I have had this piece down for a long while now but I wasn’t sure if i wanted Nigerian women to kill me yet, so if you’re a Nigerian woman or a black woman for that matter, please be merciful.
First things first, I’m in no way trying to tell women how to keep their hair or what to put on it. I’m just trying to highlight a facet of the direction where we as black people are headed with the whole brouhaha concerning our hair.
I got a lot of stick initially when I stopped having a haircut as often as I used to which was every weekend. This happened both in the UK and in Nigeria. Most of it (I’d say 80%) were from black women. It was surprising at first but I learnt to live with it.
Until about two years ago, visiting the barbershop once a week was something I was proud of. Having my hair stay longer on my head has opened my eyes to views that we hold as black people regarding our hair.
I find it funny that a woman’s natural hair growing beneath her relaxed and straightened hair is called undergrowth. You would think it was weed about to consume a farmer’s precious plants, needing to be uprooted and not the woman’s natural hair.
I was at the hospital a couple of months ago and sat next to a kid in the waiting area. This kid couldn’t have been older than 3. After fidgeting for a while he finally built up enough courage to ask me why I had not cut my hair. That’s how early we beat into ourselves now that growing your hair is bad. Anything above what can be called a low cut is bad.
A friend was babysitting the daughter of wealthy African parents in the UK. She took out the 6-year old’s extensions only to get to the salon and find that the hairdressers were not coming in to work that day. The little girl became inconsolable. This was on a Sunday and she was scared of going to school with her NATURAL HAIR because the other kids would laugh at her. Even after the hair had been made into little braids by my friend. The girl cried herself to sleep that night. She said her mum told her that princesses have long straight hair. She was 6 years old at the time.
Nobody should tell anyone how they should or should not carry their hair but we should also not raise black kids with the idea that there is something wrong with their hair.
Just in case you’re wondering, mine isn’t a religion.
J. D. Okhai Ojeikere
The photos in this post are from the book J. D. Okhai Ojeikere Photographs by Andre Magnin. The photos were taken by Ojeikere between 1968-1985 and they show different hairstyles worn by Nigerian women during the 60s, 70s and 80s.
Ojeikere started taking the photographs of different hairstyles when he started noticing women wearing wigs during the 1950s. “I thought that hairstyling was going to disappear all together. I realized that photography was the best way to keep things. Later, women stopped wearing wigs and came back to hairstyling. If tomorrow they started to shave their heads, no one would know anything anymore about this practice. These sudden changes in fashion really motivated me to photograph hairstyles. On the occasion of various art festivals, shows were organised. The dances were so modern that I didn’t recognize their traditional origins. That’s why I never stopped taking photographs as both a memory of the past and a witness to a culture in constant evolution.”