To weave or not to weave

… Hair and African identity

By Rosalia David

BLACK women in Namibia are estimated to spend millions of dollars each year in the pursuit of beauty by purchasing hair that was shaven from the scalps of far-off strangers, unconcerned about whether the hair is from the living or the dead.

With some black women preferring to show off their natural hair and be seen as proud of their black identity while others do not, this trend has sparked heated debates on whether altered hair and long-haired wigs reinforce notions of cultural imperialism and hegemony.

While a few hair gurus believe that wearing natural hair is a way of validating the notion that black is beautiful, many have argued that women should be allowed to style themselves in any way they wish to, even if it means wearing long silky hair.

Although there is a connection between hair and cultural identity (and many Namibian men seem to be against women wearing weaves), society continues to buy into the idea of women putting in laces to subscribe to the image on magazine covers or to be seen as equally beautiful.

“It is despicable,” says Dr. Solomon Gurumantunhu, a Zimbabwean medical doctor who has often visited Namibia.

“The African woman is blessed with arguably the most beautiful hair ever known to any living creature, yet you see many wearing the hair of other people. It shows a lack of self-appreciation or self-respect.

“I see the wives of many prominent people, politicians and influencers even, educated women even with human hair and immediately I lose respect for them,” he seethed.

Gurumatunhu believes that African women were tricked into believing, they have inferior hair, when in fact they have been blessed with the best deal on the table.

“The African woman can braid her hair, she can relax her hair and straighten it; she can weave into dreadlocks. The Caucasian woman cannot. [The African woman] can shave it off and reveal a beautiful facial profile. She can comb it into a thick standing mane and make it look like a crown.

Just dirt

“Hair, by nature of it being predominantly dead cells, save for the follicle, therefore is widely regarded as dirt upon being shaved off,” he said.

He further pointed out the challenges women have to go through for Brazilian hair, saying those with weaves probably enjoy scratching their heads vigorously because of itching.

“That is because they are carrying dirt on their heads. Other people’s discard. Why would one think they are inferior to white and Western women to the extent of taking their dirt and discard and putting it on their heads while parting with lots of money while they are at it?”

Founder of O’Nature Cosmetics Maria Immanuel, who has been rocking her natural hair for years without any weaves, said: “If we are defining natural hair as our identity or not then we are far from being ourselves.”

She remarked that as long as women are comfortable with how they choose to wear their hair; that is part of their identity. “As black people we are blessed to have different hair texture, which we can change from one look to another.

This in itself is our identity,” Immanuel said.

David Fanuel (not real name), another hair styling company owner, who preferred not to be named, agreed with Dr Guramatunhu that it is indeed unnecessary for women to spend thousands of dollars on Brazilian hair while they can save money and rock their own natural hair without feeling any less beautiful.

Dr Helena Ndume, a Namibian ophthalmologist, famous for her charitable work in restoring the sight of sufferers of eye-related illnesses in the country contributed to the debate, saying she prefers her own hair and would never prefer a weave to her own hair.

“I will never put in other people’s hair but that is my own belief. Everyone has the right to do whatever they want with their own hair. It doesn’t necessary mean that you are not proud of your black identity,” she said.

Deputy Minister of Home Affairs and Immigration Maureen Hinda, amongst others, said in her view, beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder and that no one deserves to be categorised by the way they style their hair.

‘I wear my natural hair most of the time, but I also put in weaves sometimes to change the look but it doesn’t mean that I am not African enough.”

Zodidi Gaseb from the Natural Hair and Beauty Expo said although she wears her natural hair at all times and encourages women to start flaunting their African hair, she does not look down on people wearing weaves, as they have their own reasons for doing so.

“As much as I love natural hair and promote them, I wouldn’t really say that people who do not wear their own hair are sell-outs. It’s a sensitive topic.”

Additional reporting by Chronicle newspaper