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Cree chief Pitikwahanapiwiyin with locked hair, 1885

Dreadlocks, also known as locs or dreads, are rope-like strands of hair formed by matting which is done by not combing the hair and allowing the hair to matt naturally or by twisting hair and overtime the twisted hair will form into matted locs.[1][2]


The history of the name "dreadlocks" is unclear. Some authors trace the term to the Rastafarians, coining it as a reference to their wearing the hairstyle as a sign of their "dread" (or fear) of God.[3] However, Rastafari did not develop in Jamaica until the 1930s. According to Lori L. Tharps, hair historian and coauthor of Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America, "the modern understanding of dreadlocks is that the British, who were fighting Kenyan warriors (during colonialism in the late 19th century), encountered the warriors' locs and found them 'dreadful', thus coining the term 'dreadlocks'."[4]

The word dreadlocks refer to matted locks of hair. Locks of matted hair is translated in several languages. In Sanskirt it is jaṭā. In Wolof it is ndiagne. In Akan it is mpesempese. In Yoruba it is dada.[5] In Igbo it is ezenwa and elena.[6] In Hamer it is goscha.[7]



Young boxers with long dreadlocks depicted on a fresco from Akrotiri (modern Santorini, Greece) 1600–1500 BCE.[8][9][10] Other sources suggests they were not dreadlocks but long tresses of hair. Some authors suggests meanings and translations are misinterpreted. Long tresses of hair defined by Collins Dictionary are long loose curls of hair or long braids.[11][12]

According to Sherrow in Encyclopedia of Hair: A Cultural History, dreadlocks date back to ancient times in various cultures. In ancient Egypt, Egyptians wore locked hairstyles and wigs appeared on bas-reliefs, statuary and other artifacts.[13] Mummified remains of Egyptians with locked wigs have also been recovered from archaeological sites.[14] According to Dr. Delongoria, braided and locked hair was worn by people in the Sahara desert since 3,000 BC. Dreadlocks was also worn by followers of Abrahamic religions. For example, Ethiopian Coptic priests adopted dreadlocks as a hair style before the fifth century AD (400 or 500 AD). Locked hair was practiced by some ethnic groups in East, Central, West, and Southern Africa.[15][16][17]

Pre-Columbian Aztec priests were described in Aztec codices (including the Durán Codex, the Codex Tudela and the Codex Mendoza) as wearing their hair untouched, allowing it to grow long and matted.[18] Bernal Diaz del Castillo records:

here were priests with long robes of black cloth ... The hair of these priests was very long and so matted that it could not be separated or disentangled, and most of them had their ears scarified, and their hair was clotted with blood.

Hairstyles in Europe[edit]

It is thought the ancient Greek Kouros statues wore dreadlocks. However, historians and archeologists who specialize in ancient Greek hairstyles suggest they were not dreadlocks but braids. For example, academics at Reed College explained they were braids of thick dense hair braided together "divided into uniform globules."[19] "During the archaic period (i.e., up to about 500 BC) the male youth or kouros (Greek) wore his hair long to the shoulders or even longer finely braided—an extremely artificial time-consuming style of the privileged nobles."[20] Janet Stephens explains some of the Kouros statues had curly hair.[21]

Other earliest known possible depictions of dreadlocks date back as far as 1600–1500 BCE in the Minoan Civilization, centred in Crete (now part of Greece).[9] Frescoes discovered on the Aegean island of Thera (modern Santorini, Greece) depict individuals with long braided hair or long dreadlocks.[8][9][22][23][24][25] Another source describes the hair of the boys in the Akrotiri Boxer Fresco as long tresses not dreadlocks. Tresses of hair is defined by Collins Dictionary as braided hair or braided plaits or long loose curls of hair.[26][27][28] Historian Chapin explained the boys in the Akrotiri Fresco are between the ages six to ten years old based on their long locks of hair. In ancient Greece, the heads of children were shaved leaving a few locks of hair to grow, and when they reached adulthood the head shaving of children ends, and their allowed to grow a full head of hair.[29][30]

