Ankelba, a traditional leather ‘baby carrier’ is used in different rural areas of Ethiopia. In different locations like Raya and Dessie in the north and Hamer, Mursi and Surma in the south, people use leather products for different purposes. Pelt, ‘K’urbet’, which is made from Oxskin is used as a blanket and to make shoes and clothes including a ‘baby holder’, Ankelba. Similarly, it is also used to carry grain. Simply put, it is something that is used in the day-to-day lives of villagers. By the same token, many African countries use ‘Kanga’—a short piece of cloth used to carry babies on their back.
Ankelba in Raya is wetted with butter and is mixed with scented leaves like African wormwood, Ades, Gunedi, Qetenayu so that it could be polished and blackened. Raya women use Ankelba till the baby is aged three to four. What makes it more preferable is that the butter wetted Ankelba is smooth and comfortable when the mother is grinding, baking or walking. It also protects the baby from any harm.
Sifnedingel Ejigu, a photographer, fashion designer and painter, presented an exhibition at the National Museum of Ethiopia for seven days that portrays Ankelba. Her exhibits were decorated with different ornaments like buttons, beads and shells. She said that the different Ankelbas and materials they use indicate the tradition, history and lifestyle of the communities.
Her exhibition mainly focused on Raya Alamata. According to elders of the community, Ankelba in Raya, apart from its primary use, is an indicator of wealth.
Ankelba can be bought from 250 to 2700 birr in Raya and a woman can be identified by her Ankelba whether she is wealthy or not. According to the traditions of the Raya community, women do not sell, lend or give away their Ankelba to others; it will be transferred to children and grandchildren.
Sifnedingel said that modernization forces people to forget the past including traditions. She said that Ethiopia has lots of resources, traditions, norms and knowledge and wants this generation to tap into the immense wealth.
Ed.’s Note: The writer is on a summer internship at The Reporter. She is a journalism and communication student at Addis Ababa University.
Contributed by Fikirte Teshome