Infant Head-molding in Pakistan
Mohammed Faseeh Abbasi
As a group, we have decided to investigate the social practice of infant head-molding in Pakistan. This case study discusses the usage of different tools and methods that are utilized in various castes and ethnicities, in addition to what implications these practices have on the infants — medical, social and cultural. The research also delves into the evolution of the practice of head-molding, not only in Pakistan but globally and historically as well. The main aim of the study is to determine and align the goals of the head-molders with their tools and knowledge, in order to determine if design intervention is needed to change the social practice.
After a lengthy migration from topic to topic attempting to settle on a specific and worthy social practice in Pakistan, our group decided to settle on the practice of infant head-molding in Pakistan. Initially, we were shocked that this practice existed at all — it seemed like madness that one would be willing to subject their infant child to such a dangerous procedure that carried the risk of permanently deforming or damaging your child. This view originally stemmed from our historical knowledge — the ancient Mayans used to shape infant heads using vices and clamps in order to develop leaders, seers and spiritualists who were closer to spirits as well as show their social status, and were purportedly more intelligent then their brethren, as well as growing a crown like skull. Additionally, I was also aware that this was still practiced in some tribes in Central African, where it was practiced due to similar reasons.
This practice was bought up to us by Rumasa, who told us of the widespread practice amongst the Pakistani populace and specific castes, alongside its evolution internationally. Two of our members, Faseeh and Rumasa, were actually a subject of this practice when they were younger. Upon conducting our first instances of research into the case study, and interviewing medical professionals and our own group members, it was revealed to us that this procedure was not as harmful or dangerous as it seemed — it just needed to be performed by people who were experienced or well versed in the act.
This topic then, to us, seemed to be of great import — it had stakes in the lives of many and stood to be possibly improved.
Now that we had gathered our preliminary research, we set out to establish some fundamental cornerstones of the project and how to research them — our stakeholders, the evolution of the social practice in Pakistan and abroad, and if and how a design intervention would work in this specific social practice.
Our stakeholders had been apparent to us from the moment we had chosen the question — both the infants who had gone through the process, as well as the people who practiced it. While researching, it became apparent to us that different cultures and castes used different methods to achieve the same goal — some used medical plastic and foam helmet appendages, some cotton pillows (Punjab and Abroad) while others used shaped mud bricks (Sindhi) and others wood slats (Memon). As all these different ethnicities have different social practices involving the same outcome, we had to identify a commonality that we could approach with our design intervention — perhaps an overarching design blueprint. Our end-goal with the research and this case study was simple — we had to afford the stakeholders an improved beneficiary replacement for a tool that was hand made — an interesting question arose here — was the craft of these tools considered a craftsmanship? and how would a design intervention affect the craftsmen?
Once we had our stakeholders identified, we started focusing on targeted research methodologies to further gain an understanding and insight into the propagation and evolution of this social practice, along with the social and cultural values that are associated with it. We also decided to question medical professionals in order to fool-proof any possible future design interventions in the space of this practice, as well as gather information on how to most beneficially enhance the medical applications of this practice.
Over the course of carrying out our research, we were blown away by the amount of in-depth information that was prevalent in a variety of our cultural groups and families. We managed to get an astounding amount of information that related to this practice and all the different manifestations of it across the spectrum of caste and culture in Pakistan, including differentiations such as tool usage, material usage, technique and skill employment. We also were surprised to see the lack of awareness of this in the younger generations while it was moderately well known in our families’ older generations. We were at a crossroads on whether a design intervention could be utilized, since the variations of the practice elicited differing levels of danger — some where downright painful for the child and harbored risk of permanent long term damage, while other variations were voluntary, carried little risk of injury and were widely employed and supervised culturally. Coupled together with other medical research we carried out through professionals, we concluded that while these practices have been carried out over the span of generations, there was no method that carried absolutely zero chances of risk, unless performed by consulting a medical professional. We further augmented this conclusion with findings from surveys given to the general public and news articles, and concluded that this practice was dying out naturally due to a disconnect between generations citing the unnecessary risk and need, alongside the social stigmas that it helps propagate, especially to mothers. Even if this practice does not self-remove itself from our culture, there needs to be a proposal to limit, mitigate or attach some medical professional consultation to the practice.