During the Bronze and Iron Ages, many peoples in the Near East, Anatolia, Caucasus, East Mediterranean and North Africa were depicted in art with braided, plaited, twisted or curled hair and beards, as were the Greeks, Minoans, Dacians, Celts and Etruscans. However, braids, twists and plaits are not dreadlocks, and it is not always possible to tell from these images which are being depicted. In addition, Norse people combed their hair daily so locs of hair were not worn.[31][32][33][34] Archeologists found skeletons of Viking human remains and the grooming tools Viking men and women used to style their hair. The artifacts found are in the National Museum of Denmark. Numerous combs were found indicating Viking people combed their hair regularly. Historians noted Viking men wore a reverse mullet, long hair in the front and short hair in the back. Women in the Viking age tied their hair in ornate knots at the top or behind their head or wore a ponytail. Artifacts found depicting Vikings showed them having long loose hair.[35][36][37] In the 1st century AD, Germanic Suebi men wore their hair in a Suebian knot. Roman historian Tacitus reports in Germania (98 CE) that the Suebian warriors combed their hair back or sideways and tied it into a knot, allegedly with the purpose of appearing taller and more awe-inspiring on the battlefield. Tacitus also reports that the fashion had spread to neighboring Germanic tribes among the younger warriors, while among the Suebians, the knot was sported even by old men as a status symbol, which "distinguishes the freeman from the slave", with the most artful knots worn by the most wealthy nobles:[38]

Some ancient Celtic people wore their hair long and loose and combed their hair daily after a bath therefore locs and locked hair were not worn.[39][40] Ancient Celtic women wore their hair loose, in curls or braided (not dreadlocks) and adorned their hair with ornaments and used combs made of bone to comb their hair. Celtic men braided or spiked their hair and bleached their hair with lime water.[41] In ancient Celtic folklore, matted hair was caused by mischievous fairies that visited people in their sleep and placed their hair in knots that was difficult to comb out. Knotted hair in ancient Celtic belief caused by fairies were called fairy-locks (also called elf-locks). This may explain why Celtic people combed their hair regularly because they believed matted knots of hair was caused by playful fairies.[42] The ancient Celts had negative beliefs about knots and matted hair because knots of hair was caused by evil witches and mischievous fairies. Ancient Celtics believed people who woke up from their sleep with knots in their hair was fairy ridden and had aches in their body and were exhausted. If someone woke up with matted knots in their hair they were untangled or cut. To protect from fairies, Celtic people slept with iron in their hands to ward them off to stop fairies from putting their hair in knots.[43] Author Morgan Daimler specializes in Irish folklore and wrote several books on the topic of fairies and elf-locks. Elf-locks were a sign of bad luck and ill omen. If a fairy placed an elf-lock on an animal's hair the owner of the animal might have offended a fairy.[44] Modern white pagans and New Agers in the late twentieth century misinterpreted the ancient Celtic belief of elf-locks as dreadlocks. Elf-locks are not dreadlocks. Some white people justify wearing locs by saying the ancient Celtics wore dreadlocks. In Celtic folklore, matted and knotted hair was a sign of misfortune caused by witches or mischievous fairies, and Celtic people cut and untangled knots in their hair because of this belief.[45]

Greco-Roman people wore their hair long in braids called plaits, and Greek and Roman men had long hair sometimes braided called locks of hair (not to be confused with dreadlocks) in childhood and short hair in adulthood.[46][47] Greco-Roman children wore a braid on the central part of their head and was cut, and the braid was dedicated to the goddess Artemis. The Romans displayed their wealth and status by wearing intricate hairstyles that was braided or curled. Roman women wrapped their braided hair with fabric and jewels and used thread to hold their hair in intricate styles. Roman people believed natural untamed unkempt hair was considered to be worn by poor people.[48][49][50] Some authors suggest that dreadlocks was not a common hairstyle in white European society. Braids, plaits, and loose hair was preferred. Images and statues of ancient Europeans with locs is questioned as some scholars suggest they were not dreadlocks but braids or plaits.[51][52] Hair archeologist and professional hairdresser Janet Stephens whose academic interest is studying the hairstyles of ancient Greece and Rome, explains the braided hairstyles worn in the ancient Mediterrean region were achieved not with wigs but by braiding peoples natural hair.[53][54][55][56]

Some white New Agers and pagans argue the hairstyles of the kouros are dreadlocks, but historians and archeologists state the ancient kouros statues hair are braids and other kouros statues hair are in curls. The Getty kouros statues have what historians call helicoid curls of hair.[57] Currently, there is no archeological evidence that Europeans wore dreadlocks in antiquity. Others argue the Vikings and Celtics wore dreadlocks, but historians and archeologists found combs in areas where the Vikings and Celts settled indicating they combed their hair daily, and ancient Celts had negative beliefs about locks in their hair.[58][59]

