14 December 2012

Namibia: Reclaiming African Hair


IN this contribution towards the discourse of reclaiming the black body, we are inspired by Africa's literary giant Ngugi wa Thiongo. In his piece which appeared in New Africa Magazine of July 2012, Ngugi touched on a number of issues that are seemingly condemning the people of Africa to perpetual self-hatred and self-doubt in their dealings with the world.

The latter is by and large encapsulated in what wa Thiongo calls 'colonisation of the black body'. Skin lightening chemicals aside, we shall zero in on the self-hatred of the black African hair among African women. It is with frustrating rarity that you will see a woman with natural black African hair today. Women in Namibia and elsewhere in Africa, particularly south of the Sahara, try so hard to be who they are not. We are taken aback everyday seeing the majority of African women with fake hair.

When you inquire about the reasons for putting on fake hair, you get all sorts of justifications. Chief among them is: 'Brazilian/Indian hair is easy to maintain.' Is that really the case? We are of the opinion that the hoisting of Brazilian/Indian hair on the heads of African women bespeaks the colonisation of the African body, which seemingly remained intact after the colonisers left and is now being perpetuated in-house.

In the same piece alluded to above, Ngugi wa Thiongo cited an example crystallising this sad state of affairs: "The Afro-American comedian, Chris Rock, made a documentary, Hair, in which he goes about trying to sell various types of hair. Whereas European and Asian-type hair has numerous black clients, African hair does not attract a single buyer." We are convinced that this example will find resonance in Namibia. It is apparent that the African mind, or perhaps the African hair, is yet to undergo decolonisation.

Taking a resolve that we should love ourselves for who we are, one is inclined to conclude that at present we as Africans are in the main self-hating people. We are perturbed and saddened that the generation of the 60's and the 70's abandoned the beautiful black Afro-hair. Today, some of our parents have joined the youth in what we will call 'fake hair frenzy'. You would hear women paying Brazilian hair in installments or saving some money over a period of time to purchase this hair, for the hair is quite expensive.

It is equally disheartening that the real beneficiaries of this 'fake hair phenomena' are Western and Asian corporations who have made a fortune out of our sisters' internalised racial self-hatred for they have realized that there is a species of humanity, which despises itself. As Rev. Al Sharpton observes: "We wear our economic oppression on our heads." Reports noted that black women spend billions of dollars a year on hair products, buying 70 percent of all wigs and hair extensions purchased in the United States, Europe and Africa.

These corporations have found a market niche. They publish dozens of magazines featuring black women with weaves on the cover yet you seldom see any of these magazines, including black-owned ones, advertising African women with beautiful African hair. This current state of affairs can only be resolved if we debunk the myth that "if you want to hide something from a black person, put it in a book." In as much as this expression smacks of racism, one can argue that there is a modicum of truism in that assertion, because if most of our sisters were avid readers they might have come across articles on the origins of humanity explaining how each race came to have its physical features.

A reputable scientific journal states: "Afro-textured hair may have initially evolved because of an adaptive need (amongst humanity's hominid ancestors) for protection against the intense UV radiation of Africa. Subsequently (and/or additionally), because the relatively sparse density of Afro-hair, combined with its elastic helix shape, results in an airy effect, the resulting increased circulation of cool air onto the scalp may have served to facilitate our hominid ancestors' body-temperature regulation while they lived in the open savannah."

In light of the above, black women should not despise what they are not responsible for. Our afro-textured hair helps us to survive in the harsh African environment. What is going on, African women?

We hasten to note that we are aware of some African women who remain true to themselves and are contently proud of their African natural hair. We applaud you for that! To this end, it was encouraging and heartening to read about Zodidi Gaseb's initiative aimed at celebrating natural hair.

We hope that Namibian women would embrace her initiative. In closing, since we cannot place ourselves in women's shoes - we invite those women who are willing to offer more justifications for foisting fake hair on their heads. We are convinced that the latter will go a long way in enriching the discourse of reclaiming the black body. One thing we are certain of is that Africa cannot afford the self-inflicted erasure of blackness. Let's celebrate and cherish blackness, particularly the African black natural hair.

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