The History of Dreadlocks

Ever wondered about dreadlocks and why people love them? I’m sure you have seen a couple of individuals rocking locs or in some instances noticed that some communities identify themselves by their locs.


This article will focus on the history/origin of dreadlocks.


Dreadlocks is the name given to hair which is twisted together in a tight single thick “strand” to form a dreadlock or loc.  The dreadlock is formed by manipulating the hair in a particular direction or pattern to form one single strand.  During the formation process, you avoid combing and untangling the hair so it will achieve the final state of a formed dreadlock.  The final dreadlock matts together to form one cylindrical strand.


As we delve into the history of dreadlocks we will discover the many civilizations who wore dreadlocks for varying reasons.  Though dreadlocks can be traced as far as 2500 BC with the Hindu god Shiva, it is highly associated with Jamaicans and African roots. Artifacts and remains from archeological digs have also provided us with examples of Ancient Egyptians wearing dreadlocks and braided hair.  


The inspiration of dreadlocks may also be found in the history of the Agikuyu tribe in Kenya who formed the MAU-MAU. This was a group of freedom fighters under British oppression who had their land and freedom taken away.  While fleeing from captivity in the woods, the tribes hair matted together and formed dreadlocks.  Once free from captivity, the tribe continued to wear their dreadlocks as a symbol of anti-colonialism as well as a demonstration of self love and self acceptance.  Followers of Leonard Howell, one of the forefathers of Rastafarianism, were reported to be particularly proud and inspired by the MAU-MAU tribe.


Another instance of dreadlocks can be found in another African tribe called the Maasai.  The members of the tribe placed red ochre mud over their hair and skin to protect them from the harsh rays of the sun.  Their hair can be seen in what looks like long locks covered in this red clay.


Some interpretations of the Old Testament story in the Holy Bible speculate that Samson had locks and that is why he lost his strength when Delilah cut them off.  It was believed that the energy in his locks was where his strength resided.  Therefore, in some religious circles, wearing your hair in locs is a symbol of a disregard for vanity and “worldly” things and a deference to their higher belief system.  


This religious deference leads us to the history regarding the Rastafarians and dreadlocks.  Rastafarians are a group of individuals indigenous to Jamaica who wear dreadlocks in deference to their religious beliefs.  Rastafarians believe dreadlocks are worn in biblical devotion as described in Numbers 6: 1-2 in the Holy Bible. The world’s exposure to the Rastafarian movement has influenced many to wear dreadlocks.  For the Rastafarians, the knotted hair is believed to prevent energy from escaping through the top of the head and hair. The energy is believed to be ‘locked ‘in the body and aid the body, mind and spirit.  The eurocentric society in Jamaica viewed dreadlocks as “dreadful” and therefore oppressed the Rastafarians and attempted to prohibit them from exercising their religious beliefs and limiting their freedom to wear their hair as they pleased.   It is speculated that Rastafarians grew their dreadlocks to signify their solidarity towards their cultural and religious beliefs and, also, as a sign of protest to their oppression.  This is much like the African tribes previously mentioned.  The most notable Rastafarian icon who introduced dreadlocks to the Western World is Bob Marley.  


Whoopi Goldberg rocking her famous locs in the early 1980’s introduced a whole new audience in the US, especially in mainstream cable television.  Black Americans saw Whoopi’s hairstyle as cultural permission to wear dreadlocks. With her enormous fame, the hairstyle flourished among Black Americans. Later in the 80’s and early 90’s you also see other celebrities such as Lenny Kravitz and Lauryn Hill wearing dreadlocks and making the hairstyle popular with another generation in the Black community.  


As a recap, we have learned that dreadlocks were a symbol of survival and resistance against persecution, brutalization, and indoctrination of self-hate for those of African descent.  In summation, the cultural DNA of dreadlocks is embedded within us that dates back centuries.  The cultural imprint of our DNA and our dreadlocks cannot be unwoven.   It seems, for some, the “origin” of dreadlocks will always go back to our African ancestors, Jamaican siblings and reggae music.

Now at Peculiar Roots, we are working to educate our tribe and continue our efforts to normalize locs.

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