Women in the Middle Ages wore their hair in braids using ribbons or wrapped with fabric, covered their hair with veils, put their hair in a bun, and wore their hair long in curls or straight. European men in the Medieval age wore their hair cut short in a bowl cut or wore their hair long and loose.[60][61][62] Women and men in the Elizabethan era in England wore their hair curled and loose, dyed their hair red, wore wigs and false hair pieces. Red hair color was popular among the English because Queen Elizabeth I of England had red hair. During this period, English women emulated the hairstyles of Queen Elizabeth I.[63][64] Traditional hairstyles in the eighteenth century in Europe were braided and loose. European women of wealth and status adorned their hair with jewels and pearls, and the hair was worn in soft curls, waves, frizzed hair and wrapped in fabric. European men of wealth and political status in the eighteenth century wore white wigs or shaved their heads or had short haircuts and combed their hair. During the Middle Ages and in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in western Europe, dreadlocked hairstyles were not worn especially among Europeans with political, financial, and religious status.[65][66][67][68][69]

Nineteenth century[edit]

Polish plait, 1734–1766

In Poland, for about a thousand years, some people wore a matted hairstyle similar to that of some Iranic Scythians. Zygmunt Gloger in his Encyklopedia staropolska mentions that the Polish plait (plica polonica) hairstyle was worn by some people in the Pinsk region and the Masovia region at the beginning of the 19th century. The Polish plait can vary between one large plait and multiple plaits that resemble dreadlocks.[70] Polish plaits according to historical records were infested with lice. It was believed in Poland that not washing and combing the hair will protect the person from diseases. This folk belief was sometimes common in Eastern Europe. However, the polish plait accumulated lice and other debris. Some Polish people that wore plaits, their scalps had multiple bites from lice causing an immune response to lice bites on the head.[71]

Work Baye Fall

In Senegal, the Baye Fall, followers of the Mouride movement, a Sufi movement of Islam founded in 1887 AD by Shaykh Aamadu Bàmba Mbàkke, are famous for growing dreadlocks and wearing multi-colored gowns.[72] Cheikh Ibra Fall, founder of the Baye Fall school of the Mouride Brotherhood, popularized the style by adding a mystic touch to it. This sect of Islam in Senegal where Muslims wear ndiagne (dreadlocks) was to Africanize Islam. Dreadlocks to this group of Islamic followers symbolize their religious orientation.[73][74] Jamaican Rastas also reside in Senegal and settled in areas near Baye Fall communities. Baye Fall and Jamaican Rastas have similar cultural meanings about dreadlocks. Both groups wear knitted caps to cover their locs and wear locs for religious and spiritual purposes.[75] Male members of the Baye Fall religion wear locs to detach from mainstream western ideals.[76]

Twentieth century[edit]

Hippies in Riviera Villas, San Diego, California with dreadlocks

In the 1970s in the United States and Britain, white people attended reggae concerts. This resulted in white Americans and British people hearing and seeing the cultures of Jamaicans and Rastafarians wearing locs. White hippies related to the Rastafarians idea of rejecting capitalism and colonialism called Babylon. One of the ways Rastafarians rejected Babylon is wearing their hair natural in locs; this is to defy western standards of beauty. The 1960s was the height of the civil rights movement and some white Americans joined Black people in the fight against inequality and segregation and some were inspired by Black culture. As a result, some white people joined the Rastafarian movement. Dreadlocks was not a common hairstyle in Europe, but by the 1970s, white people were inspired by reggae music, the Rastafarian movement, and African-American hair culture and started wearing dreadlocks.[77] According to authors Bronner and Dell Clark, the clothing styles worn by white hippies in the 1960s and 1970s was copied from African-American culture. The word hippie comes from the African-American slang word hip. African-American dress and hairstyles such as braids, and braids decorated with beads, dreadlocks, and language were copied (appropriated) by white countercultural people and developed into a new countercultural movement used by white hippies.[78][79]

In Europe in the 1970s, hundreds of Rastafari Jamaicans and other Caribbeans immigrated to metropolitan centers of London, Birmingham, Paris, and Amsterdam. Communities of Jamaicans, Caribbeans, and Rastas emerged in these areas. White people in these metropolitan cities were introduced to Black cultures from the Caribbean and Rastafarian practices and were inspired by Caribbean culture leading some Europeans to practice Black hair culture, music, and religion. However, the strongest influence of Rastafari religion is among Europe's Black population.[80]

When reggae music, which espoused Rastafarian ideals, gained popularity and mainstream acceptance in the 1970s, thanks to Bob Marley's music and cultural influence, dreadlocks (often called "dreads") became a notable fashion statement worldwide, and have been worn by prominent authors, actors, athletes and rappers.[81][82]

