When I first came to El Salvador, this was such a novelty for me, and I was rubbernecking every time I saw a woman walking down the street with some other item I’d never seen propped on a head before. Since I’m a simple kind of person, not too hard to entertain, the fascination remains. I have taken numerous photos of women throughout El Salvador ‘puttin’ it on their head’. Initially I was shy, so had many shots of their backs. In recent months I’ve gotten braver and asked women I don’t even know if they would allow me to take a picture of them carrying what they have on their head. They never say no!
The practical reasons to carry something on your head are endless, but the obvious are to shift the weight burden off of the back and shoulders, as well as giving one another free hand to carry something else. For busy salvadoran mothers, this is essential. There will be no wearing of the fancy-pant hats they sport in England, ladies here need that real estate for other things.
One good use for your head is to carry firewood home (“traer leña hasta la casa”). Another practical use is to carry laundry to and from the river (“llevando ropa al rio”)
You head has important commercial use – you can sell things off of it.
This picture has a funny story. I asked this woman if I could take her picture, and offered to buy the canasta (basket) you see in her left hand, so as not to be a freeloadin’ photographer. Her compañera / companion walked up, and started in: “Why don’t you buy one of MY baskets, come on, buy one from Me!”
“I already bought one from your friend here,” I said. “Come on, buy a basket from ME! Buy from ME!” and she kept butting in. She killed my photo-op, and I ended up with a half-smile from this first vendor lady, and left it at that. Darn heckler vendor lady. Now if SHE was carrying something on her head, SHE’D have been in the picture instead! Doesn’t she know that’s the trick?
Some more fun vendor shots I just can’t hold back on sharing with you:
There’s the poor woman on the left, selling snacks or what have you at the bus stop. Maybe she’s done selling for the day, and catching the bus, too. Right next to her, but in a whole different world are these kids – they look like University kids – Universitarios – chatting and gabbing away and smiling. I like how the sign-post physically divides them in the photograph, reinforcing the separation between her world and their carefree one. I was only grabbing this shot quickly at the stop light and ended up with a powerful image depicting the contrasts of existence here in El Salvador.
Oh, a very IMPORTANT thing to put on your head and carry – the MASA! What is masa, you’re wondering? Masa is the cornmeal used to make the tortillas. Women every day, all over El Salvador, and Latin America, cook the maize, wash it, and put it into a guacal to bring to the molino (grinder) in their neighborhood. If your household is large, you might do this every day, otherwise it’s every couple or few days. It’s one of the most common sites seen every day, often mornings, women walking to and from el molino.
The gentleman from the market needs to meet this guy and learn to carry things on your head while riding a motorcycle.
This seems to be a worldwide phenomenon, and almost exclusive to the poorer classes. Rich people and ‘developed’ countries need to get with the program. This is so smart, let’s all do it! There can even be a cross-market set of products like the small towels use to place on your head to help balance buckets better, and special buckets and bags especially made for this, labeled with “balanced for head travel.” Start a trend in your neighborhood today, and put it on your head!