Weeks after my eldest son was born my mother came to visit us. She brought along with her three essential things for our new baby: jain- sop (baby cloth diapers), dabor (basin for bathing) and jain- it (baby sling wrap).
The best welcome gift for baby
It is a tradition among the Khasis that the Meikha (paternal grandmother) or, in her absence, a female member from the father’s side, such as a grand-aunt or aunt, should bring the symbolic jain-it as a gift to the newborn.
This cloth is a simple, hardly two and a half by a quarter meter in dimensions, but it symbolizes the welcoming of the new human being into the clan. It is also a symbol of protection and safety for the baby, as the cloth will give the tender child the much- needed comfort and warmth.
No other cloth imbues a deeper sense of togetherness, comfort, warmth, and safety between mother and baby.
As the little one grows to toddlerhood the nurturing and caring continues, with the jain-it holding the baby as close as possible to the mother’s body for a good part of the day. The baby watches everything around. He goes everywhere mother goes. While in the baby sling carrier the baby plays and sleeps even as his mother works. No other cloth imbues a deeper sense of togetherness, comfort, warmth, and safety between mother and baby.
The other paraphernalia is also symbolic but of lesser significance. Jain-sop is to protect the infant from the elements while she or he sleeps, and the dabor is to bathe the baby in.
The Khasis have, since long ago, learned to make yarn from natural fibers such as cotton and wool. But the significant know-how of making yarn out of eri silkworm cocoons has enabled them to weave quality fabric to fashion many types of apparel. The eri makes one of a kind organic baby sling. The eri yarn becomes a multi-utility fiber creating quality garments such as the traditional baby sling for new-born babies, jainsems (Khasi dress), turbans, tunics, wrap-arounds, and shawls.
Meghalaya was once known for growing unique cotton plants. Mothers are known for weaving baby sling wraps from the cotton grown in the Ri-Bhoi area. Nowadays cotton yarn is bought from outside. Today, eri yarn replaces cotton, the jain-it comes out softer, non-allergic and most suitable for baby’s tender skin, 100% organic.
It is no wonder then that jain-it makes the perfect gift for the new baby. Khasi women have always been industrious folk. As soon as they are able from childbirth and as their infants advance in age, they continue working at the same time, tending to household chores, working in the fields or other workplaces or taking care of domestic animals. They carry their babies on their backs wherever possible. Babies get to feel their mothers’ loving and protective closeness. Shielded from the elements and associated ailments they also bond closely with their mothers as they grow.
But it is not only mothers who carry the babies. Fathers and older siblings also share responsibility.
How to wear a baby sling
It is amazing how this simple piece of cloth can be so effective as the best baby sling.
6 Steps: How to tie a baby sling wrap
- The baby is placed on the back of the mother and the cloth is slung transverse-wise across the baby’s body.
- The bottom portion of the jain-it in midsection covers the baby’s buttocks fully so that the full weight of the infant centers on that area.
- The wrap looks like a baby sling pouch.
- The top portion wraps around the waist, midriff, and shoulders.
- One extreme end of the cloth is then draped over the mother’s shoulder.
- The other end is brought out from the opposite side under the armpit. Both ends meet at the chest region and are tied in a knot, secure enough for baby to sit snugly and safely.
The cloth covers and holds in sitting position the infant’s buttocks, under-thighs, back, and shoulders. There is no way the baby can fall off even though the hands may dangle freely.
When the temperature is cold out, work doesn’t stop, but our babies need to be kept warm. Khasi’s take care of this with a baby sling cloth. Over the baby, another cloth called the jain-kup is used for full body cover. This makes it very convenient for baby to sleep undisturbed and the mother to carry on with her work. Both mom and baby stay warm.
The jain-kup over the jain-it
Nursing the baby becomes easy with the jain-it. The infant is simply brought forward from the back to the chest and fed. An instant baby sling for nursing. Mothers can carry their babies facing them as well, so the jain-it works both ways.
The Khasi Jain-it and Jain-khup
It is amazing how this simple cloth piece can work wonders for mother and child. It is incredibly versatile, convenient and easy to fold away or clean. While it leaves the mother with comparative freedom to do other work, the positive psychological impact the Jain-it has on an infant makes this cloth a utility possession to be cherished. More than anything else it generates a close bond between the two souls. Babies are carried in the wrap until they reach about two years. long after the baby carrying age is over the endearing kinship that ensues stays for life.
Is the jain-it a proprietary baby sling of the Khasis?
Not really. Every community or tribe has some similar form of a baby sling, fashioned from fabrics peculiar to their traditions and lifestyles.
Eri silk yarn can make a difference.
Eri yarn bestows a unique softness, breathability, and elasticity on the woven fabric. The fibers are natural, all protein, and quite akin to human skin. They have excellent tensile strength and do not cause allergic reactions. The yarn is moisture-absorbent, making it an all-weather fabric. This material makes the best baby sling for the weather because it keeps cool in summer and warm in winter. In addition to giving maximum comfort, they are safe on the skin too.
But yes, since the eri silkworm (Niang-ryndia in Khasi) is native to Khasi country, the eri jain-it can be claimed as our unique Khasi baby wrap.
Pros and cons of modern baby carriers
Modern commercial baby slings have design features that ensure maximum safety and comfort for baby. Yet almost all of them are made with synthetic material or materials that do not possess the breathability, all-weather quality and tensile strength of the jain-it.
Commercially manufactured, they have rigid designs, with no flexibility to bring the baby from back to front for feeding. While modern carriers look great and come in interesting colors, they lack in ease of use and maintenance. They come in a variety of sizes so you have to choose the specific one. But once the babies outgrow them, they are as good as useless.
The jain-it is one-size-fits-all. A baby can outgrow it but it can be passed on even on to the next generation. You can use it as a shawl or a table cloth as well. And it lasts, well, like forever!
The modern baby slings cannot claim any of these advantages. Again, the jain-it has a traditional significance, steeped in endearing age-old custom and is laden with meaning.
The jain-it simply has no parallel
We may be faulted for so eulogizing the jain-it but at Muezart. We truly believe that certain traditions need to be not only kept alive but brought out from near-oblivion to regenerate and re-flourish. That’s why we made the baby sling with a ring. Subsequently, it has become a sought-after product.
Why do we do what we do?
Because good tradition is a precious possession of communities. It is priceless, intangible and irreplaceable. We believe it has to be preserved at any cost. Especially because it is our very own culture.
The jain-it may be only a piece of cloth, but it if it is eri silk it is eco-friendly, versatile and incomparable. It speaks the language of Nature: gentle, kind and forever sustainable. Need we say more?