The Roots of Dreadlocks.

Via on Jul 21, 2010

Dreads: lifestyle? Or fashion trend?

A young man pulls up in a SUV, sunburned, Disco Biscuits blaring, brown matted hair leaking from his head.

In the 70’s reggae music exploded with popularity and a Rastafarian inspired clothing collection by Christian Dior followed suit, along with a new line of hair care products to help white people dread their hair.

All over the world, as far as we can see, humans have worn dreadlocks, with archeological ‘lock’ wigs and dreadlocked remains having been recovered in Egypt. The Druids, Aztec priests, SufisHindus and Senegalese are some of the world’s tribes that have at one time or another had a custom of matting their hair into pieces. Some of these tribes have spiritual and political reasons. For others, it’s cultural pride.

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So why do so many hippies and new age narcissists sport dreads? Do they, like the Rastas, fear God and believe it is written in the living Word to never take a razor to their hair? The most often heard response to my question is met with a shrug and, “I dunno, it looks cool.

There are those who care for their ‘locks’ and understand that dreads are not in fact easier to maintain than normal hair. Many say they are more work than loose hair. Whatever the reasons, whether they are rebelling against normalcy or just think it looks cool, in taking care of their appearance, they are on some levels taking care of themselves like a dignified human being.

Poorly tended dreads do make powerful fashion statements: mold, bugs, nuggets.

With no attention or intention placed in their creation, it is difficult to see a lifestyle in these dreads, resembling more closely a sloppy afterthought. Or am I missing something, and poorly groomed dreads are actually an unconscious declaration of warriorship (refraining from cowardice by cultivating openness and compassion)?

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About Emma Blue

Emma Blue wants to be a mensch when she grows up. To inspire you to share your story and to wear fewer ungapotchke outfits. She finds eye contact, dancing and writing with stolen time agreeable. She lives in Sarasota, Florida with her daughter, Aurélia. Keep your finger on her cyber pulse with her newsletter .

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23 Responses to “The Roots of Dreadlocks.”

  1. Padma Kadag says:

    Dread locks in the Tibetan tradition of being a yogi….are a result of taking a vow (tantric vow) to not cut your hair. Most of the formation of dreadlocks are a result of the previously stated but also the fact that most of the yogis were living in inhospitable environs with wind, sun, and rain not needing or thinking of brushing one's hair. The bi-product of dreadlocks is the ability to shade one's face from the sun if wrapped properly. They made no effort to form dreads. It is not a fashion.

  2. Emma Blue Emma says:

    Interesting about the dreadlocks in Tibet.

    I care about our intentions for actions, but I don’t mind. One point I tried to make was, it is sometimes a path and sometimes an afterthought, almost an insignia of apathy.

    Non-judgment is a huge judgment. And it is imperative to including and ranking human development.

  3. Caitlin says:

    I'm not sure whether or not this is true, but a friend of mine (who has sported dreadlocks in his time) corrected me when I referred to the hairstyle as "dreads". He said "dreads are the people, locks are the hair." He informed me that dreadlocks were often worn by people at the fringes of society – the dreaded/the dreads. Locks were the hairstyle these people wore. He also noted the history of them dating back thousands of years.

  4. Diana says:

    As a brown woman with African hair and well-tended locks, I'm of the opinion that folks would do a good deed for themselves by selecting a hairstyle that minimizes impact while maximizing health–that is, if your hair knots up easily, locks may be a good, low-maintenance choice, but if you have to load your head down with all manner of overpriced, goopy products or go to the salon every other day, you're probably picking a hairstyle that doesn't do your wonderful self justice. My hair went crazy happy when I decided to lock it. It's healthier than ever, and all I use is hand-made soap, and on occasion, a little bit of olive oil in the cold desert of winter.

    I have to admit, when I first locked my hair, I harshly judged white folks with locks, but then I realized that despite my opinion stated above, it is each individual's choice. At the same time, I do really dislike a smelly head, so if someone with unclean locks is reading this, remember that if your hair is built to make locks naturally, cleaner hair locks better/tighter/faster. Clean hair is also respectful to those who must stand in the same space as you!

  5. Chris says:

    Personally, I see no difference here between dreadlocks and any other hair style that is reflective of a particular lifestyle or culture (afro, mohawk, cornrows, even bald or just letting it grow way out). Many people (myself included) wear dreadlocks as a style or cultural choice (i.e a lot of men wear them because they enjoy a certain type of music or aesthetic).

