Cultural Appropriation, Cultural Appreciation: Do you know the Historical Context of your Dreadlocks?
So, In the past week the World has gone Crazy with talk of Dreadlocks, Cultural Appropriation and Justin Bieber Dreadlock Fever, Read on as we examine the History, the Roots, and Wider Popularisation of Dreadlocks.
In the 21st Century the World has experienced a global popularisation of Dreadlocks as a way of wearing your hair and Dreads themselves are present across a diverse range of people of all backgrounds. Along with this popularity comes arguments of origin and cultural appropriation but in reality they are present throughout history, without doubt being the oldest human ''hairstyle'' and they are well known for their depictions/descriptions across Africa (including ancient Egypt), Peru, India, Indonesia, New Zealand, Tibet, Nepal, Australia, the Caribbean, the Americas, Europe (Celtic, Nordic, Slavic, Greco-Roman), and the Middle East.
Before there was the Modern popularisation of Dreadlocks, the Mystic men and women of India, Sadhus and Sadhvis, have for thousands of years been devoted to a spiritual life of austerity and meditation and were always well known for their long sacred hair, an outward symbol of devotion to the also Dreadlocked Lord Shiva.
Picture (left) of Lord Shiva, Photo (right) by Sanat Kumar
In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, great long haired yogis traveled throughout Europe and North America spreading their ancient teachings and spiritual practice. Their knowledge of medicine and science astounded the Western world and the practice of Yoga and Meditation became very popular, particularly stretching, which became a normal practice in exercise routines everywhere, including the Military.
19th Century Photographs of the Sadhus
However, this admiration of the great eastern spiritual teachers for the knowledge they lovingly shone did not manifest itself into any wider popularisation of the way they wore their hair; Dreadlocks or 'Jata' as they are known in Sanskrit.
Symbolic of Wisdom and Perceptive powers, Native Americans were also known for their long hair and many actually wore Dreadlocks. In modern times, this also did not cause any other groups to start to wear Dreadlocks, but there was type of cultural convergence in West with the Long hair of the Hippy Movement beginning in the 1960s when many 'hippies' in the USA grew their hair long in protest to the Vietnam war and the preparation of Nuclear arms, this coincided with protests of the Native American Rights Movement, Black Liberation and Civil Rights Movement and also, in mainstream pop music - the hugely popular Beatles made it widely known they were travelling to places such as India to seek refuge in the ashrams of famous yogis such as Maharishi Mahesh. John Lennon of the Beatles would later famously stage a Hair related protest for Peace with his partner Yoko Ono which involved growing their hair long and staying in bed.
(Left) "Race Mixing is Communism" Protest against the Multi-Culturalism ,1960's (Middle) A Native American Girl protesting the Vietnam War, (Right) In Philadelphia, In the 1970s, a Dreadlocked Member of the Afrocentric MOVE Organisation is accosted by the police.
(Left) Native American with Dreadlocks, US Geological Survey of the Territories (Right) Chief with Dreadlocks from the Mohave People, Native American Commandments
The Global popularisation of Dreadlocks undoubtedly had its big catalyst moment with the worldwide exposure of Reggae Music and it's iconic Musical Messengers such as Bob Marley, Steel Pulse and Peter Tosh. Songs such as "Punky Reggae Party" show how in the 1970s different minority groups converged and often held respect for each other as they fought together against systems of oppression and division such as fascism, racism and apartheit.
(Left, Top) Bob Marley, (Left, Bottom) Peter Tosh, (Right) Steel Pulse and The Clash, Rock Against Racism (steelpulse.com)
However, before there was the Modern, wider popularisation of Dreadlocks, it is important to know that Rastafari in particular faced extreme persecution and prejudice for their Dreadlocks and Spiritual Beliefs from the Colonial Governments throughout the Caribbean from the 1920s - 1980s and onwards. Believe it or not, in recent history, a culture of brutal violence towards people with Dreadlocks was common and this (combined with often being openly excluded and discriminated against in society) meant many Rastafari both Men, Women and Children chose to escape to remote areas rather than risk being victim of the extreme violence taking place as Rasta settlements near towns and cities were repeatedly raided and destroyed.
Song describing how Rastafari were treated in society "Since they threw the comb away"
Leading up to modern day, throughout the majority of the 20th century the wearing of Dreadlocks was still isolated to small groups (sometimes large, for example Kumbh Mela - Said to be the largest gathering of Humans on the planet), but these groups were mostly ostricised or ridiculed in the racially divisive Western Societies of the time and otherwise were most commonly prevalent in Africa with peoples such as the Mau Mau and Masai in Kenya who were fighting against Colonialism and the Sadhus and Sadhvis of India and Nepal. From the 1930s onward, the presence of Dreadlocks started to appear in the Caribbean as a form of rebellion and refusal to comply with the Colonial systems of former slave masters.
(Top Left) Propaganda Film Illustrations depicting "Savage" African Warriors, (Top Right) Illustration of Kenyan Warrior, (Bottom) Ethiopian Soldiers who fought against Italian Occupation, 1936 - 1941.
When photos and illustrations of African Warriors and Priests arrived in the Caribbean, although these images were often in the form of distasteful propaganda depicting so called "savages" who ''needed to be civilized'' (according to the European Nations), the now named ''Ras Tafarians'' (after the fulfillment of prophecies in the Bible relating to Christ's return and Birth in Ethiopia) were inspired and many decided to follow this tradition with a vision of personal and collective freedom, letting their hair develop in its natural state, chanting for Africa and without doubt striking fear into the eyes of the 'prim and proper' Colonial society.
