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Why Some Rastafarians Wear Dreadlocks and How it Matters in the Achimota Debate

Disclaimer *Based on the many misconceptions leading to uninformed arguments about the issue of the young Rastafarian Vs Achimota School, I took the liberty to read on the topic and write an article to give some context to the debate and also give both sides the right information to base some arguments on. AfricanDigest.News is not taking any sides.*

The wearing of hair in dreadlocks by Rastafarians is believed to be spiritual; this is justified in the Bible: Leviticus 21:5 (KJV) They shall not make baldness upon their head, neither shall they shave off the corner of their beard, nor make any cuttings in their flesh.

Upon a complete reading of the verse, it is found that this instruction was from God to the sons of Aaron who were Priests. ERV Chapter 18 of the verse says; “Any man who has something wrong with him must not serve as priest and bring sacrifices to me. These men cannot serve as priests: blind men, crippled men, men with bad scars on their faces, men with arms or legs that are too long, 19 men with broken feet or hands, 20 men with bent backs, men who are dwarfs, men who are cross-eyed, men with rashes or bad skin diseases…”

Dreadlocks, also locs, dreads, or in Sanskrit, Jaṭā, are rope-like strands of hair formed by locking hair.

Contrary to the widespread belief that dreadlocks are “African culture” and “African identity”, the earliest depictions of dreadlocks date back as far as 1500 BCE in one of Europe’s earliest civilizations, centered in Crete (now part of Greece). Paintings discovered on Islands now known as Santorini in Greece depict individuals with long dreadlocks.

In ancient Egypt, examples of Egyptians wearing locked hairstyles and wigs have appeared on sculptures, statuary and other artifacts. Mummified remains of Egyptians with locked wigs have also been recovered from archaeological sites.

During the Bronze Age and Iron Age many people in the Near East, Asia Minor, Caucasus, East Mediterranean and North Africa such as the Sumerians, Elamites, and Ancient Egyptians were depicted in art with braided or plaited hair and beards. However, braids are not dreadlocks.

Greek Statue with dreadlocks

Rastafari, also known as the Rastafari movement or Rastafarianism, is a religion that developed in Jamaica during the 1930s. It is classified as both a new religious movement and a social movement by scholars of religion. There is no central authority in control of the movement and much diversity exists among practitioners, who are known as Rastafari, Rastafarians, or Rastas.

Rasta beliefs are based on a specific interpretation of the Bible. Central is a monotheistic belief in a single God, referred to as Jah, who is deemed to partially reside within each individual. Rastas accord key importance to Haile Selassie, the Emperor of Ethiopia between 1930 and 1974; many regard him as the Second Coming of Jesus and Jah incarnate, while others see him as a human prophet who fully recognised Jah’s presence in every individual. Rastafari is Afrocentric and focuses attention on the African diaspora, which it believes is oppressed within Western society, or “Babylon”. Many Rastas call for this diaspora’s resettlement in Africa, a continent they consider the Promised Land, or “Zion”.

Rastas use their physical appearance as a means of visually demarcating themselves from non-Rastas. Male practitioners will often grow long beards, and many Rastas prefer to wear African styles of clothing, such as dashikis, rather than styles that originated in Western countries. However, it is the formation of hair into dreadlocks that is one of the most recognizable Rasta symbols. Rastas believe that dreadlocks are promoted in the Bible, specifically in the Book of Numbers, and regard them as a symbol of strength linked to the hair of the Biblical figure of Samson.

Painting of Samson defeating the lion

They argue that their dreadlocks mark a covenant that they have made with Jah, and reflect their commitment to the idea of ‘naturalness’. They also perceive the wearing of dreads as a symbolic rejection of Babylon and a refusal to conform to its norms regarding grooming aesthetics. Rastas are often critical of black people who straighten their hair, believing that it is an attempt to imitate white European hair and thus reflects alienation from a person’s African identity. Sometimes this dreadlocked hair is then shaped and styled, often inspired by a lion’s mane symbolising Haile Selassie, who is regarded as “the Conquering Lion of Judah”.

