True Power

True Power

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Origins of Dreads Part 3

To love dreads is to understand dreads. Discovering the origins of the hairstyle is complex. Just as the once new religion of Christianity spread by small groups holding on to the belief in Jesus, holding this faith close to their hearts even when under threat, slaves held on to their tie to their unique culture through their grooming practices.

No matter where they were taken, in what was a new and scary world to them, daily grooming practices were implemented once they reached their final destination of servitude. They were not given classes in European etiquette. Base tools were used to make what was once considered standards of beauty: large noses, dark shiny skin, maticulously and often times elaborate hair, acceptable to the new society in which they now lived.

Slave owners had no interest in the African being attractive; only productive. Being viewed as beasts of burdens caused alot of African hair grooming skills to be lost. Bare fundamentals of braiding and twisting hair remained, but fell far short from being a source of the pride in which they were once veiwed and cared for.

So where in the world could the African techniques of grooming the kinky coarse hair be seen? There are numerous countries where the African brought with him his skills in the maintainance and care of his hair.

There were eight principal areas used by Europeans to buy and ship slaves to the Western Hemisphere. The number of slaves sold to the new world varied throughout the slave trade. As for the distribution of slaves from regions of activity, certain areas produced far more slaves than others. Between 1650 and 1900, 10.24 million African slaves arrived in the Americas from the following regions in the following proportions:
Senegambia (Senegal and The Gambia): 4.8%
Upper Guinea (Guinea-Bissau, Guinea and Sierra Leone): 4.1%
Windward Coast (Liberia and Cote d' Ivoire): 1.8%
Gold Coast (Ghana): 10.4%
Bight of Benin (Togo, Benin and Nigeria west of the Niger Delta): 20.2%
Bight of Biafra (Nigeria east of the Niger Delta, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon): 14.6%
West Central Africa (Republic of Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo and Angola): 39.4%
Southeastern Africa (Mozambique and Madagascar): 4.7%

Below are 29 nation states by country that actively or passively participated in the Atlantic Slave Trade: There have been a number of African Empires of varying size and influence throughout recorded history. ...
Senegal: Denanke Kingdom, Kingdom of Fouta Tooro, Jolof Empire, Kingdom of Khasso and Kingdom of Saalum
Guinea-Bissau: Kaabu Empire
Guinea: Kingdom of Fouta Djallon
Sierra Leone: Koya Temne
Cote d'Ivoire: Kong Empire and Gyaaman Kingdom
Ghana: Asante Confederacy and Mankessim Kingdom
Benin: Kingdom of Dahomey
Nigeria: Oyo Empire, Benin Empire and Aro Confederacy
Cameroon: Bamun and Mandara Kingdom
Gabon: Kingdom of Orungu
Republic of Congo: Kingdom of Loango and Kingdom of Tio
Angola: Kingdom of Kongo, Kingdom of Ndongo and Matamba

The different ethnic groups brought to the Americas closely corresponds to the regions of heaviest activity in the slave trade. Over 45 distinct ethnic groups were taken to the Americas during the trade. Of the 45, the ten most prominent according to slave documentation of the era are listed below.
1. The Gbe speakers of Togo, Ghana and Benin (Adja, Mina, Ewe, Fon)
2. The Akan of Ghana and Cote d'Ivoire
3. The Mbundu of Angola (includes Ovimbundu)
4. The BaKongo of the Democratic Republic of Congo and Angola
5. The Igbo of Nigeria
6. The Yoruba of Nigeria
7. The Mandé speakers of Upper Guinea
8. The Wolof of Senegal
9. The Chamba of Cameroon
10. The Makua of Mozambique

DISTRIBUTION OF SLAVES (1450-1900)
Destination Percentage
Brazil 35.4%
Spanish Empire 22.1%
British West Indies 17.7%
French West Indies 14.1%
British North America and future United States 4.4%
Dutch West Indies 4.4%
Danish West Indies 0.2%(www.statemaster.com/encyclopedia/Atlantic-slave-trade)accessed 01/17/2010.

Slave traders had to cut off the hair of the African so that their scalps would not become infected from the unsanitary conditions aboard the slave ship. The slave's head would become matted and caked with vomit, urine and feces creating sores and a breeding ground for lice and other pests.

Slavery lasted from the 16th -19th century with slaves shipped from West Africa and Central Africa. The first slaves brought to Portugal came in 1444 from Northern Mauritania. Countries involved with slave trade and receipiants of slaves were Scotland, Holland, France, Spain, England, Denmark, Brazil, Haiti (1502), Cuba 1513), Dominican Republic, Honduras, and Guatemala (1526), South Carolina (1526), El Savador, Costa Rica, Florida (1541, 1563, 1581), and Belize (1655).

Brazil has the largest population of people of African descent outside of Africa. The African American populatuion in the United States is only second to Brazil.
Deise Nunes, first black Miss Brazil 1986
Prized slaves came from the Gold Coast (Modern Ghana) and Whydah (modern Oidah in Benin). Most of the African who were captured and enslaved came from the West African coastal region that stretches from modern Senegal in the North to Angola in the south:Wolof, Sierra Leone, Assante Dahomey, Elmina, Oyo, Benin and Luanda (Slavery in America, Dorothy Schneider & Carl J. Schneider, 2001,p. 8).

It is clear to see that dreads traveled far and wide throughout the world as the African slave was sold to various countries. The hairstyle's original significance to the wearer lost at sea and in fields of labor.

Vanessa Williams, Miss USA, 1984
In the next installment on the origins of dreads we will meet some of the tribes and look at their hair styles to truely uncover the origins of dreads.

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