CULTURE: THE DREADLOCK
The first known examples of the hairstyle date back to ancient Egypt, where dreadlocks appeared on Egyptian artifacts. Mummified remains of ancient Egyptians with dreadlocks have even been recovered from archaeological sites.
The Old Testament also recounts the tale of Samson and Delilah in which a man’s potency is directly linked to ‘the seven locks on his head’ and according to Roman accounts, the Celts were described to have ‘hair like snakes’ Germanic tribes, Greeks and the Vikings are all said to have worn dreadlocks too.
Rastafarianism however is something entirely separate. It was born in the 1930s when Ras Tafari was crowned emperor of Ethiopia. When the emperor was forced into exile during an invasion, guerrilla warriors swore not to cut their hair until the emperor was reinstated. The religion resonated with the ideologies of the day, for example socialism, Marxism, nationalism and black power. It was therefore, seen as a threat to Christianity and came under attack by the authorities that tried to suppress the ‘Rasta’ movement and imprisoned those who possessed ‘ganja’. Rastafarians smoked cannabis because they thought it prompted a clearer state of well – being. Their dreadlocks were thought to be disgusting and frightening, hence the term ‘dread’ which was later reclaimed by the ‘Rasta’ community.
The hairstyle was later brought into mainstream culture through the worldwide success of reggae artist Bob Marley. Sporting locks himself, he prompted an international interest in the style, and the anti establishment philosophy of Rastafarian culture.
Dreadlocks became increasingly popular and there are many reasons in various cultures for wearing them. They can be an expression of deep religious or spiritual convictions, a manifestation of ethnic pride. They can make a political statement, or simply be a fashion preference.
Dreadlocks, then, are universally symbolic of a spiritualist’s understanding that vanity and physical appearances are unimportant. The counterpart to Dreadlocks is the shaven head, which has the same aim: disregard for vanity associated with physical appearances. Usually we find that spiritualists whose religious path includes elaborate rituals tend to embrace the shaven head technique as it affords a level of ritual cleanliness, while those mystics who adopt meditative or otherwise non-ritualistic paths prefer to disregard the hair altogether and thus develop Dreadlocks.
Dreadlocks are more than just a symbolic statement of disregard for physical appearance. Both Eastern and Western Traditions hold that bodily, mental and spiritual energies mainly exit the body through the top of the head and the hair. If the hair is knotted, they believe, the energy remains within the hair and the body, keeping a person more strong and healthy.
Ever since becoming connected with the Rastafarians in the early 1900’s, Dreadlocks have taken on, in addition to their original religious and spiritual significance, a potent social symbolism as well. Today, Dreadlocks signify spiritual intent, natural and supernatural powers, and are a statement of non-violent non-conformity, communalism and socialistic values, and solidarity with less fortunate or oppressed minorities.