks :)

  3. That does look fun! So nice to see from the conversation here that I'm not the only clumsy one around! :-)

    1. It was fun - Elle wants to do it again :) We are going to end up with quite a few dented potatoes!

  4. I'm with Hwee, it is amazing how they carry those loads. I had the kids try balancing books on their head to show posture, and man they did not like it, and could not do it really.

    1. It's all about the bag of potatoes - it molds itself to the shape of your head :)


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