Rastafari influenced its white and black members worldwide to embrace dreadlocks. However, some authors suggests white Rastas are a paradox, because the nature of Rastafari "is a resistance to white domination. Rastafarian culture infused within segments of Pan-Africanism its cultural, spiritual, and political elements for resistance."[83][84] Black Rastas loc their hair to embrace their African heritage and accept African features as beautiful such as dark skin tones, Afro textured hair, and African facial features. Some authors argue how are white Rastas embracing their African features when they loc their hair because white Rastas skin tone, hair texture, and facial features are European which is what Black Rastas are opposing. White Rastas adjusted to the traditional teachings of Rastafari's pro-Black and African ideology by applying a Eurocentric worldview and appropriating the tradition by changing the original teachings.[85][86][87] Black Rastas say white Rastas downplay white racism and Black resistance movements such as the hair and racial discrimination experienced by Black people. White Rastas also dominate conversations in Rasta groups. This behavior in white Rastas is an example of a white superiority complex. In addition, white Rastas romanticize Rastafari religion into objective symbols. For example, to be a Rasta all Rastas where dreadlocks and smoke ganja.[88]

Hairstyles at Burning Man into present day[edit]

In the 1980s, artists and community organizers gathered together to celebrate freedom of expression through art called Burning Man at Baker Beach in San Francisco, California. Burning Man started as a bonfire summer solstice ritual. Over the years participation of this event grew into the thousands. The location of Burning Man moved from Baker Beach to Black Rock Desert, Nevada. Most of the attendants at Burning Man are white. Anthropologists and historians who studied Burning Man argue that white people at Burning Man appropriate Black and Native American culture in dress and hairstyles, such as Native American headdresses and dreadlocks.[89][90][91][92][93][94]

White people with very straight hair sometimes have to result to extensions and fake dreadlocks sewn or braided into their straight hair to mimic the kinky hair texture of Black people.[95] Other people with curly and wavy hair have to manipulate their hair to achieve dreadlocks. Some authors argue that when white people started wearing dreadlocks using their own hair or fake extensions the meanings of dreadlocks is taken out of its original historical and cultural context of resisting oppression, having a Black identity, Black unity, a symbol of Black liberation, and its spiritual meaning in other cultures to one of entertainment, a commodity for white people, and a "fashion gadget."[96] For example, Taiwo Ogunyika who is in the field of academia at the University of Leeds in England explained, according to him, the three reasons white people wear dreadlocks. The first is appreciation of Black culture, but the appreciation of Black culture is misunderstood. The second reason is fashion; the fashion reason does not consider the historical significance hair has in Black culture and the history of hair discrimination experienced by Black people. The third reason is a humanist ideal which has a wrong political meaning.[97][98]

By culture[edit]

Locks (like braids and plaits) have been worn for various reasons in many cultures and ethnic groups around the world throughout history. Their use has also been raised in debates about cultural appropriation.[99][100][101] White people wearing dreadlocks continues to be debated and seen as cultural appropriation by some.[102][103] In the book, White Out: A Guidebook for Teaching and Engaging with Critical Whiteness Studies, has several essays written by college students explaining white people utilizing the cultures of people of color. For example, it argues that when white people wear Mohawks (a Native American hairstyle) or dreadlocks they do so without understanding the historical and cultural significance a hairstyle has to that culture and the discrimination people of color experience when they practice their culture, and are not allies to the struggles of Brown and Black people.[104]


Himba woman with red dreadlocks

The practice of wearing braids and dreadlocks in Africa dates back to 3,000 BC in the Sahara Desert. It has been commonly thought that other cultures influenced the dreadlock tradition in Africa. The Kikuyu and Somali people wear braided and locked hairstyles.[105][106] Warriors among the Fulani, Wolof and Serer in Mauritania, and Mandinka in Mali were known for centuries to have worn cornrows when young and dreadlocks when old.

In West Africa the water spirit, Mami Wata, is said to have long locked hair. Mami Wata's spiritual powers of fertility and healing comes from her dreadlocks.[107][108] West African spiritual priests called, Dada, wear dreadlocks to venerate Mami Wata in her honor as spiritual consecrations.[109] The word Dada[110] is given to children in Nigeria born with dreadlocks. Some Yoruba people believe children born with dreadlocks have innate spiritual powers, and cutting their hair might cause serious illness. Only the child's mother can touch their hair. "Dada children are believed to be young gods, they are often offered at spiritual alters for chief priests to decide their fate. Some children end up become spiritual healers and serve at the shrine for the rest of their lives." If their hair is cut, it must be cut by a chief priest and placed in a pot of water with herbs, and the mixture is used to heal the child if they get sick. Among the Igbo, Dada children are said to be reincarnated Jujuists of great spiritual power because of their dreadlocks.[111][112][113][114] Children born with dreadlocks are viewed as special. However, adults with dreadlocks are viewed negatively. Yoruba Dada children's dreadlocks are shaved at a river, and their hair is grown back "tamed" and have a hairstyle that conforms to societal standards. The child continues to be recognized as mysterious and special.[115] It is believed the hair of Dada children was braided in heaven and will bring good fortune and wealth to their parents. When the child is older the hair is cut during a special ritual.[116] In Yoruba mythology, the Orisha Yemoja gave birth to a Dada who is a deified king in Yoruba.[117] However, dreadlocks are viewed in a negative light in Nigeria due to their stereotypical association with gangs and criminal activity; men with dreadlocks face profiling from Nigerian police.[118][119]

Sangomas wearing white beaded dreadlocks.