Rastas differ on whether they regard dreadlocks as compulsory for practicing the religion. Some Rastas do not wear their hair in dreadlocks; within the religion they are often termed “cleanface” Rastas, with those wearing dreadlocked hair often called “locksmen”.Some Rastas have also joined the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, the Christian organisation to which Haile Selassie belonged, and these individuals are forbidden from putting their hair in dreadlocks by the Church. In reference to Rasta hairstyles, Rastas often refer to non-Rastas as “baldheads”,or “combsome”,while those who are new to Rastafari and who have only just started to grow their hair into dreads are termed “nubbies”.Members of the Bobo Ashanti sect of Rastas conceal their dreadlocks within turbans, while some Rastas tuck their dreads under a rastacap or tam headdress, usually colored green, red, black, and yellow. Dreadlocks and Rastafari-inspired clothing have also been worn for aesthetic reasons by non-Rastas. For instance, many reggae musicians who do not adhere to the Rastafari religion wear their hair in dreads.

Locks have been worn for various reasons in each culture.

Europe

Earliest records of dreadlocks are from ancient Greece.

The Polish plait was so endemic in the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth that it inspired the Latin name for it.

Africa

Maasai warriors are known for their long, thin, red dreadlocks, dyed with red root extracts or red ochre. In Nigeria, some children are born with naturally locked hair and are called by the Yoruba word Dada in Nigerian English.

Australia

Some Indigenous Australians of North West and North Central Australia have historically worn their hair in a locked style, sometimes also having long beards that are fully or partially locked. Traditionally, some wear the dreadlocks loose, while others wrap the dreadlocks around their heads, or bind them at the back of the head. In North Central Australia, the tradition is for the dreadlocks to be greased with fat and coated with red ochre, which assists in their formation.

Buddhism

Within Tibetan Buddhism and other more esoteric forms of Buddhism, locks have occasionally been substituted for the more traditional shaved head. The most recognizable of these groups are known as the Ngagpas of Tibet. For Buddhists of these particular sects and degrees of initiation, their locked hair is not only a symbol of their vows but an embodiment of the particular powers they are sworn to carry. 1.4.15 of the Hevajra Tantra states that the practitioner of particular ceremonies “should arrange his piled up hair” as part of the ceremonial protocol.

Hinduism

The practice of Jaṭā (dreadlocks) is practiced in modern day Hinduism, most notably by Sadhus who follow Śiva. The Kapalikas, first commonly referenced in the 6th century CE, were known to wear Jaṭāas a form of deity imitation of the deva BhairavaŚiva. Shiva is often depicted with dreadlocks.

Rastafari

Rastafari movement dreadlocks are symbolic of the Lion of Judah which is sometimes centered on the Ethiopian flag. Rastafari hold that Haile Selassie is a direct descendant of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, through their son Menelik I. Their dreadlocks were inspired by the Nazarites of the Bible. Haile Selassie was crowned Emperor of Ethiopia in 1930. Many Jamaican Christian claimed that Selassie’s coronation was evidence that he was the black messiah that they believed was prophesied in the Book of Revelation. Some street preachers such as Leonard Howell, Archibald Dunkley, Robert Hinds, and Joseph Hibbert began to claim the doctrine that “Haile Selassie was the returned Jesus”. Emperor Haile Selassie rejected this, stating he was a mortal man.

When reggae music espousing Rastafarian ideals gained popularity and mainstream acceptance in the 1970s thanks to Bob Marley’s music and cultural influence, the dreadlocks (often called “dreads”) became a notable fashion statement worldwide; they have been worn by prominent authors, actors, athletes and rappers.

Dreadlocks are not a new phenomenon and in no way signify or are they limited to the African culture. In my opinion, dreadlocks show the similarities between various groups across time and space who “locked” their hair for various reasons.

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