I’ve had dreadlocks for six years. They’re long, about as thick as my little finger, dyed brown at the ends. I am proud of them. Not just because they are all my own hair and I’ve been growing them for years, but because I have kept them despite people’s ignorance about them.
Although I’m mixed-race, I don’t have my mother’s Indian hair. My sister inherited her silky hair which people would always tell me was ‘better’ or ‘prettier’ than mine. I could have ironed my hair, torn at it with combs or blitzed it with chemicals, but I didn’t. Instead, on Christmas Eve in 2013, I went to a Lagos salon and got my hair put into twists. In the months that followed, my hair shrank and stood straight up no matter how many barrettes I tried to weigh it down with. And when it finally started to grow, I looked like a mop.
My best friends were upset when they saw my baby dreadlocks. My hair was called ‘ugly’ and ‘dirty’, a waste of mixed-race privilege. When I was 14, a teacher pulled me aside and demanded that I cut my dreadlocks. She called them ‘spiky’ and ‘matted’ then said, “This is Nigeria, not Jamaica. Weaves are okay, but not this.” I’ve never felt more embarrassed. I cried… and then I dried my face…and I didn’t cut my hair.
Then my dreads matured. They became long and smooth. Eye-catching. People complimented me on them, asked me if they were real. Everybody asks to touch my hair now, even the people who used to tell me to cut it. None of that matters. My hair is for me; I don’t wear it for others’ approval.
Dreads as long as mine need maintenance. The roots need to be re-twisted and loose hair has to be neatened up. My hairstylist, Winnie, can do all that and more. She’s an artist. The woven bun she made for my school’s formal dinner was a gorgeous sculpture that just happened to be attached to my head. She knows more about dreadlocks than anyone I’ve met. The last time I was at the salon, I interviewed Winnie.
Me: What are dreadlocks?
Winnie Carter: Locs or dreadlocks are basically a rope of knotted hair.
Me: What makes dreadlocks special?
WC: Locs are special because they go deeper than a look. Locs can be an expression of deep religious or spiritual convictions, a manifestation of ethnic pride. In the Rastafari culture, it is believed that knotted hair prevents energy from leaving your body. This allows that energy to flow and strengthen your mind, body and spirit. Dreads are so much more than just a style and they have been around for longer than we know.
Me: Is it difficult to start dreadlocks?
WC: There are many different methods to starting the locking process. It all depends on how you want to start your journey and also what method is best for your hair type. Some people like to start from comb coils, two-strand twists or even interlocking. One method that has become more popular is the crochet method. This instantly locs your hair and you can also get loc extensions if you want your dreadlocks to be longer.
Me: How do you care for them?
WC: It is important to implement a hair-care regimen that works for you and results in healthy and clean locs. The products you use are important. Personally, I don’t like using locking creams or gels because they cause residue to build up and shampooing can’t remove all of the product stuck inside. Instead, I like to use oils such as coconut oil, olive oil and castor oil to moisturise the hair because there isn’t much product build up. Aloe Vera is my favourite thing to use on locs when re-twisting. It is a conditioner, a moisturiser, it promotes hair growth and also helps with itchy scalp and dandruff. Aloe Vera also doesn’t cause much build-up. Detoxing your locs is also a must. It removes the dirt inside the hair that you wouldn’t normally get out with just shampoo. So, if your dreadlocks are heavy and stiff you might want to consider doing a detox.
Dreadlocks can be a beautiful, meaningful and empowering way of wearing your hair. I’m proud of my dreadlocks, and I encourage other people to start theirs.
Wondrous Hair Salon, @wondroushairng
Winnie Carter: @w.h.a._
Written by Radha Zutshi Opubor, age 16
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