Before the end of 2017, my natural hair would tire me. The stress, time, cost and pain would make me almost put the hair straightening chemicals back in. I commonly have to revisit why natural black hair is important in an era when our coils are part of our core.
In the mid-2000's, a huge number of African and Black women would transition from permed hair to natural hair; joining others on a journey to discover themselves through their hair.
My earliest memories of hair care date back to when I was around 6-years-old. My mother would always take my sister and I to the hairdresser, where we would be styled with elaborate braids.
We have all been there. Being shoved in between the thighs of a Mai Kiso - the name for hair stylists in Northern Nigeria. I was so uncomfortable but this discomfort had nothing on the pain that accompanyied the shedding of strands as my braider combed my hair. She would commonly refer to my coils as stubborn hair, as if to say it were my fault God had created me with denser hair texture than some other customer of hers.
In as much as I remember the pride and feeling of happiness I felt with every new hairstyle, I also remember the pain that went into the process. While I’ve maintained a braided style all my life, many African women do not experience this style purely by doctrine, choice or tradition.
There are communities throughout Africa that restrict women from perming or adding extensions of any kind to their natural hair. From dreadlocks to bottle cap wigs to bantu knots, tribal hairstyles in these countries have several different customs for Queens to protect and display their crowns in versatile ways.
In Africa, and some other countries, you will find women from certain tribes on the occasion of either their father’s or husband’s death, are expected to shave off her hair. This practice is usually carried out by all relatives, not just women.
In 2012, the New York Times reported on Zina Saro-Wiwa's documentary about hair and what having natural hair can do for the Black Woman. Saro-Wiwa explored her transition from braids to a low-cut natural hair style. After 7 months, she embraced her teeny-weeny afro (TWA) and dismissed the use of extensions or chemicals.
"Seeing my natural curl pattern for the first time was a revelation. Far from dry and brittle as I longed believed, it was curly and lovely to touch. I experimented with natural products and even a different diet to see how it affected my hair. Transitioning changed my relationship with my entire body," Zina shares.
As I grew into a pre-teen, I remember going to my mom and requesting that my hair be cut low. She gladly obliged considering it would be less expensive and incur less stress on her part. I gained a new confidence during this transition as Zina did; however, this experience did not deter me from using chemicals in the future.
The story of Ifemelu from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s novel "Americanah" was a game changer for me. Adichie's depiction of Ifemelu's American hair salon appointment stirred me to transition back to natural and accept my hair despite its texture.
“It was black-black, so thick it drank two containers of relaxer at the salon, so full it took hours under the hooded dryer, and, when finally released from pink plastic rollers, sprang free and full, flowing down her back like a celebration. Her father called it a crown of glory.”
In many African tribes, our cultural hairstyles represent royalty, power and status. Traditionally, Hairstyles like shuku were worn by Sango priestesses while the Koroba hairstyle represented women of the royal family.
In 2018, African hair is more than a fashion statement, it's the look and movement of our communities. While we pride ourselves on the freedom to be diverse and have a choice in wearing our kinks, curls, weaves, and fros however we please - it is also very important for us to remember the significance of our crown in this "post-racial" world.