The distinguishing feature of afro hair is that no one carves rivers and rivulets on afro hair. It is simply homogeneous.
As a young man I loved the afro hair look. I wore it myself. My friends and I savoured the pleasure of being seen as people who had a heavy crown of hair on their heads. The beauty of afro hair is that it reaches for the sky just like Shehu Shagari’s cap in the 80s. it frames your face and makes it look compact and full. It makes your face full even a slim face, will look very full and your head, even a slim head looks very big. The fullness of your hair comes with a high level of confidence and swagger, an ego inflation, that you have on your head what most other people who hate afro hair don’t have, a sense of superiority which breeds some kind of superiority complex.
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Afro hair as a fashion item went into oblivion and the short hair, the permed hair, the fried hair, the braided hair and the skin cut which is known in street lingo as gorimapa, took its place with astonishing success. Now afro hair has come back and it is sitting pretty on the heads of many young men and women, making the ugly ones among them look a little less ugly and the beautiful even more beautiful. But don’t rejoice yet because it has come to grief; there is a little accusation and interrogation of afro hair. In Benue State young men who wear afro hair are suspected to be cultists and their hair is forcibly brought down with a pair of scissors to ground zero. Very soon all persons with afro hair will be forced to change their hairstyle to the preferred hairstyle of the anti-cultism apostles in Benue so that crimes that are born through the womb of cultism may be wiped out. I have no idea whether women who wear afro hair are also affected since most women, cultists or non-cultists, prefer to wear their hair long. The visible exceptions among them are Mrs Oby Ezekwesili, the presidential candidate of the Allied Congress Party of Nigeria (ACPN) and Ms Onyeka Onwenu, singer, broadcaster and actress who is known in entertainment circles as the Elegant Stallion. Both of them wear what is variously called skin cut, crew cut or gorimapa. The advantage of gorimapa is that it saves time and money. You only need to wash it, shampoo it, comb it and you are good to go. No burning sensation under the hair dryer, no waiting on the queue for hours at the salon for your turn to arrive, no angry exchanges when the wrong girl does the wrong thing on your hair. But many Nigerian girls will tell you that they do not want to have only one look so they have to keep changing their hair like a chameleon.
This charge of cultism against all wearers of afro hair and the forcible cutting of people’s hair is another step in the direction of irrationality and the abridgement of people’s freedom of choice. This choice may be of hair or clothes or anything else. In some parts of Nigeria, women who wear short skirts or trousers are harassed. You would have thought that if short skirts are not right, trousers which cover all shades of s(h)ins would be right, but no. or if the idea is that women should not wear trousers simply because they are women, why should they be prevented from wearing what women have worn over the ages, skirts, whether short or long.
Hair has always been an important fashion item for men and women over the years. Many years ago, there was a famous black American that we, as youths admired; His name was James Brown. His song, sex machine, was a fabulous hit but even more fabulous was his electric dance steps. His huge afro hair was a subject of admiration which complemented his excellent song and dance steps. He became for many blacks a legend of sorts.
Today, afro hair is back on the heads of men and women. However, the distinguishing feature of afro hair is that no one carves rivers and rivulets on afro hair. It is simply homogeneous. Footballers and musicians have taken the lead in carving a niche for themselves in designing their hair in any way they want: Neymar Jnr, Pogba and Drogba who even made his hair into a ponytail. Their hair, cynical and iconoclastic, attracts attention to their craft. Others in the public eye who have been or are in public service have carved an unmistakable identity for themselves with their hair. Mr. Gamaliel Onosode, the boardroom guru, who died a few years ago always parted his hair in the middle. That was his signature haircut. Today, the Governor of Cross River State, Professor Ben Ayade, parts his hair on the left and that gives him a boyish, dandy look. Mr. Mike Ozekhome, the famous lawyer and activist, wears his dark hair parted.
In her novel, Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie gave considerable thought to the hair as she featured some African girls in America dealing with issues of their hair. In the final analysis, the texture of one’s hair was an item of a discourse on racism in America.
During the last Big Brother Nigeria edition, one of the housemates named Alex, tall, huge, babe, loved to wear her hair in green, long, big braids. Her height and her hair stood her out. But also to be noted was that on Saturday nights when there was always music and dancing Alex loved to immerse herself in it with the unstinted greed of the starved. As she gyrates she would throw her buttocks into the torso of one of the male housemates, and tempt us to believe that if and when the time comes she was capable of delivering sexual abundance. If the prize for the event was for hair making Alex would have taken the diadem. Unfortunately for her there was also no prize for exotic – and erotic – dancing.
If the haircutters in Benue decide to also target women who wear afro hair because what a man can do a woman may also do then there will be a problem. That is to say if there are cultists among men there certainly are some cultists among women too. If they try to cut the hair of afro-hair wearing women they may run into a problem. Many women who wear big hair are in the world of make-believe. The hair you see on their heads is not theirs. It comes from some factory in India or Brazil or China. They are happy to wear the expensive stuff because it gives their look added value and enhances their brand. As it is said, the hair is a woman’s crowning glory. That is why many young Nigerian women will use polythene paper to cover their hair when it is raining and leave their bodies exposed to the heavy downpour. If the hair is a woman’s crowning glory, now the anti-cult activists in Benue are trying to make it a man’s – also a woman’s – cultic nemesis.
It seems the activists think that once they cut the hair the cultic link has been cut and the society is free from the menace of cultism. But is the afro hair the only symbol of cultism if indeed the hair is a symbol? From what we read don’t they take blood oaths which binds them together and keeps their secrets secret? If they do, how does cutting their hair prevent them from continuing to belong to their cults? The hair, I would imagine, is merely an outward manifestation of their alleged cultism and does not get to the root of the matter. The exercise of forced hair barbing may lead to unnecessary conflicts with people who are not cultists but just prefer to wear their hair big. The exercise is based purely on speculation, suspicion and even superstition. The authorities should stop them from infringing on people’s liberties by trying to curb a menace in a manner that is purely speculative.