We all know how strikingly beautiful dreadlocks can be and how they can elevate the wearer's look, but is there more to this gorgeous hairstyle? Dreadlocks have historical, cultural, and spiritual significance all over the world. They are formed, worn, and adorned differently by various races and people groups, but they hold the same mystique universally.
Here, we'll explore the cultural significance of dreadlocks. Among other things, 'culture' refers to the beliefs, customs, social behaviors, and norms of a group of people. Applying this to dreadlocks, we'll look into the societal beliefs, and the place dreadlocks hold. Also, why dreadlocks and their wearers are viewed in a particular light.
What Are Dreadlocks?
Before we talk about the cultural significance of dreadlocks, let's agree on what we call dreadlocks. People outside of loc culture often confuse them with braids, twists, hair extensions, or faux hairstyles. Dreadlocks look different on different hair types, but we can agree that locs are a person's natural hair that has been allowed to matt together in sections. This matted hair is permanent (you can't easily clear it out) and is more or less maintained to continue growing as locs.
Societal Beliefs: Negative Connotations
We can't discuss dreadlocks without including the negative connotations connected to them. For all of us who love and appreciate the beauty of dreadlocks, others think they're dirty, smelly, untidy, and a sign of social rebellion. For the record, dreadlocks are NONE of those things!
The number of times people imply that locs can't be kept clean, that they smell, or think they're all full of bugs or lice is upsetting. These are all gross misunderstandings and misrepresentations of the true nature of dreadlocks. Are there people with locs who don't wash them and walk around looking untidy and smelly? Yes, of course. But there are also people without locs who do the same things. The issue there is hygiene, not dreadlocks.
Are dreadlocks a sign of social rebellion or a lawless nature? Of course not. Although locs do have an edgy and carefree look, this doesn't mean the wearer has no regard for societal norms. In fact, in mainstream society, doctors, lawyers, politicians, celebrities, and teachers all have well-groomed dreadlocks.
Related: How to Maintain Dreadlocks
Societal Beliefs: Positive Perspective
Although afro hair types lend themselves most readily to developing locs, dreadlocks belong to the world, not to any single people group or race. But it can't be denied that dreadlocks are significant and symbolic in black communities. In the 1960s, sparked by the civil rights movement, black people in America (and other countries) began to embrace their natural hair and reject the embedded Eurocentric idea that they had to straighten their hair to be attractive and socially acceptable.
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Black people began to look for ways to express pride in their natural hair. Many black women, in particular, rejoiced in their newfound love of, not just their natural hair, but their beautiful skin tones, facial features, and body types. Much like the afro did back then, dreadlocks in the black community today are a bold statement of racial pride.
But black people aren't the only ones growing dreadlocks, so why do other groups grow them? One online magazine asked a few white people why they chose dreadlocks. The answers were varied, but most said they had wanted locs long before they finally got them. Overall, they loved the look of them and enjoyed their low-maintenance practicality.
The people interviewed mainly had active lifestyles, where a carefree hairstyle was an asset. They acknowledged that people often misunderstand their choice and assume that they have poor hygiene or don't wash their hair at all. Unfortunately, that's something that most dreadlock wearers have to deal with regardless of race.
The Purpose of Locs
Dreadlocks in all their various forms are a part of every religion and culture across the world. While some cultures completely miss the point and think dreadlocks are something to turn their noses up at, other cultures revere them.
Here are a few other purposes of locs across the world:
- They Harness Energy - Some Sadhus and Yogis believed that wearing locs controlled the energy inside their bodies so it could be channeled in right directions.
- They are a Sign of Power - Historically, rulers of kingdoms formed their hair into locs after they won battles or experienced promotions. Egyptian rulers and Indian deities had locs to demonstrate their power.
- They Protect Your Crown Chakra - The crown chakra is the top of your head, and as your energy travels up your body, dreadlocks are said to contain your energy.
Dreadlocks in World Religions
It's hard to say who was the first to wear dreadlocks, but it doesn't matter. Here are some of the world religions where dreadlocks play a role.
Lord Shiva of Hinduism wore very long dreadlocks. The third holy deity's locs were understood a show his omnipotence and power. Subsequently, Lord Shiva's followers wear long dreadlocks as tribute. Their locs are called ‘JaaTa,’
Samson is a character in the Bible who was raised never to cut his hair to preserve his God-given super-strength. His power is in his locs, so when he falls in love with Delilah, and she cuts his hair, he loses his strength. He remains powerless until his locs grow back.
Related: The History of Dreadlocks
A discussion about dreadlocks wouldn't be complete without mentioning Rastafarians. The Rastafari movement holds that locs are symbolic of the Lion of Judah (from the Bible) and that Haile Selassie (Ethiopian Emperor) is a direct descendent of King Solomon. Rastafarians model their lives after the Nazarites of the Bible, like Samson, which includes the wearing of freeform dreadlocks.
One well-known Rastafarian was Bob Marley - famed reggae singer-songwriter. His wild mane of thick dreadlocks was the subject of admiration and disdain. Either way, he is credited for popularizing dreadlocks at the height of his music career in the 1970s.
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