Years ago, I always imagined Africa as the home of all things natural hair, the place where I could go find those magical juices, berries and maybe some sort of indigenous nut oil that would allow my hair to thrive. When we think about Africa as the place to “go back to our roots”, it would only make logical sense that the root of the natural hair movement is also found on the continent. It wasn’t until I saw this photo oh-so-long-ago that made me start to think I had it all wrong:
As these women perform their native tribe dance, there is nary a natural curl in sight. Not a single one.
A similar observation began even before I hit the ground in Nigeria. On my plane, I observed ZERO other natural women, only relaxers, weaves and braids. Sure, beneath those weaves and braids the hair might be natural, but the inherent impression is that of a preference for straight, long hair. If the hair is worn short, it’s done so in a way that’s much more Halle Berry-pixie than Solange-TWA.
For days, this parade of weaves and relaxers continued through our adventures in Lagos. One would think that with such a cultural prominence, the hair would at least be healthy looking and well-styled. Unfortunately the opposite: I’ve never seen so many edges ripped out, broken ends and damage. Even young girls had patches missing from over applied relaxer.
We in the west set the global trends of black culture; it’s particularly hard to stomach that this is our beauty contribution to Africa. Just like we in the States had to conform to this a Eurocentric-standard of beauty, I wonder if the pressure to straighten was even stronger living under the influence of a colonial power.
Nevertheless, we were there to provide natural hair education and to empower women to wear their own hair. As a tribe of natural hair wearers rolling through Lagos, we certainly caused a stir because it was a rare sight to see.