[Reader-list] Much A Do About Hair Do

Ojwando JP ojpatrick at yahoo.com
Wed Aug 23 11:57:33 IST 2006

Much A Do About Hair Do
              “It something that had been going on for sometime now,” confides Joy Bilha Wangari Maina, “but once I almost lost my cool.” And it all began in a public service vehicle. 
  “I had just taken my seat in the Bangalore Metropolitan Bus Corporation (BMTC) bus when I felt a something strange on my hair. And guess what? A fellow commuter had decided to let her untamed instincts get the better of her and busy fiddling with the strands of my hair. Stares from strangers, and some trying to draw others attention to my hair, is something that I have got used to, but this one was taking it a bit too far. I presume her action was prompted by the simple fact that I had decided to unbraid my hair. Sounds innocent, doesn’t it? Back in Africa, this would be ordinary. But down here, as I found out, if you are a black woman like me, and you decide to wear your hair down, you are sure to have other things coming your way. 
  People are often startled, and will certainly fuss over your hairstyle. There are those curious to know for how long you keep the braids, whether you get to shampoo them regularly, and if so, how long does it take to style. A couple of others go to such ridiculous levels, wanting to know whether in Africa, one is born with the braids. The list of questions, on a practice that at best should be seen as a fad Africans have taken to, is endless. Yet there are countless others who have the guts to fling at you the question, ‘is it real’? It is pretty okay if the nosiness comes from people you know, but if you have to go through life, with every other stranger you meet on the streets, or self-proclaimed stylists, trying to give you advice on what suits you and what does not, it can be a trifle irritating.” 
  Still on the same issue, many in the sub continent, see black women as ‘hair wearers’ and not ‘hair growers’, which to me is surprising to say the least. 
  Let us face it, is it not pretty obvious that the texture of African hair is poles apart from those of other ethnic groups? Because of practical reasons or just the fun of it, people of Afro descent, particularly women, have been experimenting with their hair. Since it is kinky air, they do find it relatively easy to straighten or perm them. Intriguingly, when blacks, especially women, straighten their kinky hair, it is often assumed they are trying to fit in the so-called ‘white’ cultural mainstream. Suffice it to say that braiding is a timeless tradition and its true character has largely been dependent on the needs of the black race. So, why the fuss? 
  As a young girl, Joy Bilha recalls having worn tiny plaits or cornrows. These, she avers did not require extensions and helped the hair to grow longer, something any girl craves, black, white, brown, or yellow. Sometimes, she could attach beads that lent a touch of style and dash of colour. She therefore finds it amusing that in the sub continent, some people are surprised how one day her hair can fall till the back, and on another, it is back and tiny with tight braids at the back.
  “Braiding, to me, has a lot to do with the looks, it requires less of maintenance, and helps the wearer save on time. I have not known any other style since, so where is the issue of trying to ‘fit in’?” she poses. 
  Others, like Susan Ndomba, Aida (Tanzanians), Happy (Uganda) and Tina Sinzwi (Zimbabwe), readily admit their hairs indeed attract curious stares on the streets. Says Tina: “The inquisitiveness of people in the sub continent initially bothered me when I arrived, but I soon got over it.” Agrees Aida: “The curiousity is just astounding. I generally don’t mind it, but sometimes it can be a nuisance. I swear.” 
  So, should Afro students go about explaining the simple fact that in every community, people have a special attachment to their unique features, the hair included? For the uninitiated, here are some of the distinctions. There is the no-fuss hairstyle or weave- attaching natural or synthetic hair- which is nothing but hair extensions. Depending on the competence of your stylist, in just a couple of hours, you can have a mane of thick and luxurious locks. The usual hair care-wash, shampoo and oil treatment are musts though, and comfortably, they can be kept for long durations. But then let us not forget there are other people of Afro descent with purely natural hair and don’t go for extensions. Those who opt for extensions do so because they have no chemicals that can alter the hair structure unlike in the use of chemicals. Also, it matches with the hair colour, are light, seal safely, and more importantly, allow the hair to grow. 
  Afro hair as such has inspired numerous styles the world over, from rastas (Bob Marley) to locks (Whoopi Goldberg), Graca Mandela), perms (CNN’s Femi Oke, Tumi Makhabo) to cornrows (Arsenal’s Lauren) braids (the William Sisters) to weaves (Oprah Winfrey), and many others. So what is new about it? “We too can fuss about other hair do, but we don’t,” points out Tina. 
  According to Susan Ndomba, the expressions of the local hosts often begin with innocuous questions. “People are often startled by the length of our hair. It comes down the back and is entirely natural when blow-dried. Some perm their hair, only to be eliciting never-ending questions.  
  Mostly, these are harmless queries or just inquisitiveness but depending on how you take, they can be a tad wearisome. 
  Happy confesses that too much attention can be embarrassing. Sitting at a parlour, she was left wondering why the hairdresser took so long to attend to her. Later, she peeped through, and there she was in an animated discussion with her colleagues discussing the texture of her hair. “I thought that was cheap! She could have told me she could not do it and do I have to be reminded that I am different?” she fumes.  
  Such tales bordering on mental anguish are many, but as the victims themselves do confess, it is also nice to see many people appreciate something different, and sometimes even talk of going for a similarly hair do. And why not? 
  A host of local people can today be seen sporting braids. “I guess there are times you have to be positive about the whole thing,” reflects Joy Bilha. “Just the same way people of other races adore their hairstyles, Africans, both men and women too like their hair. This is for the simple reason that they can maintain them, style them the way they want, and most significantly, they have not known anything else all their lives.” 

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