He keeps coming to my mind. That man with the washing machine on his back. An image in my memory back from my travels in India over twelve years ago.

I’d seen lots of small men carrying big loads through the inclining streets of the hill station where I was staying in Northern India. But this one man, maybe 110 pounds, rubber slippers on his feet, was bearing a full-size washing machine tied to a strap that stretched across his forehead.

Indian streets are a-bustle with everything. Dogs, pigs, cows, mopeds, cars, and people moving in all directions. These streets were paved upon steady slopes, up and down, stretching through miles of chaotic thoroughfare.

I watched this man, his posture slightly bent forward, the huge, white square resting upon his back, just take it, one step at a time. A meditation in motion. Dogs crossing his path, mopeds swerving around him. His pace never faltered. He never seemed labored. Just a steady haul of a heavy appliance, the crux of which, seemed to rest on his head.

I was a witness to this scene over a decade ago. Why it has now been flashing in my mind at random moments, like when I’m washing dishes at the sink, I don’t know.

Prompted to seek a little further, my research has taught me that this forehead strap has a name. A “tump line,” also known as a “burden strap,” is ancient in its origins, dating back to the time of the Maya, who used it to carry loads equalling their own body weight.

The strap was designed to rest on the top of the head, where the weight would be directed into the spinal column, somehow offering greater support for heavy cargo. This also streamlined the transporting process, freeing the traveller from a cumbersome cart, and offering the ability to traverse more narrow and rocky terrain.

That man in the hill station town in India probably spent the entire day stepping one foot in front of the other with that heavy appliance on his back. What I saw was a walk of grace. He was defying gravity through use of efficiency. He was using what he had, taking it slow and steady.

We all have our burdens to bear. Some greater than others. But the tump line proves that we all can carry loads greater than we thought possible, and with more ease, if we only shoulder it properly.

Here’s to lightening the load, or at least repositioning it. Using our resources at full capacity. Adding endurance. Bringing more grace to our trek.

courtesy of leoncillo sabino
courtesy of leoncillo sabino

5 thoughts on “The Burden Strap

    1. I’m so glad you are inspired. I am too! I never took a photo of the man with the washing machine. But I wanted to have an image for this post that really gave the reader a visual of the tump line in use. I found this picture online, thanks to leoncillo sabino. It’s my understanding that the woman being carried is blind. Thanks for reading and adding your comment!


      1. Got it…. I wanted to ask, as I had this image of the woman being the ‘washing machine’ and sometimes it seems a big chunk of a woman’s work – so it was a great contrast to see the woman being carried so lovingly, instead of thrown out when broken or worn out!
        I am keeping that tump line in mind for some carrying work in future! šŸ™‚


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