Friday, April 9, 2010

Hair Beliefs, Part IV

Standing in line at Disneyland, I started to think about dreadlocks. I wonder why ...

I got to thinking how dreadlocks weren't exactly a sought-after hair style when I was growing up. But now, people from all walks of life and ethnic groups choose to wear their hair this way. It's all in good fun, right?

Not exactly. For Hair Beliefs, Part IV, I checked into the history -- recent and ancient -- of dreadlocks.

The fact that the term "dread" is attached to "locks" in the English language apparently comes from slave ship days. According to, the hair of slaves looked "dreadful" when slaves were first dragged off ships from Africa, their hair matted and scrunched, so their heads were shaved, and laws were passed to forbid slaves from wearing the dread locks.

Before Pirates of the Caribbean came along, the hair style was most often associated with the Rastafari movement, which arose in the 1930's. Rastas wore their hair in dreadlocks as a source of black pride. At the core of the Ras Tafari movement is the belief that the Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie is the supreme being and ruler of the black people (see correction on this point in the comments below).

Dreadlocks are a potent symbol, just one sign of the ways blacks are superior to the blond whites of Babylon, their unjust oppressors. Then too, Haile Selassie's power is symbolized by the Lion of Judah, so many Rastafari see their dreadlocks as imitative of the mane of the lion. Also, Leviticus 21:5 and Numbers 6:5 are two scriptures that say hair is not to be touched by a razor.

But the style of locks now known as dreads date back thousands of years. There is evidence that the hairstyle was once worn by sects of Judaic, Islamic, and Hindu peoples. Some scholars speculate that Samson's seven locks were dreads, since he was Nazirite, of a Judaic sect known for wearing their hair in locks.

Standing in line for the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, I wondered about all the unsubstantiated rumors surrounding dreads: That dreadlocks are by definition unwashed. That if you cut open a lock, you'll find mold growing inside.

I wonder what locticians would say in response. Locticians: people skilled at creating dreadlocks. Someone you'll need to see once you've attempted to make your own dreadlocks, via youtube or a web site.

Jack Sparrow, aka Johnny Depp, makes for an entertaining pirate, though his character in the movies is divorced from any semblance of real pirate origins. Just so the proliferation of dreadlocks in the twenty-first century. We've adopted the look, without the hook.