Vanguard (Lagos)

Nigeria: Good Hair, Bad Hair

analysis

THE other Wednesday night I was sharing a table with South African music icon, Mr. Hugh Masekela, Bra Hugh as everybody in Jo'burg calls him.

He is rhapsodising about the vibes of Lagos and the different, different behinds of Lagos Mamas and why Lagos is such a place to be and be proud of.

Then a young African lady walked up to our table and asked if she could be photographed with Bra Hugh. Without any hesitation Bra Hugh said no and continued his adventures of Lagos.

The night club we were at once in a month, usually a Wednesday, provided a platform for new music talents to come and do their thing in front of a patronising paying audience. And every month, young singers male and female, White and Black come to do their thing. Drinks are served and meals are sumptuous and the atmosphere is chick.

The young lady who wished to immortalise her meeting with Bra Hugh was wearing blonde attachments to her naturally black hair. When asked why Bra Hugh would not be photographed with her, he said that he did not like African ladies who did not like their own natural hair.

He mentioned the fact that Indian ladies would not wear other people's hair. Nor would Caucasian ones wear the hairs from the heads of other human species. Why must African ladies wear the hairs of Indians and Europeans and even of animals, wear any hair but theirs?

Anyone who has watched Good Hair, a documentary by Chris Rock would know, among so many things else, that the hair business is a multi-billion dollar business world-wide. And it is not only African ladies alone who support it.

Young ladies use hair extensions because it makes them glamourous without really trying. Older women use extra hair to boost their own hair and retain their youthful looks. Celebrities use them.

There are different names for different types: Remi hair is where all strands face the same way and come from the same person's head; Virgin hair is one that has not been processed; Double drawn is where the hair is all of the same length and weft hair is where extra strips of hair are attached to the customer's hair with micro rings or with glue.

Few customers know or care about one of the effects of such attachments to their head. It is called traction alopecia, a form of hair loss. Customers even care less about where these hairs come from.

They come from India, they come from China and they come from Eastern Europe. There are business people in these places who collect these hairs, separate and grade them and send them on to the centres of world fashion - London and New York.

In India, women who lose their hair lose them to temples where they had pledged to give their hair if their wishes were granted by the god of the particular temple. Maybe they wanted to have a child or they wanted their relative to be made well. These temples in turn sell the hair to entrepreneurs.

But not all the shaving of women with fabulously long hair is done with such normality. Hair is a treasure and like all treasures it can and is forcibly taken, stolen, high-jacked and criminally acquired.

So, like blood diamond, there has been an attempt to obtain 'ethically' acquired hair. There is a story put out by the Moscow Centre for Prison Reform that warders forcibly shave and sell the hair of prisoners in Russia.

What is fashion anyway if not the glorification of everything artificial? You can buy fake tans, dress in false eye-lashes, wear fake teeth and proudly display your false breasts. And there are fake nails as well. So, why not wear false hair or hair belonging to some other body or animal?

Was Bra Hugh simply responding to African ladies not being proud of their natural hair? Was he responding to the everlasting fate of Africa to consume what it does not produce and produce what it does not consume?

What economic damages are African ladies doing to their countries by importing the hair of fellow females from India, from China and from Eastern Europe?

One of my nieces once came to Lagos with me to replenish her hair salon by buying hair extension in Lagos. She was so genuinely into her business and the ramifications of it that I did not have the temerity to challenge her particular line of business activity.

She could not be bothered where the hair came from. She was so much in a hurry to get back to her anxiously waiting customers in Akure that she left me in Lagos and took public transport back!

I am not sure I like ladies who wear hair extensions. And I don't think they listen if I tell them I like African hair in beautiful weaves!

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