Friday, March 4, 2011

In Search of 'Good Hair'

Like all modern societies, Angolan's place a great emphasis on their hair styles and hair care.  But beyond the current fashion trends, the history of hair styles has a social and cultural significance intrinsic to each beautiful strand.

As in most African societies, hair functioned as a carrier of messages.  Within these societal cultures, hair was an integral part of a complex language system.  Ever since African (or Angolan) civilizations bloomed, hairstyles have been used to indicate a person's marital status, age, religion, ethnic identity, wealth and rank within a community.  In some cultures, a person's surname and geographical origin could be ascertained simply by examining the hair because each clan had its own hair style.

In some Angolan cultures, hair was only groomed by a family member because only a relative could be trusted with such an important task.  In Angolan tribal traditions, most all women were taught about hair care and how to braid while they were young girls.  In social circles amongst women, offering to braid someone else's hair was a way of asking them to be your friend.  Hair braiding sessions are a time of share confidences and laughter; the circle of women who do each other's hair are friends bound together in a fellowship.

To traditional Angolans, and most Africans in general, the hair's value and worth is heightened by its spiritual qualities.  Anthropologists observed the belief systems that supports that since 'the hair is the most elevated point of your body, it is the closest to the divine.  Because the hair is the closest thing to the heavens, communicating from the gods and spirits was thought to pass through the hair to get to the soul".  Because a person's spirit supposedly nestled in the hair, the hairdresser always held a special place in community life.  The hairdresser was often considered the most trustworthy individual in society.

Clearly, hair has never been a purely cosmetic attribute for Angolans or for Africans in general.  It is a testament to the strength of these that most of the same rituals and beliefs regarding the hair remain in traditional Angolan societies today. (Hair story: untangling the roots of Black hair in America.  By Ayana D Byrd, Lori L Tharps)

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