Porter (carrier)

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A porter, also called a bearer, is a person who carries objects for others.

Contents

Historical meaning

Human adaptability and flexibility early led to the use of humans for transporting gear. Uneven terrain, such as in mountains, alleyways and markets, and a lack of formed roads, such as in jungle, makes the use of porters economical where one can hire people to perform labor inexpensively.

Porters were used commonly as human beasts of burden in the ancient world, when labor was generally cheap, especially in societies that depended on slavery. The ancient Sumerians, for example, enslaved women to carry wool and flax.

The use of bearers for litters to carry persons of rank or religious idols, especially in formal processions, seems to have extended their practical function into that of ceremonial status symbol in the often conservative protocol of court and cult, a role continued into the 20th century with the papal sedia gestatoria and possibly echoed in the modern funeral pallbearer.

Current meaning

Porters are still employed to carry burdens in many third-world countries, especially where animals like camels, oxen, horses and dogs, or vehicles like carts, trucks, ships, trains and aircraft, have not taken over human bearers' traditional functions or where such alternatives are not practicable. Child soldiers are also typically compelled to serve as porters.

The Sherpa people of Nepal have established a reputation as mountaineering porters, and are considered indispensable for the highest Himalayan expeditions.

Porters who work at railway stations in India are called coolies, a term for unskilled Asian labourers. The term "coolie" was also used in China for porters in general.

The term "porter" is also used in general for hotel, railway and airport employees who carry luggage.

In many public places such as airports, border crossings, sea ports and railway stations, porters are often a nuisance to tourists, taking their luggage without permission and demanding excessive fees.

North American terminology

The industry-specific terms bellhop (hotel porter), redcap (railroad porter) and skycap (airport porter) are used in North America. Railroad porters traditionally wear distinctive red-colored caps for easy identification, contrasting with the caps in blue or other colors, normally worn by other train personnel. Employees of car rental and new and used auto dealerships tasked with moving and preparing cars for use or sale are called porters.

References

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