In Ghana among the Ashanti people, Okomfo priests are identified by their dreadlocks. They are not allowed to cut their hair and must allow their hair to matt and loc naturally. Locs in Ghana are symbols of higher power reserved for priests.[120][121][122] Other spiritual people in Southern Africa who wear dreadlocks are Sangomas. Sangomas wear red and white beaded dreadlocks to connect to ancestral spirits. Two African men were interviewed explaining why they chose to wear dreadlocks. "One – Mr Ngqula – said he wore his dreadlocks to obey his ancestors’ call, given through dreams, to become a “sangoma” in accordance with his Xhosa culture. Another – Mr Kamlana – said he was instructed to wear his dreadlocks by his ancestors and did so to overcome 'intwasa', a condition understood in African culture as an injunction from the ancestors to become a traditional healer, from which he had suffered since childhood."[123][124]

Maasai warriors are known for their long, thin, red dreadlocks, dyed with red root extracts or red ochre (red earth clay).[125] The Himba women in Namibia are also known for their red colored dreadlocks. Himba women use red earth clay mixed with butterfat and roll their hair with the mixture. They use natural moisturizers to maintain the health of their hair. Hamar women in Ethiopia wear red colored locs made using red earth clay.[126] In Southern, Eastern, and Northern Africa, Africans use red ochre as sunscreen and cover their dreadlocks and braids with ochre to hold their hair in styles and as a hair moisturizer by mixing it with fats. Red ochre has a spiritual meaning of fertility, and in Maasai culture the color red symbolizes bravery and red ochre is used in ceremonies and dreadlock hair traditions.[127][128] Historians noted West and Central African people braid their hair to signify age, gender, rank and role in society, and ethnic affiliation. It is believed braided and locked hair provides spiritual protection, connects people to the spirit of the earth, bestows spiritual power, and enables people to communicate with the gods and spirits.[129][130][131] During the Atlantic-slave trade, European slave traders shaved the heads of Africans before they boarded slave ships to strip the Africans of their identity.[132][133][134] In another source, some Africans heads were not shaved before they boarded slave ships heading to the Americas. Enslaved Africans spent months in slave ships and their hair matted into dreadlocks that European slave traders called "dreadful."[135][136]

African diaspora[edit]

Zulu-Shona African Man With Salon-styled dreadlocks.

In the Black diaspora, Black people loc their hair to have a connection to the spirit world and receive messages from spirits. It is believed locs of hair are antennas making the wearer receptive to spiritual messages.[137] Other reasons people loc their hair is for fashion and to maintain the health of natural hair also called kinky hair.[138] In the 1960s and 1970s in the United States, the Black Power movement, Black is beautiful movement, and the Natural hair movement inspired many Black Americans to wear their hair natural in afros, braids, and locked hairstyles.[139][140] The Black is beautiful cultural movement spread to Black communities in Britain. In the 1960s and 1970s, Black people in Britain were aware of the civil rights movement and other cultural movements in Black America and the social and political changes occurring at the time. The Black is beautiful movement and Rastafari culture in Europe, influenced Afro-Britains to wear their hair in natural loc styles and afros as a way to fight against racism, western standards of beauty, and develop unity among Black people of diverse backgrounds.[141] From the twentieth century into present day, dreadlocks are hair symbols of Black liberation and are worn by revolutionaries, activists, womanists, and radical artists in the diaspora.[142]