    That said, I feel like this piece is digging too deeply into what really is just a matter of personal grooming. Dirty hair is dirty hair and whether or not you take some shampoo to your scalp is a matter of personal hygiene and not reflective of any sort of grander cultural significance to a hairstyle. Just because people thousands of years ago may (or may not) have let their hair get dirty it probably wasn't for lack of wanting it to be clean.

  6. Cliff says:

    That's it? Short article, not much history and insight… Thanks though.

    I always puzzled about folks (mostly white) struggling to make dreadlocks happen and hen struggling to maintain and discipline them. My exposure to dreadlocks came through two streams : the Rastafari and the yogis/yoginis of the east. For them it is not a fashion.

    I puzzle over the men who put all kinds of care into their locked up hair, but then scrape away their facial hair every day. I always thought, "Let nature be natural." My humble opinion. If you want to let it grow, let it grow. If you want to wear the dreadlocks, let it grow and let it go.

    Funny thing is I wear my hair short and usually scrape my face. What a nice chunk of time I would have for yoga/meditation/service if I could drop that particular attachment/program!

    Wishing you all the best – whatever your choices are! Love and blessings and gratitude.

  7. Soy Sauce says:

    This article is frankly a bit ridiculous. I have totally natural CLEAN dreadlocks, I’m white, I also happen to be Irish, and my ancestors [ancient Celtics] did wear dreadlocks before Christianity crushed Paganism. But that had nothing to do with my decision to stop brushing my hair and let it lock up. I made that decision on the same day I decided to never shave my legs or underarms again. A lot of it has to do with the standards of beauty placed upon women. It can be very difficult to not care about the things we are told every day, all the time, from childhood on that we are supposed to care about. You have to DECIDE not to let these standards affect you. It was a decision to stop primping in order to make myself presentable to others.

    I still clean my hair and my rest of me [I value hygiene], I just stopped brushing and shaving it.

  8. Angrydred says:

    what a load of shit. do some proper research before you attempt to write an article!

  9. elephantjournal says:

    dread wigs have always had hilarious results with my friends.

    –emmablue

  10. […] 9. Amy Goodman (Bonus points: stop showering, get that I-don’t-care hair look. Double Bonus points: dreads) […]

  11. sasi (ian mair) says:

    re: request for comments . i think that ms blue has said all that need to be said

  12. ChinaRoyale says:

    PROUD TO BE JAMAICAN!!! WE STILL IN THE NEWS….WHAAAAT!!!
    HAPPY TO SEE THAT WE HAVEN'T LEFT THE FRONT PAGE!!!! LOVE THE FACT THAT BOB IS STILL THE FIRST VIDEO ON THE LIST! AND WHAAAT…. FORTY SOMETHING YEARS LATER AT THAT….WICKED! REGGAE MUSIC GET A MENTION! NICE MAN…NICE. WI LIKKLE BUT WI TALLAWAH (JAMAICAN FOR— WE ARE SMALL BUT WE ARE POWERFUL).
    NOT THAT WE REALLY NEED THE PR…WE JAMAICANS DO A GOOD JOB OURSELVES WITHOUT EVEN TRYING!!! LIKE THIS ARTICLE…OUT OF LEFT FIELD…. KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK EMMA…..AS YOU KNOW ANY PUBLICITY IS GOOD PUBLICITY….!!! AND IN JAMAICA … WE HAVE ANOTHER SAYING…"EVERYBODY IS A STAR!"

    JAH RASTAFARI!!! AND OHM NAMAHA SIVAY

    WALK GOOD!!!

  13. ibnijah says:

    Good to know that we are communicating on all levels and, more importantly, across all cultural and social borders. In the end, we all will be better off for it. More power to communication! The message of the Rastaman is One Love. Let's live it. Let's continue to live it across borders and social groups. The world will be a better place for all, so whether you are balb-head or Natty Dread, let One Love be your daily mantra.

  14. telisaking says:

    I am more offended by the picture than the article. It's one thing to have an opinion, its another thing to snicker behind their back and take a photo, to laugh about it later. How rude.

  15. Andrei says:

    Good article, but most of it is incorrect. I have studied dreadlocks and their culture for a very long time and reding this article was really painful for me.
    Here is an really good article about the history of dreadlocks thats pretty much as accurate as it gets.
    http://musawwir.com/tribe/articles/historyofdread

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