2nd Helpings: The Story of Slave Anastacia

Following this week’s theme of reflection and thanks, I am going to continue on with a tradition I started up last year: serving up some of my favorite blog posts from the past year! On the eve of Lola’s birthday, I thought I’d kick things off with my story of Escrava Anastacia (Slave Anastacia), the Brazilian woman who inspired my natural journey to begin with.

Celebrating Black History Month: Slave Anastasia (Escrava Anastacia) – 2/22/11

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.

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  1. Beautiful post, I’ve always been just a little bit obsessed with Brazil and this has really inspired me to continue rocking my natural hair of course it is rather cold in London right now so it won’t be all out in it’s untamed glory when I step out but definately for any karaoke sessions by myself haha!

  2. I think I read about her somewhere or it might have been somewhere else. But I love learning about women of our heritage back during slavery time because many of their stories are untold and people need to know. Thanks for this and keep them coming.

  3. Wow, what a wonderful post. I will join you in wearing my hair free!!

  4. I appreciate you sharing the story. I have learned about her a few years back when learning more about Yemanja, the Goddess of Deep Waters. One story I heard about Escarva Anatascia is that she was a Yoruba High Priestest and was conveying messages from Yemanja to the enslaved to rebel, break free, revolt, etc. and set up a land that welcomed African Gods. When Anatascia’s words became too powerful they muzzled her. Then she began to speak with her alluring eyes which they said were blue. I know that scared those white folks to death…a black woman with blue piercing eyes. Her spirit was so powerful, it could not be contained even when muzzled and iron cast around her neck. Her eyes were so powerfully expressive it was said that when she died of gangrene her eyes were wide open and the mortician could not close them. They buried her with her eyes open with the muzzle and neck iron still affixed to her. The power we hold as women of African descent shall forever be revered. Wonderful choice for Black History!

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