By Bunmi Craig
I sat in the chair waiting for my turn at the hair dressers w en the lady in the next chair looked at my hair and curiously asked me if I was going to re-touch my hair.
I have a medium size afro which I have been cultivating for’ about eighteen months now and everywhere I go, people look at me and ask how I manage to keep the afro, some people actually think I am wearing a wig! No I am not wearing a wig and no I do not intend to re-touch my hair and there is no big deal to ‘managing’ my hair, I just wash, dry and moisturize, easy!
I cannot recollect the moment I decided to leave my hair the way God meant it to be, the way God made it, but I remember getting more and more fed up with the relaxers and the whole stress of relaxing my hair and making sure I get the treatments so that the chemical damage is mitigated, I just had enough I guess.
Relaxing of our hair is rooted in our colonial past, in the times when we were bought and sold as slaves, in the time when we belonged to our masters and we wanted to be like them. We dressed like them, talked like them and desperately wanted to look like them, hence the desperation for straight flowing hair.
We have however come a long way since. We have evolved as a people and have come into our own. We celebrate and promote African beauty, fashion and culture and our hair is the beginning of it all.
The most widespread cosmetological tool today is the sale of human hair. Large numbers of women flock to beauty salons where they buy ‘human hair’ or ‘hair extensions.’ Most think of how ‘real’ their hairs will look, thinking how to outdo the next lady in the ‘human hair’ madness.
You hear of ‘real human hair’ Indian hair, Spanish hair, Brazilian hair etc, ladies today are not fully kitted if their scalps have not been attached to either of these variety of dead human cells.
The cost of these hair ranges from around sixty thousand Naira to two hundred and fifty thousand Naira or much more, I have a friend who has all the different types and actually keeps them in a safe! I have also heard a story of armed robbers who attacked some ladies and after dispossessing them of all their belongings promptly brought out razor blades to cut off their weave-ons!
I wonder if anyone has taken the time to find out where these hair that we are so fond of ‘fixing’ on our heads come from. The merchants of these hair (mainly the Chinese) claim that a box is placed in the bedrooms of prospective families who wish to sell their hair and each morning as they brush their hair the bit that fall out is gathered in the box and after a while the merchants come round to weigh the hair and buy them from these people. The hair is then taken away for treatments and prompt shipment to Africa.
Usually it’s the very poor people who consider gathering their hair in order to sell to hair merchants and they are often paid very little for their products and it is the merchants who make the real money.
Another way the hair is sourced is from prison inmates; hair is shaved off for sale so as to earn much needed cash for themselves or for the upkeep of their loved ones on the outside. Again the prisoners earn very little from their sale and it is the prison warders and hair merchants that earn the real cash.
Yet another way ‘real human hair’ is obtained is from the river somewhere in India where during an annual festival of worship to a certain river goddess, followers cut off their hair in a ritual ceremony and the hair is tossed into the river as part of the sacrifice to the goddess. Hair merchants would later fish out all these hair after the ceremony and then process them for onward transmission to us, the fashionistas.
You also have the sale of hair from the heads of corpses, yes dead people! The head will be shaved and the hair processed and shipped to Africa to make us look beautiful. Some people believe that these practices are highly unethical, from a moral point of view.
However, I think it is deeper than that, many African women buy these human hair extensions and get their hairdressers to attach this flowing European hair onto their heads, then they flick back their heads haughtily, in a misguided display of “beauty” and unbridled cosmetic cannibalism because Africans have been brainwashed by hundreds of years of abuse that anything African is not good enough, is not beautiful and desirable and that everything European is the ideal.
The universal concept of beauty remains defined by the blonde woman. The African woman is simply chasing the ideal.
Ever before the first European set foot on our soil we had a rich culture of beautifying our bodies with beautiful adornments and of plaiting our hair into intricate master pieces to the delight of our men and for the pleasure therefore. Our concept of beauty should be defined by our culture and heritage as Africans.
I really do not have any strong convictions either way, I believe a woman or a man for that matter, has a right to seek to improve his or her looks in any way he or she chooses to, but I hope that he or she gets duly informed in making his or her choices.
I also hope that people who choose to wear afros, braids and corn rows would also be left alone to define their own concept of beauty in the classic Afro centric chick. For now though the jury is out on the definition of real human hair!