The History of Dreadlocks

France Bob Marley

[Detangling Our Roots] Stop the co-opt. In this EBONY.com series exploring Black hair origins, we trace locs from the Ancient Egypt all the way to Jamrock.

When many folks think of dreadlocks, the drama that unfolded between Zendaya and Giuliana Rancic probably comes to mind. For those who need a quick refresher, Zendaya chose to rock faux locs on the red carpet at the Oscars last year. The Cover Girl adorned her locs with beads and wore a sophisticated Vivienne Westwood gown. Rancic suggested the following day on “Fashion Police” that the then 18-year-old’s hair probably smelled of “patchouli” and “weed.” Rancic later apologized on air for her seemingly racist remarks.

On Sept. 15, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled it’s nondiscriminatory to ban locs in the workplace. That same day, Marc Jacobs was accused of cultural appropriation when his mostly white models walked the runway wearing pastel-colored locs during New York Fashion Week. The message was clear: Dreadlocks are not welcome unless the person wearing them is white.

The late Bob Marley introduced the hairstyle into mainstream culture in the ‘70s with Whoopi Goldberg further popularizing the look in the ‘80s. Lauryn Hill and Lenny Kravitz proudly rocked theirs in the ‘90s. Toni Morrison and Alice Walker have worn them for as long as we can remember.

The natural hair movement helped set off a resurgence in locs in recent years with Ava Duvernay, Ledisi, Willow and Jaden Smith, Chloe x Halle, and The Weeknd all making locs part of their signature look.

Over the decades, locs have become associated with all things Jamaica to the point where most people think Jamaicans invented locs, but written evidence suggests otherwise.

Dating as far back as 2500 B.C., The Vedas, Hinduism’s oldest scriptures, depict the Hindu God Shiva wearing locs or “jaTaa” in the Sanskrit language, according to Dr. Bert Ashe’s book, Twisted: My Dreadlocks Chronicles.

Ancient Egyptian pharaohs also wore locs, which appeared on tomb carvings, drawings and other artifacts. Thousands of years later, mummified bodies have been recovered with their locs still intact.

“Dreadlocks can be traced to just about every civilization in history,” says Chimere Faulk, an Atlanta-based natural hair stylist and owner of Dr. Locs. “No matter the race, you will find a connection to having dreadlocks for spiritual reasons.”

The Old Testament even tells the story of Samson, who lost his strength once his locs were shaved off. In Kenya, Maasai warriors are known to spend hours perfecting their famous red locs.

So, how did locs become synonymous with Jamaica?

Read more of my latest piece for EBONY.com [here]. 

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