Of dreadlocks and fashion

But there is only one thing that makes them one of a kind ‘ they all wear dreadlocks.

The practice of wearing dreadlocks, which has become so prevalent in Zimbabwe, just like in many parts of the world, holds various meanings for different people.

Dread-locked Zimbabweans who spoke to this paper gave diverse opinions on why they ‘fancied’ that kind of hairstyle.

Nelson Chara from Strathaven, said for him it was a return to the roots and a resistance to the cultural decay brought about by westernisation.

“This shows who I am, you know, it’s about my African roots. Despite how western cultures have been ingrained in our society, this is to show that I remain true to my roots,” he said, adding that while one could still stick to their roots without dreadlocks, he wanted something visible and tangible.

“I am proud of who I am, so I show it with pride,” he added.

Selina Mahachi, a student with a Harare college, said she wore dreadlocks not because of any philosophy, but this was just to make it “easy on the pocket”.

Fancy hairdos, she said, had become expensive and she could not afford them thus she settled for dreadlocks which lasted longer and were not really expensive to maintain.

“It has become so expensive to regularly maintain a fancy hairstyle and as a student, I can’t afford it, so I just settled for the dreadlocks, which can last very long, to make it easy on the pocket,” she said.

Albert Manando from Old Highfield said he wore dreadlocks to identify with the kind of music he had a passion for, Roots Reggae, and the philosophy espoused through Rastafarianism.

“Since I was a kid, I had a passion for the Rastafarian culture, and I have remained true to it, as shown by the fact that I still wear dreadlocks. I had a lot of problems with my parents when I first wore the dreadlocks. My mother was particularly not amused. She associated dreadlocks with utsvina or hurombe. She called it chirasta, as if it was something appalling,” he said.

For Manyame legislator and deputy minister of science and technology, Patrick Zhuwao, his dreadlocks were highly symbolic, although it could also be regarded as a fashion statement.

He told a Zimbabwean weekly soon after being elected MP in March 2005 that the dreadlocks were a symbol of the unity that he cherished.

“I believe in the concept that there’s strength in unity. A single strand of my dreadlocks is not as strong as several strands intertwined together,” he said.

The wearing of dreadlocks has, in some circles been associated with rebellion to authority while in others, it has been closely associated with spiritualism, as it is believed to be a timeless African practice. Some musicians in Zimbabwe who play traditional music, like Mawungira Enharira and Thomas Mapfumo, wear dreadlocks as part and parcel of the traditional African culture celebrated through their music.

In some instances, the wearing of dreadlocks has been erroneously associated with practices like dagga smoking, lawlessness and ‘gangsterism’.

One dread-locked journalist said for him, it was just ‘salon Rasta’ ‘ no deeper spiritual meaning attached to his dreadlocks.

The wearing of dreadlocks has become prevalent among journalists and soccer players, most of whom ‘ as this paper established last week ‘ did it simply because they regarded it as fashionable.

Dreadlocks have become so much associated with Rastafarian culture, which is, in turn, often associated with smoking ganja, so much that few people know the real roots and history of dread-locked hair.

New generation Rastafarians claim that the culture of locked hair came originated in Africa, while old-generation Rastafarians are said to hold great pride in their natural hair and see it as a symbol of their fight against Babylon, non-violence, non-conformity, communalism and solidarity, and as a heavy spiritual statement. A social critic, Richard Mapiye, said many new generation rastas have come to regard their dreadlocks as “a passport” for smoking ganja and listening to Reggae music without understanding the real Rastafarian culture and values.

“If you look at the origins of Rastafarianism, the people who subscribed to that philosophy then shunned everything from Babylon, such as soda, alcohol and cigarettes, but nowadays, you often see them smoking, wearing designer clothing, eating meat and drinking beer,” he said.

Dreadlocks, he said, had been part of the history of almost every spiritual system, ranging from Christianity, Hinduism to traditional African religion.

“The practice can also be seen as a symbol of a highly spiritual person who is trying to come closer to God. If one is to research the spiritual history and meaning of locks, they will be mentioned in all holy books. The biblical Samson wore his hair in dreadlocks, and his unsurpassed strength was lost when Delilah cut off his seven locks of hair.

“The roots of dreadlocks are commonly traced back to Hinduism and the God Shiva while most people recognise that dreadlocks have their origins in Africa, but nobody seems to know where. But the true origins can be found in Kemet (Africa),” he said.

December 2006
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