Celebrating Black History Month: Slave Anastasia (Escrava Anastacia)
As you may remember, I promised to do a Black History Month post last week. We all know the big players that I could talk about in the hair game — Madame CJ Walker, Angela Davis, etc.– but I wanted to do someone that had more of an impact on my decision to go natural. The answer came to me rather quickly and requires us to take a little trip together down to BRAZIL.
Brazil is home to beautiful beaches, men in zungas, gorgeous super models, Carnival, the 2014 World Cup, the Amazon, and the largest Black population outside of Africa. Yes, even larger than the US! More people were taken as slaves to Brazil than anywhere else and as a result there continues to be a strong presence of African culture in contemporary Brazil. Within Brazil, the state of Bahia is known as the Afro-Brazilian capital of the country where most of this culture, tradition and population continues to thrive today.
It was on a trip to Bahia in 2009, that I first learned about Slave Anastasia (Escrava Anastacia si voce fala Portugues) to whom I credit with my decision to go natural. There are many different versions of the story of Anastasia, but the gist goes something like this: Anastasia was in an royal African family (most likely from Angola) and was captured in 1820 and brought to Brazil as a slave. Her beauty was great and revered by all who were in her presence. As a result of her stunning beauty many of the slave owners made sexual advances at her, but as a woman of great virtue she always refused. Finally, after being refused so many times, her masters punished her by placing an iron mask and collar on her. It was believed that the mask was encouraged by the wives and daughters of the slave owners who were jealous of her beauty. Eventually Anastasia died from gangrene and infection caused by the mask and collar.
In the version of the story that I learned about Anastasia, there was an accompanying slide show that included two images that shook me to the core and remain very vivid to me to this day. The first was an image (and I regret that I could not find it) of Anastasia before her capture and in it her hair was the largest most amazing, lush head of kinky coily hair. Something like this
And the very next image was
The transition between between the large beautifully free hair and the cropped and muzzled slave these two images shook me. It struck me that in addition to the mask and collars her masters sought to diminish her beauty by stripping her of her crown, of her hair. Then I realized that I was really doing that same thing to myself by taking great pains to straighten my hair and remove my natural kinks, coils, and crowning volume. I was losing a very unique and powerful part of my identity in this process and I knew that I had to stop. The very next day, the woman braiding my hair recommended that I go natural and I was more than happy to oblige!
Today Slave Anastasia is revered as a saint and a martyr in many of the religions in Brazil. And today, this month, and everyday moving forward, I will celebrate the history of my enslaved ancestors all over the world by wearing my hair FREE and in its natural state.