Cultural Appropriation of the African Hairstyles

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Of all the tons of topics to be technical about, the history of dreadlocks arguably tops them all, as pinning down the origins of dreadlock to a particular culture or race, is one topic that has wrought a lot of confusion and issues, amongst a lot of people. From cultural appropriation to claims of stolen cultural identity, the problems seem to be without end. Although a lot of information is lost to unrecorded history, this article brings into light a part of the available history of dreadlocks.

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According to The Encyclopedia of Hair, A Cultural History,1 by Victoria Sherrow, the priests of the Ethiopian Coptic religion are the earliest Africans on record to have rocked dreadlocks as far back as 500 BCE. in India however, the Hindu holy men (sadhus) hold the record for the earliest historical reference of dreadlocks dating 1800 BCE. Other evidence shows that Ancient Egyptians and other African tribes, like the Maasai of Kenya, rocked dreads too, but the origin of such movements is unknown to us.

On further consideration of the above, it’s almost impossible to point a finger to a particular culture knowing especially that most history is lost to time, which drives us to another question, the issue of modern dreads and the growing interest in it. This search points us to the continent of South America, Jamaica, to be precise. Dreads, locs, or dreadlocks, whatever you call it, became a thing in Jamaica around the 1930s to 1950s.

The Rastafari culture is popularly identified with growing the dreads culture in Jamaica, the adaptation of dreads as an integral part of the Rastafari culture stems from two ideas; a sign of their African identity and a religious vow of their separation from the wider society they regard as Babylon”2

Regardless of its origin and cultural representation to Jamaicans, it’s clear that the culture of locs is still evolving. If we fast forward to the present, rocking dreads has become more of fashion than political or cultural. Most people rock locs because they either like the look or because they’re opting to rock locs as a protective style for their natural hair. So, who owns “dreads” and locs? As stated above, there no definite answer to this question, while an ideal answer would be no one, a more realistic answer would relate the origin 3 of rocks to the people who rocked the style for religious reasons, cultural reasons, or out of necessity.

Unfortunately, this would mean that people of European descent who rock locs these days may find themselves guilty of cultural appropriation, either unintentionally or otherwise. The problem with cultural appropriation is that, when white people adopt hairstyles, dresses, and other aspects of minority culture, with the power of the larger mainstream culture,4 the tens to change the original meaning of these styles into something preferred by them.

So, should white people not rock “dreadlocks”? Of course not, what it means is that the mainstream media shouldn’t be used for fueling propaganda and erasing other cultural histories and that there should be respect for the minority cultures from which these trends are borrowed. 

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