Natural black hairstyles worn by Black women were not seen as feminine and professional by white people in corporate America.[143] Wearing locs in the diaspora signifies a person's racial identity and defiance of European standards of beauty which is straight blond hair.[144] Locs encourages Black people to embrace other aspects of their culture that is tied to Black hair such as wearing African ornaments that are cowrie shells, beads, and African headwraps that are sometimes worn with locs.[145][146] Some Black Canadian women wear locs to connect to the global Black culture. Dreadlocks unites black people in the diaspora because wearing locs has the same meaning in areas of the world where there are Black people which is opposing Eurocentric standards of beauty and sharing a Black and African diaspora identity.[147][148] For many black women in the diaspora, locs are a fashion statement to express individuality and the beauty and versatility of black hair and as a protective hairstyle to maintain the health of their hair by wearing kinky hair in natural locs or faux locs. To protect their natural hair from the elements of cold or hot air during the changing seasons, black women where certain hairstyles to protect and retain the moisture in their hair. Black women wear soft locs as a protective hairstyle because soft locs enclose natural hair inside soft locs protecting their natural hair from environmental damage. This protective soft loc style is created by "wrapping hair around the natural hair or crocheting pre-made soft locs into cornrows."[149] In the diaspora, Black men and women wear different styles of dreadlocks. Each style requires a different method of care. Freeform locs are formed organically by not combing the hair or manipulating the hair. There are also goddess locs, faux locs, sister locs, twisted locs, Rasta locs, crinkle locs, and other loc styles.[150][151]


An Indigenous Australian with dreadlocks

Some Indigenous Australians of North West and North Central Australia, as well as the Gold Coast region of Eastern Australia, have historically worn their hair in a locked style, sometimes also having long beards that are fully or partially locked. Traditionally, some wear the dreadlocks loose, while others wrap the dreadlocks around their heads, or bind them at the back of the head.[152] In North Central Australia, the tradition is for the dreadlocks to be greased with fat and coated with red ochre, which assists in their formation.[153] In 1931 in Warburton Range, Western Australia, a photograph was taken of an aboriginal Australian man with dreadlocks.[154]

In the 1970s, white hippies from Australia's south region moved to Kuranda and lived near Indigenous Australians and introduced reggae music to Buluwai people. Buluwai people heard the music of Peter Tosh and Bob Marley for the first time in the 1970s and learned about the Rastafari movement. Indigenous Australians found parallels of the struggles of Black people in the Americas to their own racial struggles in Australia. A Buluwai reggae band was formed in Australia called Mantaka. Mantaka combines Buluwai cultural traditions with reggae guitar music. The reggae music among the Buluwai reflects their culture and history. Willie Brim a Buluwai man born in the 1960s in Kuranda, Australia was introduced to reggae music from hippies. Brim and other Buluwai people wear dreadlocks but wear them because it is a part of their culture and not an influence from the Rastafari religion. Although Brim was inspired by reggae music, he is not a Rastafarian because he has his own spiritual culture.[155] Foreigners visiting Australia think the Buluwai people wearing dreadlocks was an influence of the Rastafarian movement, but Buluwai people say their ancestors wore dreadlocks prior to the movement.[156] Some Indigenous Australians wear an Australian Aboriginal flag (a symbol of unity and Indigenous identity in Australia) tied around their head to hold their dreadlocks.[157]


The deity Shiva wears dreadlocks.

Within Tibetan Buddhism and other more esoteric forms of Buddhism, locks have occasionally been substituted for the more traditional shaved head. The most recognizable of these groups are known as the Ngagpas of Tibet. For Buddhists of these particular sects and degrees of initiation, their locked hair is not only a symbol of their vows but an embodiment of the particular powers they are sworn to carry.[158] 1.4.15 of the Hevajra Tantra states that the practitioner of particular ceremonies "should arrange his piled up hair" as part of the ceremonial protocol.[159] Archeologists found a statue of a male deity, Shiva, with dreadlocks in Stung Treng province in Cambodia.[160] In a sect of tantric Buddhism some initiates wear dreadlocks.[161][162] The sect of tantric Buddhism wear initiates wear dreadlocks is called weikza and Passayana or Vajrayana Buddhism. This sect of Buddhism is practiced in Burmese. They spend years in the forest with this practice and when they return to the temples they should not shave their heads to reintegrate.[163]


Two sadhus (ascetic monks) with their hair in traditional jaṭā style[164]

The practice of Jaṭā (dreadlocks) is practiced in modern day Hinduism,[165][166][167] most notably by Sadhus who follow Śiva.[168][169] The Kapalikas, first commonly referenced in the 6th century CE, were known to wear Jaṭā[170] as a form of deity imitation of the deva Bhairava-Śiva.[171] Shiva is often depicted with dreadlocks.

