Written By Shola Lawal. Edited by Damilola Odufuwa.
When Architect Ade Balogun permanently locked her short hair in late 2010, everyone thought she had gone absolutely crazy. At the firm where she worked, her colleagues made fun of her hair. One of them nicknamed her Taribo West after the former Super Eagles defender most remembered for his colourful locs. At home, the situation wasn’t much different. Balogun’s mother thought it was something ‘mad people do'. But for a young Balogun, there was no going back.
“My schedule as an architect was very hectic” the 32 year old relates. “And spending three to four hours in a salon just wasn't cutting it for me.” To make her locs look acceptable, she started to style them and made up her mind to keep doing so after her boyfriend revealed that he loved them. But the opportunity to turn her love for styling locs into a thriving business only came after Balogun’s secondary schoolmate offered her some money to start her own locs.
Now, after almost a decade, Balogun has made it a full-time mission to educate other women (and men) on the beauty of locked hair. After practising as a full-time architect for 3 years and designing two buildings, she had brief stints at eCommerce giants Dealdey and Konga. In 2015, she committed herself to styling locs - since she was already making some money from it.
Between Locitude, her loctician studio which morphed out of her website, and the company's well-followed Instagram page, she spends hours every day explaining the benefits of locking natural hair. She has been interviewed by the BBC, Channels TV and has even spoken at a local TEDx event in Lagos.[embedded content]
Balogun thinks locs are the perfect solution for people with tightly coiled kinky hair that require effort to tame. “Locs require less time to maintain,” She says from her studio in Ikoyi. “You also don’t need to comb it if you find combing painful and if you have a sensitive scalp”.
In a society where locked hair is perceived as irresponsible and unprofessional, her task is not easy. Even though Africans carried free-formed locked hair —known locally in Yoruba as dada — centuries before the white man invaded and imposed on us his own version of ‘acceptable’ styles, the hairstyle had always had a negative connotation; because some ethnic and religious groups believe dadas possess spiritual powers.
There’s also the borrowed reaction from the Western world: Black people who wear locs are often unfairly profiled as drug users and are sometimes denied job opportunities for having ‘unprofessional’ or ‘untidy’ hair. The U.S army banned locs in 2014 but later lifted the ban early last year. Let’s also not forget Giuliana Rancic’s racist comment about Zendaya’s faux-locs at the 2015 Oscars.
The former practising architect has an interesting theory - locs should be just as acceptable as permed hair because they are in fact what nature intended for afro-textured hair. Locs are more commonly referred to as ‘dreadlocks’, a derogatory term that attempted to communicate the supposed ‘dread’ it evoked in an elitist Jamaican society that marginalised Rastas. Different accounts say locs have their root in various cultures: Shiva, an Indian deity, is said to have worn locs, as did the Biblical Samson. Ancient Kenyan Masai warriors, monks in Ethiopia and pharaohs in Egypt also carried the hairstyle.
But the style was unarguably popularised by Jamaican Rastafarians in the late 90’s, especially with legendary reggae singer, Bob Marley introducing it into pop-culture in the 1970s. The Rastafari religious movement eschews a life of materialism that extends to leaving kinky hair to grow out and matte naturally. On one account, Rastas refused to cut their hair until the late Ethiopian king, Haile Selassie — born Ras Tafari and believed by Rastas to be a human representation of God — was reinstated, following an invasion and exiling of the king. On another account, locs are a Biblical directive, a Nazarite vow taken by all Rastas, as commanded in Leviticus 21:5: They shall not make baldness upon their head, neither shall they shave off the corner of their beard nor make any cuttings in their flesh.
Although Balogun took to locs because of their convenience, the hairstyle was historically considered an act of rebellion that provoked societies. To not perm and straighten kinky hair has always been seen as politically antagonistic to the Western gaze. And rightly so. In the 1960’s and 70’s, black Americans wore the afro as a symbol of resistance of the dominant white culture.[embedded content]
For Africans, trendiness and convenience, rather than politics, mostly determine hairstyles. Locs were popularised in Nigeria by older generation music artistes like Daddy Showkey and Ras Kimono. Younger artistes including Peter of the P-Square duo, Timaya and Asa are also popular loc-heads.
Balogun believes afro-textured hair shouldn’t have to endure constant combing and straightening. It is why she thinks locs are able to grow so long because there's little shedding: Her own locs are about 20 inches long. Not to mention the time one can save: locs take only about 40 minutes to be retwisted.
Her customer base is quite diverse. The studio she works from is a sort of unofficial meetup point for a budding loc community in Lagos. They come from all walks of life, most of them professionals in their fields. The loctician has styled the locs of famous people like singer Omawunmi, LGBT activist Pamela Adie, and Bassey Ikpi, a Nigerian-American poet.
Things are gradually looking up for the locked community in Nigeria — the hairstyle is slowly becoming accepted in the country. Three years ago, Balogun’s own mother who had so vehemently opposed her locs decided to lock her own hair too. Every last Saturday in June, Balogun hosts a Loc Appreciation Day in Lagos to create awareness for locs, a practice started about 5 years ago by Youtuber QOchemist. But the style still has a long way to go before it can be fully accepted.
“Locked hair in itself may never be mainstream,” says Dr Bosede Afolabi, a professor of obstetrics and gynaecology who has appeared on CNN, and one of Balogun's most loyal customers. Afolabi had to wait until she became an associate professor before she could muster the courage to lock her hair. Even then, only a few of her colleagues appreciated the look. “Movies like Black Panther are changing that narrative and people are starting to buy into it”, she continues. The superhero blockbuster has been highly commended for its portrayal of natural black hair and locs worn by the Queen Mother and Eric Killmonger.
Black Panther's Queen Ramonda and her locs. (Photo: Marvel Studios)
Balogun’s advice to those who still struggle with the acceptability of locs is simple, "Before the quest for silky, permed hair, our hair has always been kinky. Locking it is one of the easiest ways to maintain your natural hair.".
Written By Shola Lawal. Edited by Damilola Odufuwa.
Shola Lawal is a journalist and essayist based in Lagos. Read her story about being dark-skinned in Nigeria here and follow her Twitter here.
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