My African hair, my crowning glory
Khanyi Gumpo addresses a subject which resonates with many black women – the African woman’s struggle of acceptance of her crown; African hair.
The decision to stop wearing weaves and relaxing my hair to keep my hair natural was not without its challenges. The challenge was in taking care of something that was mine yet alien to me and to be accepted in a world where our afro-hair textures are shunned.
Discovering natural hair movement
When I made the decision to go permanently natural I had no idea that there was in-fact what was termed the Natural Hair Movement until a year later when I stumbled across something on it while I was researching on natural hair care. As my kinky hair grew longer it became more difficult to maintain and the process was sometimes frustrating. I had done the big chop and gone natural several times in my life and back again to the “creamy crack” called Hair relaxer. The sad reality is most of us black women never had to care for our real hair. Relaxers and perm lotions were introduced to us from the time we were toddlers!
The price of silky hair
I remember how we used to play with dirty mop heads placed on our heads pretending that it was white people’s hair. Shaking our heads, bragging, pleased about it and saying to each other “Look I have white people’s hair”. Those of us who had the privilege of having our hair professionally straightened were the envy of our peers. From time to time I was taken to the salon to have a perm chemical that smelled so awful it stung my nostrils. It made my eyes very sore and burnt my scalp, but it was a page in the diary of every girl who was lucky enough to get her hair straightened. Listening to older women, I soon understood this torture as “the pain of beauty,” something that I was never short of being reminded each time I squirmed as my hair was being fried. We were all prepared to pay the price of not having what we called mufushwa hair (Dried Vegetables). Such is how Black natural hair was and still is referred to, as if it were something undesirable.
Reclaiming my African hair
With a scalp that was super sensitive to relaxer chemicals, I had good reason to say “enough!” It was then I decided to say goodbye to weaves. I had never really fancied them as it felt like I was apologising for who I am and lacked confidence in my African features.
I have so much I can talk about on this subject but perhaps the most outstandingly painful for me was my experience as a Christian woman with natural hair in church.
African hair not holy
One Saturday I went to church for a leaders meeting with wet locks or towel locks (achieved by rubbing a towel on damp hair). I felt good about them, I was still a “newbie” natural so I was in a honey-moon phase with my hair. I thought I looked glamorous in my kinks but my Pastor had a different view!
He came at me, flanked by his body guards grabbed my hair and pulled it angrily as I shrieked in pain. He was so horrified and from the look on his face I could see that it took a lot of restraint for him not to slap me across the face. I knew that natural hair was not something the church leadership liked but never had I imagined that this would warrant what I had just experienced.
The Pastor asked me if I had a job – to him, unemployment was the most logical explanation to why I had hair like that. Me not working meant I couldn’t afford a relaxer or a weave. I would like to think if I was not working he was going to offer me money to “fix” my hair. I told him I was working and he asked “So you have just decided to walk around looking like a mad woman?” I felt totally humiliated because this happened in full view of the other church members. He expressed how disappointed he was with me as his “church daughter.” The next day I went to church with my hair covered to avoid trouble. All I wanted was to worship in peace.
Months down the line he saw me again, this time in my big Afro. We had been called for an emergency meeting so there was no hiding and not that I intended to. It was no surprise that he was angry with me and told me that one day he was going to give me a big punch for my defiant hairstyles. I didn’t flinch. What he didn’t realise was that he was making me more resolute about my style choices. I was unapologetic for the hair texture imprinted in my DNA that God gave me.
It is sad that Indian, Brazilian, Peruvian and Korean human hair weaves are acceptable in many Black churches than real African hair. A sister to someone I know was removed from her church choir because she had locks. The belief among some Christians is that dreadlocks are un-presentable, ungodly and demonic. They are associated with ancestral spirits and are said to cause ancestral bondage from which people have to be delivered. It is also believed that they attract demonic possession. I have asked this question many times, “How can something that grows out of my scalp be demonic?” So the moment it is matted or turned into locks, demons can’t resist occupying? It is ludicrous! But that is the prevailing belief. So in that church most new members would have their locks chopped off before the congregation, signifying a new beginning “free of demonic manipulation” amidst approval by the rest. I would sit there staring and wondering…… but how?
Team natural hair – there are many like me
I know of many people who were told in church that the reason that things were not going well for them in life was because of their dreadlocks. I also witnessed congregants who testified of how their lives changed for the better when they chopped off their locks, amidst praises and ululations. A musician, who attended the same church, was told that he would see his music career taking off if he cuts off his waist length dreadlocks which he did. The same happened to Zimbabwean gospel musician, Munyaradzi Munodawafa who cut off his dreadlocks to gain acceptance.
All these experiences moved me to launch a Facebook page that showcases the beauty of Afro-hair textures and share tips on how to take care of it. Apart from embracing my God-given African hair, I am changing mind-sets, one curly head at a time.
Khanyi Gumpo likes to write, especially on issues that pertain to black female experiences. A natural hair advocate, who enjoys mixing up homemade hair care recipes to try out. She is a big lover of the great outdoors, a passion she has from growing up in an adventure filled resort town of Kariba, Zimbabwe.
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