In a village in Pune, Savitha Uttam Thorat, some women hesitate to cut their long dreadlocks because it is believed it will cause misfortune or bring down divine wrath. Dreadlocks practiced by the women in this region of India are believed to be possessed by the goddess Yellamma. Cutting off the hair is believed to bring misfortune onto the woman, because having dreadlocks is considered to be a gift from goddess Yellama (other names for this goddess is Renuka).[172] Some of the women have long and heavy dreadlocks that puts a lot of weight on their necks causing pain and limited mobility.[173][174] Some in local government and police in the Maharashtra region demand the women to cut their hair, because the religious practice of Yellamma forbids women from washing and cutting their dreadlocks causing health issues.[175] These locks of hair dedicated to Yellamma are called jade. The locks of hair are evidence of divine presence. However, in Southern India people are advocating the practice should not continue.[176]


Rasta Bongo

Rastafari movement dreadlocks are symbolic of the Lion of Judah, and were inspired by the Nazarites of the Bible.[177] Jamaicans locked their hair after seeing images of Ethiopians with locs fighting Italian soldiers during the Second Italo-Ethiopian War. The afro is the preferred hairstyle worn by Ethiopians. During the Italian invasion, Ethiopians vowed not to cut their hair using the Biblical example of Sampson who got his strength from his seven locks of hair until emperor Ras Tafari Makonnnen (Haile Selassie) and Ethiopia were liberated and Selassie was returned from exile.[178] Another African influence for Rastas wearing locs was seeing photos of Mau Mau freedom fighters with locs in Kenya fighting against the British authorities in the 1950s. Dreadlocks to the Mau Mau freedom fighters were a symbol of anti-colonialism and this symbology of dreadlocks was an inspiration for Rastas to loc their hair in opposition to racism and promote an African identity.[179][180]

In the Rastafarian belief, people wear locs for a spiritual connection to the universe and spirit of the earth. It is believed by shaking their locs it will bring down the destruction of Babylon. Babylon in the Rastafarian belief is systemic racism, colonialism, and any system of economic and social oppression of Black people.[181][182] Locs are also worn to defy European standards of beauty and helps to develop a sense of Black pride and acceptance of African features as beautiful.[183][184] In another branch of Rastafiri called Boboshanti Order of Rastafari, dreadlocks are worn to display a black person's identity and social protest against racism.[185] The Bobo Ashanti are one of the strictest Mansions of Rastafari. They cover their locs with bright turbans and wear long robes and can usually be distinguished from other Rastafari members because of this.[186]

The Bobo Ashanti ("Bobo" meaning "black" in Iyaric;[187] and "Ashanti" in reference to the Ashanti people of Ghana, whom the Bobos claim are their ancestors),[188] were founded by Emmanuel Charles Edwards in 1959 during the period known as the "groundation", where many protests took place calling for repatriation of African descendants and slaves to Kingston. A Boboshanti branch spread to Ghana because of repatriated Jamaicans and other Black Rastas moving to Ghana. Prior to Rastas living in Ghana, Ghanaians and West Africans previously had their own beliefs about locked hair. Dreadlocks in West Africa are believed to bestow children born with locked hair with spiritual power, and it is believed children born with dreadlocks called Dada were given to their parents by water deities. Rastas and Ghanaians have similar beliefs about the spiritual significance of dreadlocks, such as not touching a person's or child's locs, maintaining cleanliness of locs, locs spiritual connections to spirits, and locs bestowing spiritual powers to the wearer.[189]

In sports[edit]

Dreadlocks have become a popular hairstyle among professional athletes. However, some athletes are discriminated against and were forced to cut their dreadlocks. For example, in December of 2018 a Black high school wrestler in New Jersey was forced to cut his dreadlocks 90 seconds before his match that sparked a Civil Rights case leading to passage of the CROWN act in 2019.[190]

In professional American football, the number of players with dreadlocks has increased ever since Al Harris and Ricky Williams first wore the style during the 1990s. In 2012, about 180 National Football League players wore dreadlocks. A significant number of these players are defensive backs, who are less likely to be tackled than offensive players. As per the NFL's rulebook, a player's hair is considered part of their "uniform", meaning the locks are fair game when attempting to bring them down. [191][192]

In the NBA there has been controversy over the Brooklyn Nets guard Jeremy Lin, an Asian-American who garnered mild controversy over his choice of dreadlocks. Former NBA player Kenyon Martin accused Lin of appropriating African-American culture in a since-deleted social media post, after which Lin pointed out that Martin has multiple Chinese characters tattooed on his body. [193]

David Diamante the American Boxing ring announcer of Italian American heritage sports prominent dreadlocks.

Hair discrimination[edit]

Black students in the Black diaspora are discriminated against and some are suspended from school for wearing locs.

