Our hairs’ story is so valuable and unique that is has to be told. It won’t be contained. It won’t be forgotten. It’s dynamic and ever changing. It’s such a great expression of adaptability (at the very least) and it is the epitome of resilience. If we are going to take this natural hair thing to the next level, lets learn to appreciate the value of our hair and pay homage to where it all begin: Africa. So, without further ado, lets get to our hairs’ story.
Africa’s climate plays a large role in our hairs’ kinkiness. Africa is a continent where it is generally very hot. Not only is it hot (temperature wise) but the solar radiation is always high. In other words, the intensity of the sun’s rays are amplified in this continent compared to other continents. Our hairs’ frizziness and kinkiness acts as an insulation and natural air conditioner against this type of unchanging environment. However, there are many different types of African hair throughout this beautiful continent. Depending on where an inhabitant resides on this continent, some may have kinky curls while others posses loose curls. This explains the variations in hair types amongst people of African descent throughout the world. Despite the many variations, hair amongst all clans or tribes in Africa shared a common social and cultural significance in the 15th century.
According to Hair Story by Amanda D. Byrd & Lori L. Tharps in the early 15th century, hair in Africa was primarily used as a complex form of communication. Clans or tribes could be distinguished from one another by their different hairstyles. An individuals’ religion, marital status, rank in society, geographic origin, and age could all be determined by one’s hairstyle. In almost every African culture, when a woman became a widow she was expected to stop tending to her hair for the duration of her mourning period. In Nigerian cultures, “housewives living in a polygamous society created a hairstyle intended to taunt their husband’s other wives” (Hair Story by Amanda D. Byrd & Lori L. Tharps). Furthermore, leaders of certain clans and tribes rocked the most decorated and elaborate hairstyles. I don’t know about y’all, but I would have loved to be a leader just so I could rock the most unique and bedazzled hairstyles.
Although how one styled his or her hair was communicable important, having long and thick hair was of equal noble importance. Women who possessed long and thick hair were considered “special” and “god-sent”. These women were considered to have the most desired characteristics that every woman sought after. It was believed that long-thick-haired women had extraordinary abilities to bare many healthy and strong children; they possessed keen farming skills; and they were prosperous in all their endeavors. In contrast, if a woman kept her hair unkept and messy, she was considered to be dirty, lacking morals, insane, and sexually promiscuous. Messy haired women were ultimately the most undesired and the most ostracized women within a community.
Hair was also considered divine in many African communities. Because hair is the closest to the heavens, hair was believed to be the dwelling place for one’s soul. In many religions in Africa, individuals wore their hair in specific braided styles as a way to communicate and praise the gods. In addition, it was believed that spells and curses could be cast on people through their hair. Due to the potential dangers one could inflict on another through their hair, hairdressers were revered and highly respected within African communities. Hairdressers held the same professional status as our doctors, ministries, and entertainers do today. Some tribes even referred to their hairdressers as “masters”. These “masters” were usually passed down from one generation to another and usually stayed with their clients for a lifetime. They were also responsible for caring for everyones hair within a clan. When a “master” died, she (or he) usually passed down her tools (a carved wooden comb & oil) to the next up-and-coming hairdresser within a community.
As you can see, our hair and our perceptions of our hair were closely intertwined with the social, cultural, and spiritual ideologies of the time. After completing my research, I could’t help but ponder if this natural hair care movement is just a trend or does it represent something much bigger? Will this movement inevitably leave it’s footprint on time? After considering this, I realized that there aren’t simple answers to these questions. But, I would assume that the natural hair movement will solidify its’ place in time and it will carry with it a torch that will be passed down to future generations.