“And because there is no beauty without pain, the Nairobi woman who opts to have her hair done in dreadlocks will also experience hair problems, just like those of us with natural hair do.” An excerpt from an article that left me wondering, “What’s so unnatural about locs?”
Nkatha Muthaura started her locs journey back in campus. She had tried the relaxed hair route that left her hair brittle and thin. A year later, she decided it was time for a change. She dearly missed her combed out kinky, natural hair. That was the end of the line for her and the straight hair fad. To avoid the many trips to the salon to have her hair relaxed, she resorted to braiding.
Nkatha figured locs would save her a lot of pain from the use of artificial products that her scalp was sensitive to. “And so one day I just walked into a Salon and chopped off most of it, locking the little natural bit left. I hated combing my hair, it was painful.” She says with a laugh and adds, “Come to think about it, Natural African hair isn’t meant to be combed out. Just let it be.”
There are many theories to the origin of Locs. The most popular of these credits Egypt as the birthplace of locs. History backs this up with archaeological evidence of people wearing locs- mummies have been recovered with their locs still intact. Another account according to the Hindu Vedic scriptures dating from around 1700BC states that the god Shiva wore them.
We also have the Rastafarians, a sect indigenous to Jamaica, with theological foundations that were influenced by the Judaic Old Testament scripture; “All the days of the vow of his separation there shall no razor come upon his head: until the days be fulfilled, in the which he separates himself to the LORD, he shall be holy, and shall let the locs of the hair of his head grow.” Numbers 6:5.
Locs symbolize the mane of the Lion of Judah, and their resistance to a world afflicted by materialism, oppression and capitalism. It is important to note that not all Rastafarians have locs. As goes the song by Morgan heritage “Don’t haffi dread”, which points out that one doesn’t have to wear locs to be considered a Rastafarian.
As wearing locs later became a notable fashion statement in the 1970s with Bob Marley bringing the style into the mainstream, many people began to adopt it as a fashion and style statement.
A lot has been said about this hairstyle. Many believing that people with locs don’t wash their hair and that hair must be dirty in order for it to lock. It has also been said that locs damage the scalp and can lead to thinning. Furthermore, some think not combing is the only way to have nice locs and that hair grows slower in locs.
Contrary to these beliefs, if cared for well, locs are a very healthy hairstyle because the residue free soaps used in washing them actually makes hair grow faster and thicker.
For Nkatha, her initial investment in locs at a city centre salon cost her around KES 1,500/=. Nowadays, one would have to part with up to KES 3,000/= for the same, with consequent retouches to lock the ‘growth’ going for up to KES 1,500/=. This, for most people happens monthly.
Her regular hair regime involves a thorough cleanse using a shampoo containing a moisturizer, then conditioning and twisting her locs with wax. Treatment, an additional cost besides retouch is optional but advisable every two to three months, especially if you’ve coloured/dyed your hair, and would cost anything from KES 500/- to 1,000/=.
“Sometimes I go for a touch up depending on the condition of my scalp. If it’s flaked…they do a scalp clean.”
We have all heard the stories of discrimination cases in the corporate world where employees who want to keep both their jobs and locs wear wigs just to hide them. Nkatha confesses to hiding hers for a couple of months by braiding since they were really tiny.
“I dreaded my folks’ reaction.” She had hinted to them a few times before about her desire to grow locs and had always gotten the ‘Look’.
“The first time my friends saw them they said locs carried with them a ‘mkora’ (crook) wayward look that didn’t match my personality. My parents were a little disappointed.” To them locs were unprofessional, especially since she had enrolled in law school. “The question was whether I was planning on being an Activist or some kind of artist in future, and I have since ended up as both. Although that wasn’t my initial goal.”
Nkatha just wanted a less stressful hair regime, favouring the use of a natural hair product and less heat treatment to hair. To date the most she has had to do every morning is run her hands through her hair. “That’s pretty much it. My hair as a result grows at a very fast rate since there’s little manipulation and I now trim regularly to maintain a manageable length.”
Over the years, with the increase in demand and lessened stigma, Nairobi became a dangerous place to wear locs with reports of thugs cutting off people’s hair in matatus (privately owned minibuses for public transportation in Kenya) and salons, selling them to those not willing to grow them. They fetched a tidy sum with prices ranging from KES 20,000/= to 40,000/= depending on the length of the locs. This wave caused quite a stir leaving people afraid to show off their locs. Some people go to the lengths of hiring out their locs for a period of time or selling them out of their own free will.
It is true that locs take a lot of patience, especially in the early stages, with hair texture determining how fast they lock. If one has a perm they would have to shave off the chemical and work with the natural hair as a starting base like Nkatha did.
To her delight, she has never quite had an issue when seeking employment opportunities due to her look, since she ensures they are neatly relocked, cleaned regularly and avoids bright colour highlights. “Any time I have had to walk into the corporate world to seek employment, I hold them up in a pony tail. My locs have done me a favor of having a braided appearance.” She says with a smile.
Initially she was afraid of getting bored by the one hairstyle and the dread of having to shave it off if it ever got to that. “But there’s so much styling I can do with it. I’ve fully embraced my Afro hair by letting it be. It’s now manageable, painless and I make fewer trips to the salon. I finally achieved the length of hair I always desired.”
With Nkatha’s hair free to be, she is now settled and wouldn’t think of shedding her mane. Her testimony rings true to those with locked hair, and is an inspiration to those considering making the switch.
pictures courtesy of Sanaa.Tu photography