Ellen is a film director and freelance film critic. She is a regular contributor to Modern Times Review.

Thousands of Ghanaian girls as young as six are systematically sent away from their impoverished rural homes to the capital to scrape together a few pennies – burdened with loads that could break the back of a strong adult.

Kayayo – de levende handlekurvene / Kayayo – the living shopping carts

Mari Bakke Riise


The title of the film, Kayayo, conjures up a sort of hideous paradox – an amalgamation of a human slave and a self-driving commodity. The tiny bodies of young girls transport monstrous loads on their heads as they trundle behind brisk, overdressed madams, their thin necks somehow staying upright under the weight. The laws of gravity are defied on the dusty, noisy market streets of Accra, Ghana. Reality is merciless.


Highly moving

The already award-winning Norwegian documentary film has received an Oscar nomination. It is only 33 minutes long, competing in the short documentary film category. The family-run production company Integralfilm, which created it has already made waves internationally. Previous significant films included Manislam and A Balloon for Allah – both have a strong focus on minority issues, gender and sexuality via captivating forms of expression mixed with strong poetic elements. Kayayo fits comfortably alongside them.

In Kayayo, the camera trails the historic exploitation of young girls for labour through the eyes of eight-year-old Bamuni – an extraordinarily warm and vivacious protagonist given her circumstances. The film revolves around her and her living situation, through which she becomes a representative of the many «Kayayos». She trusts the camera completely, and displays a wide spectrum of emotion, drawing the viewer completely into her world. A world full of deceit and lack of control, and an early awareness of injustice.


Perfect victims

One scene shows a large woman looming intimidatingly over the child. Bamunu has just been released from carrying her inhuman load. The sound of something breaking is the excuse the woman has been waiting for: she hands out a smaller payment. Bamunu gazes at the coin. She has experienced this before. This time, she will not let the slick customer off so easily. Bamunu stares at her with a threatening look but the woman lifts her hand against her. Screaming, she chases the small human shopping cart away. After all, she no longer needs the girl now that the goods are where they need to be. There are plenty of others to choose from. It’s a veritable Dickensian nightmare.

My 12-year-old daughter looks at me. She is terrified and is wondering if this is real. Does this happen in real life, she asks. «Yes, it’s a documentary,» I answer. «So they are not actors, then?» «No.» «Terrible! They are being fooled!» The film is a kick to the stomach and shakes us to our cores, from the moment it starts. And some of these girls are half her age.
The children live without any rights or protections. Bamunu can’t keep the money she earns herself, safely, and therefore keeps it at a madam’s place. She cannot read or write, and has little idea how much she has saved or whether any has gone missing – which does happen.

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