Joy Ofuonye in this article looks at the acceptance level of dreadlocks by the general public
Time was when many as ‘rastafarians’, who had dreadlocks were viewed as ruffians, deviants and irresponsible members of society. But as trends change, opinions change too hence there is a growing acceptance of dreadlocks by people of all ages. It has become so fashionable that people hardly associate it with some historical and spiritual background.
Dreadlocks as a hairstyle has an interesting history with diverse connotations in different parts of Africa, some of which are related to spiritualism. In some places in the southwestern Nigeria, dreadlocks are locally called ‘Dada’ or ‘Dada OlowoEyo’, meaning the ‘custodian of cash money’. The belief is that those who are born with dreadlocks are extra-ordinary people.
Children born with dreadlocks are believed to be special and therefore they must be treated as such. They are also seen to be smart, gifted and harbingers of good luck to their parents. In some places, there is also the belief that the child has a tie to demonic entities and efforts are made to have them removed.
In the eastern part of Nigeria, children born with dreads are referred to as ‘Ezenwa’ meaning ‘child king’. The Igbos like the Yorubas, believe that such children are not only special but they possess special powers. In South-South Nigeria, Calabar, Cross River state, children born with dreads like twins, were often killed, until the coming of Christianity and westernisation put an end to the practice.
Surprisingly, the trend is not common with the Hausas of northern Nigeria. This is because it is said that the Islamic religion is very explicit about personal appearance- cleanliness, combing and unbraiding of hair. However, a few who attend the spiritual churches believe that those who wear natural-dreads are ‘super humans’ and have spiritual powers.
It is surprising to know that the first known example of dreadlocks was in North Africa and parts of West Africa though Wikipedia says that dreadlocks have been worn by ancients from Semitic and Indo-Aryan peoples of the Near East and Asia Minor, Hamitic peoples of East Africa, Maasai and the Oromo of Ethiopia, and the Sufi Malangs and fakirs of Pakistan, ancient Spartan warriors of Greece, and Medieval Irish warriors. Maasai men found in the regions of northern Tanzania and southern Kenya claim that they have been wearing dreadlocks for as long as they have lived. Dreadlocks were also common during the Biblical times of John the Baptist and Samson and they were called Nazarites.
Also, far back as 1940s, dreadlocks were known to be an outstanding characteristic of the Rastafarians little wonder the term ‘dreads’ has a Jamaican origin and was used to refer to the Rasta men whom people feared and “dreaded”. With time, since they had unusually matted or locked hair, their hair came to be referred to as ‘dreadlocks’. Although, other people viewed dreadlocks as disgusting, smelly and as a symbol of craziness, the Rastas see the dreadlocks as part of who they are (identity), and what they stand for. They think of their hair as a crown hence, the length of the dreads was symbolic of a Rastafarian’s status and faith.
Nowadays, people deliberately let their hair grow into dreads in a bid to emulate dreadlocks wearing music idols like late Bob Marley of Jamaica, late Lucky Dube of South Africa, Daddy Showkey to mention but a few. This once disgusting hairstyle, which many looked down at, has today become a fashion statement.
For the generality of the people however, dreadlocks had individual meanings apart from the spiritual connotations. Mr. Adekunle, a web designer, is of the view that dreadlock is not a corporate appearance. According to him, “The choice to wear dreadlocks depends wholly on the individual’s personality, discipline or field.” Quoting what he heard a popular preacher say, Adekunle said “imagine a president, a banker or a teacher on dreadlocks?”
Michael an entrepreneur, considers dreadlocks as a hairstyle not fit for those in the corporate sector. He said “looks are very important most especially in business transactions. For the kind of organization I run, I am very spectacular about looks so I cannot employ a staff on dreads no matter how skillful except into the department where the employee will not have a one on one contact with customers like the engineering room or technical room. This decision is not basically because of my perception about dreadlock being dirty and for unserious people but the fact that people have several beliefs about dreadlocks, which are not all positive.”
Dreadlocks have shifted from a dreaded phenomenon to a likeable outlook, with many craving for it probably out of sheer curiosity or for the beauty of it.
Ajoke a staff with one of the multinational companies in Lagos, sees nothing wrong with one deciding to go for the dreads. In her words “dreadlock seems to me like any other hairstyle. The thing is in African culture, people believe that we are addressed the way we dress and this includes our hairstyles. I think it is people in my mother’s age ‘50’ and above that will think dreads is an indecent hairstyle. The place where I work, I do have colleagues that wear dreadlock and they are decent and responsible people. Hairstyle, like many forms of fashion, is a result of choice and individual expression.”
Despite the painstaking efforts of the beautician, one can still clearly differentiate an artificial dread from natural. Having dreadlocks does not mean one is unkempt. The emphasis is for it to be kept clean and tidy.
“The issue of indecency or dirtiness, I think is a personal character in this context. If someone is making a nuisance out of it, then it is the person’s trait or habit,” says Mr. Kola, a civil servant.
In most corporate works it is believed that dreads are unprofessional, this makes it difficult for some people with dread to get into the corporate world. Some people have found themselves in a situation where they were asked to either take off the dreads or lose the offer. Like in the case of Jemima, a young pretty and smart lady with dreads. She got an employment offer in a multinational firm, and she was asked to take off her dreads but she refused. She said,” I can’t take off my dreads even if I will be paid a million naira in a month”.
Although dreadlocks is believed by many to be a hairstyle for people in the entertainment industry and other professions that have nothing to do with the corporate world, some still strongly believe that gradually this belief system will change. With the changing times, it is hoped that skillful people with dreadlocks will be allowed into the corporate system.
How are dreadlocks formed? According to Wikipedia, Dreadlocks, are matted coils of hair usually intentionally formed. Because of the variety of different hair textures, various methods are used to encourage the formation of locks such as backcombing. It also suggested that leaving long hair to its own devices by not brushing or cutting the hair will encourage it to tangle together as it grows, leading to twisted, matted ropes of hair known as dreadlocks. The latter method is typically referred to as the neglect, natural, organic, or freeform method. A common misconception is that those who have dreadlocks do not wash their hair, but this is usually not the case.
Adding his voice, Mr. Brown, an analyst, is of the opinion that no one was born with natural dreadlocks. He thinks people who claim to have dreadlocks have it because their parents allowed it for reasons best known to them. In his words, “I don’t associate with people on dreadlocks. The perception I have about them is that they are unserious- minded people, dirty, and unkempt; even though they may succeed at what they do my perception still will not change.”
A hair beautician, Florence says that natural dreadlocks are quite expensive to grow. According to her: “At the early stage it looks really crazy but you start appreciating its beauty, as it grows longer by the day. It can be styled in different ways that looks good and attractive. And also, there are specially made products for dreadlocks like shampoo, cream to keep the dreads neat, tidy and shiny so that when people see it they would want to do it. I think these perceptions about dreadlocks being an indecent hairstyle for unserious people are archaic.”
Florence sums it up thus: “some persons actually hate dreadlocks. They feel like there are tons of dead hair follicles embedded in the hair but the truth is dreadlocks like any other hairstyle requires maintenance, whether natural or artificial.”
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder but in this case should we say that confidence is in the eye of the wearer? Whether it is kept long, short or midway, obviously, dreadlocks have come to stay. Those who wear the hairstyle would make bold to say that it is one of the easiest hairstyles to wear because it is stress free and whatever treatment they use has no negative effect on their hair.