When you think of dreadlocks or ‘dreads’ you may think of Bob Marley or as a symbol of the Rastafarian and reggae culture. Which makes sense, Bob Marley was a huge influence in our American culture in the 1960’s to late 1970’s and is still a huge influence today. In the Rastafarian culture dreadlocks are a religious status symbol, however dreadlocks do not exclusively belong to these cultures. Dreads have a rich history throughout our world dating back to 2,500 BCE. This week I wanted to explore the history of dreadlocks, what they represent to different cultures, and why they are seen as being culturally appropriated.
The exact date and group of people that first started wearing dreadlocks is hard to pinpoint, however from my research it seems that the first notable date would be 2,500 BCE. The first written evidence seems to derive from India’s Vedic scriptures which show the deity Shiva wearing the style. There are four Vedas, these are the primary texts to Hinduism. They also have had an influence on Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism. The Vedic word ja Taa means ‘twisted locks of hair.’ The Sadhus, the holy men of Hinduism are known for wearing dreadlocks.
In ancient Egypt pharaohs also wore dreads. You can see the style shown in cravings, drawings, and artifacts in Egypt. Thousands of years later, mummified bodies have been recovered with the dreadlocks intact. One of the oldest documented dreadlocks come from the Pharaoh Tutankhamun who wore dreads. Illustrations show how the dreadlocks of this Pharaoh were prepared for his death at the age of 18.
Moving to the Old Testament, some interpretations say that Samson is mentioned to having dreadlocks, when Delilah cuts them he loses his unsurpassed strength. John the Baptist is also associated with dreadlocks (Judges, 16:13). I have never read the Bible, this is based on some opinions I have found on the internet.
Jamaican political leader, Marcus Garvey is often credited as the founder for the Rastafari movement, an Africa-centered religion and lifestyle that started in the 1930’s. Garvey promoted black empowerment and advocated for the return to Africa. The movement is based on Garvey’s teachings and philosophies, as well as the Abrahamic covenant in the Bible. Stephanie Freeman, professor and director of the Arts and Humanities program at North Carolina Central University says, “Garvey said, ‘Look to Africa where a Black king shall be crowned, he shall be the Redeemer.’”
“Although Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie I did not seem to consider himself a God, many Rastafarians believed he was a biblically sanctioned God and was even the second coming of Jesus Christ,” Freeman continues. “In the Bible, Jesus will return as the Lion of Judah, so Rastafarians wore dreadlocks to symbolize a lion’s mane and the return of a powerful leader.”
Dreadlocks have also been documented in Mau Mau tribe where the locs (dreadlocks) intimidated the colonizers of Kenya in east Africa. Julius Ceaser claimed that the Celts had dreadlocks and described them as “hair like snakes.” Germanic and Greek tribes have also been documented to have worn dreadlocks, however I could not find any concrete evidence on these claims nor specific time periods.
“Dreadlocks can be traced to just about every civilization in history,” says Chimere Faulk, an Atlanta-based natural hair stylist and owner of Dr. Locs. “No matter the race, you will find a connection to having dreadlocks for spiritual reasons.”
Princess Gabbara wrote in Ebony Magazine, “Every person with dreads is not a smoker who listens to Reggae music, contrary to popular (and foolish) belief. Similarly, you don’t have to be Rasta to wear locs and not wearing locs certainly doesn’t make someone less Rasta. Locs are not dirty, and they’re not something that should be feared. They’re beautiful, bold and regal. The epitome of freedom. Locs are divine.”
Dreadlocks have been seen throughout the world in various times in history. Dreadlocks are not going anywhere, you can see celebrities like Whoopi Goldberg, Brandy, and Ciara who still wear long locs. What makes dreadlocks so beautiful to me is that they represent a spiritual identity or a political statement. I feel if a person decides to wear dreadlocks they need to do some research to understand what this hairstyle represents to different cultures. We need to erase the stigmas behind dreadlocks by understanding the vast history behind this hairstyle and what it represents to diverse cultures throughout the world.
With all this said, dreadlocks can belong to anyone and everyone. I feel that they may have been related to as being culturally appropriated because of the lack of understanding and knowledge on both sides of the cultural appropriation argument. Dreadlocks do not belong to one group of people, they are seen everywhere throughout the world. Like everything in life, do your research on what you are interested before making any commitments.
Until next week.
Gabbara, P. (2016, October 18). The History of Dreadlocks. Retrieved April 14, 2018, from http://www.ebony.com/style/history-dreadlocks
Bryant, T., & History Of Dreadlocks Black Hair Culture. (December 20, 2017.). A Look At The History Of Locs. Retrieved April 14, 2018, from https://www.refinery29.com/2015/04/86174/history-of-dreadlocks#slide-1
The History of Dreadlocks. (2014). Retrieved April 14, 2018, from http://dreadfactory.de/en/tips-infos/the-history-of-dreadlocks/
Hinduism. (2010). Retrieved April 14, 2018, from http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/
THE GEOGRAPHY OF HAIR
The Geography of Hair is devoted to share experiences and stories in cosmetology and how it has affected people, myself, or us as a society.