Woolly, kinky and nappy; these seemingly harmless nouns paint a picture of course coils that are a nightmare to get any kind of hair tool through. It reprises a series of childhood traumas such as the hot curling rod that mom held over the stove as your ears simmered at the very thought of having it near. The relaxer that stays on a bit too long and begins to burn at your scalp causing temporary memory loss and the fine tooth comb that meant to take out kinks but took out clumps of hair instead. African hair has lived many lives and after having tasted of every indulgence that hair can withstand it seems we have come right back to its roots...its natural roots.


The term natural hair is one that is currently being used to describe afro textured hair that has not been altered by any chemicals. I once spent a day thinking of this term "natural hair" I found myself wondering if other races don't think we have completely lost all sense. Is not Caucasian, Asian or mixed hair natural hair? Yes, yes they are but the difference between the "natural" hair of other races and that of African hair is the history behind black hair. Let's start at the point where our locks left the African shores.

During the approximately 400 years of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade which extracted over 20 million people from West and Central Africa, our beauty ideals have undergone numerous changes. Africans captured as slaves no longer had the sort of resources to practice hair grooming that they had had when home. Slaves adapted, finding sheep-fleece carding tools useful for detangling their hair.


They suffered from scalp diseases and infestations due to their deplorable living conditions. Slaves used varying remedies for disinfecting and cleansing their scalps, such as applying kerosene or cornmeal directly on the scalp with a cloth as they carefully parted the hair. For field work, male slaves shaved their hair and wore hats to protect their scalps against the sun. House slaves had to appear tidy and well-groomed. The men sometimes wore wigs mimicking their masters', or similar hairstyles while the women typically plaited or braided their hair.


During the 19th century, hair styling, especially among women, became more popular. Cooking grease such as lard, butter and goose grease were used to moisturize the hair. Female slaves sometimes used hot butter knives to curl their hair. Because of the then-prevalent notion that straight hair was more acceptable than kinky hair, many black people began exploring solutions for straightening, or relaxing, their tresses. One post-slavery solution was a mixture of lye, egg and potato, which burned the scalp upon contact.


This condensed version of our 400 years in slavery highlights in grim detail the horrendous circumstances under which African locks fought to survive. But what of us Africans, the ones that stayed behind and experienced colonisation; how have our ideas of our hair been affected by such a past?


Be sure to read next week's insert as the natural hair Revolution series continues.


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