True Power

True Power

Friday, January 15, 2010

Origins of Dreads Part 2

Africans and people of African descent are known to wear this (dreads)hairstyle. Members of various African ethnicities wear locks and the styles may change from one group to another. The warriors of the Maasai nation of Kenya are famous for their long, thin, red dreadlocks. Many people dye their hair red with root extracts or red ochre. In various cultures what are known as Fetish priests, sangomas, or shamans, spiritual men or women who serve and speak to spirits or deities, often wear locks. In Benin the Yoruba priests of Olokun, the Orisha of the deep ocean, wear locks. The Hemba people in the southeast of Congo-Kinshasa also dye their locks red, but their style is thicker than that of the Maasai. Other groups include the Fang people of Gabon, the Mende of Sierra Leone, and the Turkana people of Kenya.

Africans brought the hairstyle with them to the Americas during the African diaspora. As a result of this the style can still be seen on people of African descent in North America, South America and the Caribbean. Well-known Black artists who wear or have worn locks include musicians Bob Marley, George Clinton, Rosalind Cash, Bobby McFerrin, Tracy Chapman, Lauryn Hill, Lenny Kravitz, Eddy Grant, Lil Wayne and members of the band Living Colour; authors Alice Walker and Toni Morrison; and actors Whoopi Goldberg, Malcolm-Jamal Warner and Keith Hamilton Cobb.

Because hairstyles of Africans were so significant: showing status, religion, tribal association, and culture, one of the first thing slave traders did to captured Africans was to shave their heads. This served to erase the slave's culture and alter the relationship between the African and his or her hair which gave them identity because hair was a social, aesthetic, and spiritual identity for the African. Given the importance of the hair to an African, having the head shaved was an unspeakable crime. Frank Herreman, director of exhibitions at New York's Museum for African Art and specialist in African hairstyles states, "a shaved head can be interpreted as taking away someone's identity" ("Hair Story" Byrd & Tharps, p. 10).

Once a person is stripped of his own sense of self and ties to others, it then becomes easier to mold them into what you would have them to be. This is also seen in spousal abuse cases. The person is stripped of self, who they are, and who they can be. Isolation from family ties is also a piece of the puzzle. In a state of nothingness-no connection to any other person other than the abuser, the abuser is able to manipulate, control, and mold the abused person into the person of their choosing. No one has been able to understand why an abused spouse does not break free or rebel. No one understands why once the abused person if freed, they often return and sometimes protect the abuser. Remember, sense of self has been dessimated, family and community ties have been severed, the abuser is now family, social tie, and connection with life. In most cases freedom is destruction of that one tie in the form of murder and the abused person is left traumatized for severing their last tie to family. In the attempts of the African slave to seek freedom, there was violence. The freed slave was then faced with no identity and no tie to community.

The African community has never been able to repair what was lost in the "shaving" of their heads. A new sense of self and community never fully came to fruition. An identity was substituted for the slaves along with a new way of life, culture and what was considered a correct, acceptable hair style. A positive identity with hair has been a struggle for African Americans once they were freed. Who am I now? I am neither African or European. How am I suppose to look? Do I look like a race I have never seen with my own eyes or the caucasian people whose hair is nothing like mines? This question continues to be debated. African American is the category designated for blacks to check on official forms. But what do the American Black know about Africa? What does the American black know about America? And finally, what does our hair have to do with it?


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