THE POLEMICS OF DREADLOCKS


The lengthened electioneering period in Kenya has caused jitters among the citizens and anti-poll protests have become the order of the day in Nairobi. During one of such picketing sessions, a group that called themselves ‘Nairobi Business Community’ organized a parallel to counter the anti-poll protests and later on gave a press conference.

Pictures from the press conference landed online and quickly went viral, with Kenyans on Twitter having a field day making jokes about the ‘business community.’ You see, when one thinks of a Nairobi business person, an image of flamboyant gents in sleek suits comes to mind. However, these particular businessmen and women spotted scraggly dreadlocks, and because of that we just couldn’t take them seriously. The episode sparked the #NairobiBusinessCommunityChallenge, an online trend where Kenyans with dreadlocks posted their headshots and jocularly counted themselves in as members of the business community.

This incident reminded me of how, while I was growing up, I immensely admired dreadlocks but my father would not allow me to don them. Back then, I read a lot of books that narrated the thrilling experiences of Kenya’s freedom fighters, the Mau Mau. The warriors’ adventurous lifestyle strongly captivated me as a young boy; more so their coiffures which consisted of long strands of wild hair.

My father’s reservations against dreadlocks were valid though, as back then young men with dreadlocks were considered to be either crooks, unhygienic or unhinged. I resolved that as soon as I turned 18 and was out of my dad’s hair (pardon the pun), I would rock dreadlocks like the Mau Mau for the rest of my life.

I did get to rock dreadlocks briefly during my first year at the university, but that was before I got a part-time job as a reporter.  Shortly after, my new editor asked me to choose between trimming my hair and losing the job. I was hurting for cash and was pragmatic enough to choose the former.

Years later, when I was old enough to spark a conversation at the dining table with my father (African kids can relate), I guided the conversation towards dreadlocks and his views on the subject were quite hair-raising. It turned out that my old man was not old-fashioned, just pan-African.

“I know you wore dreadlocks because you admired the Mau Mau. They wore them as a symbol of defiance against the white man’s oppressive rule. It is sad that the youth nowadays want to put on dreadlocks because they hate their natural African hair so much that they want it to look as long and glamorous as the white man’s,” my father explained.

He then embarked on a rambling about how the culture of self-loathing among Africans manifests itself by the way they style their hair. “Africans

,” he continued loquaciously, “subconsciously consider their coarse hair ugly and unkempt as compared to that of other races. They are therefore visiting salons every other weekend to soften and elongate their hair. Those with dreadlocks are undergoing the same cultural white-wash. It’s just that they get to placate themselves with frivolous excuses like yours with the freedom fighters.”

I have been turning my dad’s argument in mind for a year now, and it just doesn’t hold water. But then when it comes to ideology, my old man and I can be water and oil. I am in fact considering bringing back my dreadlocks, now that I work for an employer who wouldn’t care less if I showed up at work with snakes on my head like Medusa.

Lukorito Jones

Lukorito Jones is a columnist and correspondent with Kenya's leading newspaper, Daily Nation. He also dabbles in fiction works at times, hoping to be the next Stephen King. Sometimes he takes time out from writing to perfect his deer-dancing and goat-screaming skills.

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