Dreadlocks in Nigeria : A grown man in the streets of Nigeria is bound to attract attention especially if he has his hair loc’d. And it’s not positive attention! Regardless of being educated and achieving higher social status, many people still hold on to stereotypes about locs. Dreadlocked men are mostly associated with danger and sometimes people react to them violently.
The stereotypes about locs are firmly rooted in Yoruba and Igbo people’s traditions and beliefs. The Yoruba people mainly occupy Southwestern Nigeria, Benin, Ghana, Togo, Sierra Leone, and Liberia. One of the many ways the Yoruba people describe locs is ‘knotted crazy people hair.’ Mentally ill people are often seen wearing locs because they have been neglected. Since their behavior is unpredictable, people avoid or beat them as they roam the streets. Their knotted hair makes the community to view them as misfits, untidy and wild.
Similarly, adult men in Nigeria are seen as more or less as the mentally ill people on the streets. They are perceived as volatile, aggressive, unruly and dangerous. In traditional Yoruba and Igbo, unkempt hair is associated with being weird and the person should be avoided. However, there is a double standard where musicians, athletes and actors are tolerated and assumed to be matching their brand. They are protected from these attacks because they are rich and famous, and their hair is just a temporary fashion statement.
In traditional Yoruba, there is a belief that some children are raised in the forest by mysterious beings and they come to the community with supernatural powers and knotted hair. Since they are in the physical and spiritual realm, these children can influence people’s destinys negatively. These knotted hair people are avoided because many ‘normal’ adult Igbo and Yoruba men prefer keeping their hair and beard short. Different hairstyles are treated with suspicion.
Dreadlocks in Nigeria
In Yoruba mythology, Dada is the son of goddess of the sea, wealth, procreation, and increase. Children-dada are seen as the descendants of gods and their hair is treated as precious, only to be touched by their mothers. Their time on earth is believed to be spiritual and marked with many special rituals. During the hair shaving ceremony, the children-dada wear ‘tamed’ hair that conforms to societal norms. Therefore, any adult who still has their locs is believed to be possessed by demons or chose to wear their hair that way to bring harm to people. Simply put, they are dangerous.
The truth is that you are more likely to be stopped by Nigerian police, SARS, if you have locs because they are built on the false premise that dreadlocks are not cultural. This same belief is also what many Nigerians subscribe to. During the colonial era, men who wanted to join the British Royal Army, born again Christians and clerical officers were expected to shave their hair to look nice and clean. History shows that African men are known to groom and keep their hair neat by locking it or plaiting it in different styles or leaving it in different styles such as the Afro. The colonial government outlawed locs and this standard has been enforced to date in society, the police force and hiring practices of different companies.
Apart from artists, musicians and athletes, adults with locs are judged as deviant beings who have become conduits for evil and threaten the morality of the community. Since it is hard to differentiate between adults wearing dreadlocks as fashion statements from those with “evil dreadlocks”, people either avoid being associated with them or attack them out of fear and self preservation.