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What you need to know about avet, a Kayan baby carrier

Avet is what the Kayan people in Borneo call their baby carriers.

Typically consisting of a rattan and wood frame and woven rattan straps to carry the baby, some wooden seats in an avet can be removed completely.

The most time-consuming part of an avet though, is the decorative beadwork. In the olden days, an avet was made by a family member – most likely a grandmother or an aunt.

Meanwhile, the Kenyah call it ba’ and it is more than just a baby carrier, it is also a status symbol. Other ethnic groups such as the Kajang, Punan, Berawan and Sebop also used the same style of baby carriers although they may use different motifs.

Although most Kayan mothers hardly use an avet today, you can still find one in some households being passed down from generation to generation as heirlooms.

Today, you can purchase them from local craftsmen or antique collectors online.

Here are some interesting facts about the avet or ba’:

1. It serves two roles: utilitarian and symbolic purposes

In terms of practical use, the avet or ba’ allows parents to carry their baby in an old-school backpack. It also serves as a symbol to indicate the baby’s social status.

For example, an avet with a human figure can only be used by the maren (aristocrat) of the Kayan people. Those who are not from maren status are prohibited from using this motif or illness will fall upon from them.

An avet with a human figure or face can only be used by the maren (aristocrat) of the Kayan people.

2.The motifs have mystical roles

According to Robyn J. Maxwell in Life, Death and Years of Southeast Asian Ancestral Art, the avet is believed to be embedded with prayers.

This is to protect the souls of young children from wandering and coming into contact with disease and illness.

In addition to that, the dramatic demonic figure on some of the beadwork was designed to protect the child by scaring off offensive spirits.

How the lining of an avet looks like.

3. An avet is not supposed to be sold or lent

In The Pagan Tribes of Borneo by Charles Hose and William McDougall, none of a child’s possessions, including the avet, should ever be sold or lent.

They may, however, be used by a younger sibling once the older one has outgrown them.

4. James Brooke’s secretary Spenser St. John once wrote about it

Spenser St. John was Brooke’s secretary and a British Consul General in Brunei in the mid 19th century.

St. John wrote in Life in the Forests of the Far East (1862) that at a Kayan village in the Baram river area, he saw a high-ranking woman carrying her baby in a “rattan seat covered with fine beadwork.”

5. The Metropolitan Museum of Arts have one on display.

The Met in New York features one avet which is believed to be from the late 19th to 20th century.

Made from fiber, wood, glass beads, cloth and shells, that avet is most probably by the Kenyah or Kayan people from Kalimantan, Indonesia.

It was a donation by the Ernest Erickson Foundation.

6. You can find one at Penn Museum, Philadelphia in US

According to Penn Museum records, there is a Kayan avet in their collection which is believed to have been made in 1890.

This avet has a wooden seat, is made with woven rattan and also has bunches of dangling charms made of seed pods and snail shells.

7. Another one is at the British Museum

Charles Hose, a British Resident during Brooke era reportedly sold one to the British Museum.

It is a simple one made by the Kayan in Baram of wood and shells.

The baby carrier dates back to 1905.

8. One avet is displayed at the Textile Museum of Canada

On top of that, the avet at the Textile Museum of Canada was collected from the Apo Kayan, Borneo perhaps from 1900-1930.

9. Another one is at Five Continents Museum in Munich, Germany

Dr. Friedrish Dalsheim found the baby carrier during his stay along the Kayan river in East Kalimantan in the early 1930s.

Dalsheim was a director and writer, known for The Wedding of Palo (1934), Black Magic (1933) and Menschen in Busch (1931).

His whole Borneo collection including an avet was given to the museum as a permanent loan in 1937 after he committed suicide in 1934 at 41.

An avet presumably made in the early 1980s.
An avet purchased from Indonesian craftsman.
Patricia Hului
Patricia Hului wants to live in a world where you can eat whatever you want and not gain weight. She grew up in Bintulu, Sarawak and graduated from the University Malaysia Sabah with a degree in Marine Science. She worked for The Borneo Post SEEDS, which is now defunct. When she's not writing, you can find her in a studio taking belly dance classes, hiking up a hill or browsing through Pinterest. Follow her on Instagram at @patriciahului, Facebook at Patricia Hului at Kajomag.com or Twitter at @patriciahului.
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