Saturday, 26 October 2013

Hair and Politics

“In the ’70s, black South Africans never braided with raffia,” says Dr Nyairo. “In the early ’80s, they were left out of the braid and Maasai twist revolution that rocked Nairobi, Kinshasa and Kampala. And in the late ’80s and early ’90s, the chemical revolution passed them by.”
She adds that when they eventually caught up with the perm in the millennium, the hairdressers were atrocious and oftentimes over-processed clients’ hair. With few, if any treatments, the poorly maintained locks would invariably fall off, leaving behind unsightly patches. (Excerpt culled from The Daily Nation Online Edition 24th October 2013. Read the full article here.)

I came across this interesting article on hair written in one of the Kenyan dailies while doing my usual online newspaper reading the other day. In the article the writer talks about how while on a visit to South Africa she noticed that a lot of women wore their hair natural; either as dreadlocks or combed fros. That caught my eye in addition to the bolded paragraph at the beginning of this post. Even though I have never been to South Africa (hope to someday soon:) I too had made this observation but thought nothing of it. You see East and Southern Africans share a lot of linguistic, culinary and cultural similarities so I find myself watching a lot of South African TV shows and soaps on cable more so because I identify with what they are talking about. According to my observations for every relaxed head in one of the South African soaps I watch regularly there are almost 5 natural heads and like the writer pointed out they sport dreadlocks, combed fros,  which are usually TWAs (Teeny Weeny Afros) in most cases, braids or cornrows without extensions.
Gorgeous Lira is an award winning multi platinum selling South African singer and songwriter. ( Image source)

I honestly never thought about it in a political sense until I read this article. Because of South Africa’s racial segregation system of apartheid (please Google it) that ran from the 1940s and ended in the 1990s South Africa was more or less a loner cut off from the rest of the world and black south Africans were even more cut off because they bore the biggest brunt of this wicked system. While the rest of black Africans were being exposed to black lifestyle in the Diaspora and amongst each other, black South Africans most likely did not get as much exposure. Travel to and out of South Africa during apartheid was quite difficult and impossible in some cases; I remember seeing my aunt’s old passport from the 80s that had the words that went something like “valid for all parts of the world and commonwealth apart from the Republic of South Africa” the exact words escape me but I remember South Africa being on the list of countries she couldn’t visit because of the apartheid regime. It makes a lot of sense when I look at it that way because sanctions were placed on South Africa during the apartheid era which made trade with the rest of the world difficult so while new afro hair techniques, factory manufactured hair extensions, afro hairstyles, relaxer kits and the know how to use these products were being imported into African countries and within other African countries, South African blacks most probably got none of these products and techniques if any at all.
#Teamlocs. Very funny South African actress who plays the character Gloria in South African soap "Scandal" and no they didn't "steal" the name Lol this soap has been around for a few years I think it premiered in 2005 (image source)
The most interesting observation that I have made on my South African TV watching spree is that a majority of both city and rural women sport natural looks. In an African country like Kenya which is where I am from and know quite well you will find most of the natural heads whether combed out, styled or braided concentrated in the rural areas (countryside). In the cities it is usually the little girls and teenagers that you will find sporting combed out or styled natural hair, in fact it's very common for Kenyan girls to get their first perm way after high school and it is usually a personal choice for the young ladies a bit like the “grown” thing to do now that they are out of high school. Most older natural heads in the cities are most likely to have locs,  be in braids, cornrows, wigs or weaves, you will come across women with combed out or styled natural hair in the cities as well but not as much as you would in South Africa.  I really don’t know the reason for the current disparity between women’s hair in cities and rural areas across Kenya and indeed Africa as a whole because trust me you are very likely to find the same observation made on Kenyan women replicated in Nigeria or Ghana but I would put it down to socio-economic reasons and probably exposure or lack thereof to other black hair techniques. That on its own is an entire subject of discussion for another day.


  1. very true observations

  2. You are so right. I recently went to South Africa and i noticed that a lot of thire women wore locs, conrows and their afros proudly. I went on a tour and the lady leading had a beautiful afro, she gave me the motivation i needed to wear my afro to work even though i rocked my fro on a weekend call. I can't wear my afro to the hospital during the week, i might get into trouble with some over zealous people. From your explanation i now understand why i saw a lot of them rocking their locs and afros..

    1. Lol @getting into trouble from over zealous people! I am glad to read that yours is yet another first hand account of natural hair in SA. Thanks for stopping by:)

  3. this was a really great and honest read - thank you!


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