(Left) History Channel Depiction of Samson, (Right) Photo of Ethiopian Bahitawi by Giampaolo Cimadomo
The first large Rasta Settlement in the 1950s, known as ''Pinnacle'' was founded by the visionary ''First Rasta'' Percival Leonard Howell ( who also liked to be known by the Hindu title - Gong guru Maharaj). This self sustainable dwelling was protected by said to be ferocious Dreadlock guards, known as ''the Mountain Lions''.
Following the special strength held within the locks of Samson, The Dreadlock tradition is also held by many Rastafari to be symbolic of a deeply personal covenant with God, as it was for the Nazarite priests living in accordance with the Nazarite Vows of the Bible.
(Top Left) Protest in Britain against police brutality against Rasta in Jamaica, (Top Right) Rastafarians eagerly anticipate the arrival of Emperor Haile Selassie in Jamaica, (Bottom Left) Police Brutality from Coral Garden Incident,(Bottom Centre) UWI Report on Rastafari Movement, (Bottom Right) Tension between Rasta and Government Forces, often family ties would be overlooked.
In 1960 the Violence against Rastafari Men, Women and Children was becoming so well known that a special report undertaken by the University of the West Indies recommended that positive action should be taken by the Government of Jamaica to meet the reasonable demands of the Rastafari community and stated:
"The freedom of speech and freedom of movement of the Ras Tafari should be respected; The public should cease to stereotype all Ras Tafari;
The public should learn to recognise that religious people have a right to wear their hair long if they wish;
The minister of education should prohibit teachers from cutting the hair of children without their parent’s permission."
The police "Should leave innocent Ras Tafari brethren alone, Stop cutting off their hair, Stop moving them on, Stop arresting them on minor pretexts, and Stop beating them up"
However, things did not change and the Coral Gardens Incident of April 11th 1963, has become infamous as the day when the Newly Independent Government of Jamaica put out the call to "Bring in every Rasta, DEAD or ALIVE".
Trailer for the Brilliant documentary "Bad Friday, Rastafari After Coral Gardens" available in full online.
The observance of Good Friday marks the anniversary of a day remembered as Bad Friday for Rastafari across the world and especially in Jamaica.
We recommend knowledge of these events in particular for everyone with or without Dreadlocks, Locks, locs or whatever you choose to call them. As happens commonly, When someone associates Dreadlocks with Rasta , no matter the often unique personal reason for you having Locks, we should be able to feel comfortable with why the two are intrinsically linked and hopefully we can All proudly say " I respect Rasta".
Collection of News Paper cuttings describing incidents of police brutality, and depicting heavy bias against the Rasta community - compiled by Super Dread
Similar Incidents were widespread around this time throughout the Caribbean, a notable example occurring in Dominica where an immoral and inhumane legislation was passed called The Dread Act 1974.
Dread Act 1974
''Individuals wearing Dread Locks and who appeared in public were guilty of an offense and subject to an arrest without warrant.''
During this time in Colonial and the Post Colonial societies, It really was extremely dangerous to have Dreadlocks. Can you Imagine Dreadlocks being Illegal and being hunted for them Today? A common occurrence would be that Police would "shear" those with dreadlocks by using horrific torture methods such as tying people together by their locks and forcing them to be ripped from the scalp in continual efforts to shame Rastas in an attempt to remove their Sacred \ Collective identity.
News Paper Clippings Compiled by Super Dread
Even the word and etymology of ''Dreadlocks'' is actually descriptive for the stigma imposed by society against those proud ''Africans at Home and Abroad'' who were persistently painted as scary, terrible and "Dreadful". These terms were actually embraced by Rastafari people who were more than happy not to abide to the expectations of the Colonial Society and through all of this, they stood firm whilst delivering their message worldwide with Reggae Music, Faith, Love, Education and Rebellion against oppression.
In many Countries, especially Latin America, in reference to the struggle and how they received their first exposure to Dreadlocks, Dreads are still referred to today as 'Rastas'.
Trailer for Steel Pulse Documentary "Dread Town", describes how rasta, reggae music has been influential in revolutions across the world
As a consequence of this, similar to the development of hip hop genres all emanating from the mc's first entertaining their friends with home built Caribbean style soundsystems, Dreadlocks have become globally popular, have many different names and usually have a strong personal meaning to each individual, even if this is just a great appreciation for the way they look with them. They transcend all boundaries of race, religion, nationality, gender and cultural background but still many experience discrimination or negative attitudes for wearing them. These negative attitudes are directly linked to the prejudices which have become deeply ingrained in Western society against, in particular, the proud Africans emanating from the Caribbean with Rastafari faith but it also happens to be something experienced by Dreadlock wearers of All backgrounds today.
With all this, one thing is certain, many of the negative attitudes towards Dreadlocks have definitely started to change and hopefully one day, common events such as prohibition of education because a child has choose to go school with Dreadlocks, or a person being deemed "Unemployable" because of their hair will be eliminated entirely.
Truely, without the Strength and Courage of those that were before us, the Wider Popularisation of Dreadlocks and this Universal Celebration of Natural Freedom of expression, Belief and Individuality would certainly not be what it is today.
So Today, (and Always), instead of talking about Justin Bieber's new hairstyle, we acknowledge the Universal roots and Natural Phenomena of having Dreadlocks but Give Upmost Thanks to the Rastafari Elders who suffered and gave their Lives carrying the blessings and the burden so strongly and persevered, fighting the system with Peace, Love, Equal Rights and Justice to stand strong in their faith and expose the world to many truths including especially this part of our lives we all find such happiness with.
Love + Respect
The Super Dread Team
(The Authors of this Article, Sim & Benji)
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