On 3 July 2019, California became the first US state to prohibit discrimination over natural hair. Governor Gavin Newsom signed the CROWN Act into law, banning employers and schools from discriminating against hairstyles such as dreadlocks, braids, afros, and twists.[194] Likewise, later in 2019, Assembly Bill 07797 became law in New York state; it "prohibits race discrimination based on natural hair or hairstyles".[195][196] The word used to describe discrimination based on hair is called by scholars, hairism. After passage of the CROWN act, hairism continues. Some Black people are fired from work or are not hired because of their dreadlocks.[197][198][199] The CROWN Act was passed to confront challenging ideas that Black people have to emulate white hairstyles in order to be accepted in public and educational spaces.[200] As of 2023, 24 states passed the CROWN Act. July 3 is recognized as National CROWN Day also called Black hair independence day.[201][202][203]

The Perception Institute conducted a "Good Hair Study" using images of Black women wearing natural styles in locs, afros, twists, and other black hairstyles. Perception Institute is an organization that is "a consortium of researchers, advocates and strategists" using psychological and emotional test studies to make participants aware of their racial biases. A black-owned hair supply company, Shea Moisture, partnered with Perception Institute to conduct the study. The tests were done to reduce hair and racial discrimination in education, civil justice, and law enforcement places. The study showed that white people had the most negative biases when they saw images of Black people wearing dreadlocks and other natural hairstyles showing their kinky hair texture. The study used an implicit-association test on 4,000 participants of all racial backgrounds and showed most of the participants had negative views about natural black hairstyles. The study also showed Millennials were the most accepting of kinky hair texture on Black people. Of the 4,000 participants, white women showed the most negative bias towards Black people with natural hair, because white women in the study made up of thirty-eight percent of managers and determine what hairstyles look professional and hire people based on their hairstyles. "Noliwe Rooks, a Cornell University professor who writes about the intersection of beauty and race, says for some reason, natural black hair just frightens some white people."[204][205]

In September of 2016, a lawsuit case was filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against the company Catastrophe Management Solutions located in Mobile, Alabama. The court case ended with the decision that it was not a discriminatory practice for the company to refuse to hire an African American because they wore dreadlocks.[206]

In Texas public schools, dreadlocks and traditional Native American hairstyles are prohibited especially to boy students because long braided hair is considered unmasculine according to white western standards of masculinity which defines masculinity as "short, tidy hair." Black and Native American boys are stereotyped and receive negative treatment and negative labeling for wearing dreadlocks, cornrows, and long braids. Non-white students are prohibited from practicing their traditional hairstyles that are a part of their culture.[207][208]

The policing of Black hairstyles also occurs in London, England. Black students in England are prohibited from wearing natural hairstyles such as dreadlocks, Afros, braids, twists, and other African and Black hairstyles. Black students are suspended from school, are stereotyped, and receive negative treatment from white teachers.[209]

In Midrand, north of Joburg in South Africa a black girl was kicked out of school for wearing her hair in a natural dreadlock style. Hair and dreadlock discrimination is experienced by people of color all over the world that do not conform to western standards of beauty.[210][211] In Pretoria High School for Girls in Gauteng province in South Africa, black girls are discriminated against for wearing African hairstyles and are forced to straighten their hair.[212]

Black women in the United States army can wear black hairstyles.

In 2017, the United States Army lifted the ban on dreadlocks. In the army, black women can now wear braids and locs under the conditions they are groomed, cleaned, and meet the length requirements.[213] From slavery into present day, the policing of black women's hair continues to be controlled by the standards of white society. Even when black women wear locs and they are clean and well kempt some white people do not consider locs to be feminine and professional because of the natural kinky texture of black hair.[214][215]

Four African countries approved the wearing of dreadlocks in their courts they are, Kenya, Malawi, South Africa, and Zimbabwe. However, hairism continues despite the approval. Although locked hairstyles is a traditional practice on the African continent some Africans disapprove of the hairstyle because of cultural taboos or pressure from Europeans in African schools and local African governments to conform to Eurocentric standards of beauty.[216][217]

Police profiling[edit]

Black men that wear locs are profiled and watched more by the police and are believed to be "thugs" or involved in gangs and violent crimes than black men who do not wear dreadlocks.[218] A police officer in Iowa aggressively yanked a black man's dreadlocks during an arrest.[219]

Guinness Book of World Records[edit]

On 10 December 2010, the Guinness Book of World Records rested its "longest dreadlocks" category after investigation of its first and only female title holder, Asha Mandela, with this official statement:

Following a review of our guidelines for the longest dreadlock, we have taken expert advice and made the decision to rest this category. The reason for this is that it is difficult, and in many cases impossible, to measure the authenticity of the locks due to expert methods employed in the attachment of hair extensions/re-attachment of broken off dreadlocks. Effectively the dreadlock can become an extension and therefore impossible to adjudicate accurately. It is for this reason Guinness World Records has decided to rest the category and will no longer be monitoring the category for longest dreadlock.[220]

See also[edit]


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