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The history of dreadlocks


In the many years of Knotty Boy, we have learned that it is nearly impossible to nail down any kind of exact account of the history of dreadlocks.

Because of this extreme variance in these different accounts, Knotty Boy has chosen to include documentation written by a variety of authors to give an overview of dreadlock origin and history. The views expressed in the following articles are not necessarily those of Knotty Boy. Please contact the authors directly with your questions or comments about their articles. Thanks!

The History of Dreadlocks


The following blog excerpt contains an overview of the history of dreadlocks by Knotty EmX. Reprinted with permission.

The first known examples of the hairstyle date back to ancient Egypt, where dreadlocks appeared on Egyptian artifacts. Mummified remains of ancient Egyptians with dreadlocks have even been recovered from archaeological sites.

The Old Testament also recounts the tale of Samson and Delilah in which a man's potency is directly linked to 'the seven locks on his head' and according to Roman accounts, the Celts were described to have 'hair like snakes' Germanic tribes, Greeks and the Vikings are all said to have worn dreadlocks too.

Rastafarianism however is something entirely separate. It was born in the 1930s when Ras Tafari was crowned emperor of Ethiopia. When the emperor was forced into exile during an invasion, guerrilla warriors swore not to cut their hair until the emperor was reinstated. The religion resonated with the ideologies of the day, for example socialism, Marxism, nationalism and black power. It was therefore, seen as a threat to Christianity and came under attack by the authorities that tried to suppress the 'Rasta' movement and imprisoned those who possessed 'ganja'. Rastafarians smoked cannabis because they thought it prompted a clearer state of well - being. Their dreadlocks were thought to be disgusting and frightening, hence the term 'dread' which was later reclaimed by the 'Rasta' community.

The hairstyle was later brought into mainstream culture through the worldwide success of reggae artist Bob Marley. Sporting locks himself, he prompted an international interest in the style, and the anti establishment philosophy of Rastafarian culture.

Dreadlocks became increasingly popular and there are many reasons in various cultures for wearing them. They can be an expression of deep religious or spiritual convictions, a manifestation of ethnic pride. They can make a political statement, or simply be a fashion preference.

This essay on the history of dreadlocks is written by our own Knotty Vic Dicara, from the hardcore bands Beyond, Inside Out with Zack de la Rocha and 108. Reprinted with permission.

The History of Dreadlocks


Left to its own devices, hair will naturally knot together and form mats or "dreadlocks". Upon seeing Dreadlocks, most people think of Bob Marley, reggae, and Rastafarianism, unaware that the roots of Dreadlocks go back much further, to at least 2500 BCE with the Dreadlocked Vedic deity Shiva and his followers.

Dreadlocks are a universal phenomenon in the East as well as in the West. Spiritualists of all faiths and backgrounds incorporate into their paths a disregard for physical appearances and vanity. And so, throughout the world, such seekers often cease to comb, cut, or otherwise dress their hair: This is how "dreadlocks" are born.

In the West, the Nazarite is most widely known for developing Dreadlocks. In the East, Yogis, Gyanis, and Tapasvis of all sects are the most famous bearers of Dreadlocks.

Dreadlocks, then, are universally symbolic of a spiritualist's understanding that vanity and physical appearances are unimportant. The counterpart to Dreadlocks is the shaven head, which has the same aim: disregard for vanity associated with physical appearances. Usually we find that spiritualists whose religious path includes elaborate rituals tend to embrace the shaven head technique as it affords a level of ritual cleanliness, while those mystics who adopt meditative or otherwise non-ritualistic paths prefer to disregard the hair altogether and thus develop Dreadlocks.

Dreadlocks are more than just a symbolic statement of disregard for physical appearance. Both Eastern and Western Traditions hold that bodily, mental and spiritual energies mainly exit the body through the top of the head and the hair. If the hair is knotted, they believe, the energy remains within the hair and the body, keeping a person more strong and healthy.

An excellent example from Western tradition is biblical Sampson, whose unsurpassed strength was lost when Delilah cut off his *seven* locks of hair. In classical India, all students on the spiritual path were directly enjoined by their scriptures to develop Dreadlocks as a means to detach them from physical vanity and aid them in the development of bodily strength and supernatural mental and spiritual powers.

As the world moved into the Industrial Era, Dreadlocks were rarely seen anywhere outside of India. However, at the turn of the Twentieth Century, a socio-religious movement started in Harlem, NY by Marcus Garvey found an enthusiastic following amongst the Black population of Jamaica. This ecclectic group drew their influences from three primary sources (1) the Old and New Testaments, (2) African tribal culture, and (3) The Hindu culture that had recently become a pervasive cultural force in the West Indies.

The followers of this movement called themselves "Dreads," signifying that they had a dread, fear, or respect for God. Emulating Hindu and Nazarite holymen, these "Dreads" grew matted locks of hair, which would become known to the world as "Dreadlocks" - the hair-style of the Dreads.

Soon after, this group would focus their attention on the Ethiopian Emperor Ras Tafari, Haile Selassie, and thus became known as Rastafarians. But the term "Dreadlocks" stuck.

Ever since becoming connected with the Rastafarians in the early 1900's, Dreadlocks have taken on, in addition to their original religious and spiritual significance, a potent social symbolism as well. Today, Dreadlocks signify spiritual intent, natural and supernatural powers, and are a statement of non-violent non-conformity, communalism and socialistic values, and solidarity with less fortunate or oppressed minorities.

Contact Vic D with any questions pertaining to this article.

Because we like to encourage independent thought amongst the Knotty family, here is another view via email of the many-sided dreadlock story for your reading pleasure and education.

Dear Staff,

First, I would like to thank you for the service you are providing for people who wear locks. You have put a lot of effort and quality controls in place to assure the caliber of your products.

That being said, I would like to make a comment on one thing. You have probably heard this before, and I am not trying to beat a dead horse. I believe that we are all members of the human family, and as such we can choose to adopt for ourselves what we want from other cultures. Dread locks is no longer a "black thing" per se, however in regards to the history of locks it should be made known that the process of cultivating locks in the manner commonly known as dread locks is something that was started and developed in Africa, by black people - period. Was it used later in other cultures? Yes. But as you well know, Africa is the cradle of civilization on this planet, and since as you have said so often that locks have been around since the beginning of human history, since that history started in Africa it stands to reason that the locking of the human hair originated there as well. Add to that the fact that Black hair texture is the most conducive to the locking process, and one can easily deduce it's origin.

The reason why I am doing this is not to say that no one else but Black people should be wearing locks. Rather, I find it troubling that people always try to minimalize the impact that Black culture has had on the world throughout history. The minute that something that was inspired, cultivated, and developed by black people becomes desirable, it is immediately neutralized, in order to make it "OK" for other people to adopt it without having to give thanks and proper credit to the culture that fathered it.

If one didn't know any better, one would think that Africa never contributed anything to world civilization except slavery, and that everything good in the world came from the wisdom of the Europeans, when in fact nothing could be further from the truth. We, as Black people, are being systematically erased from the history of the world.

It is for this reason that many have probably expressed an interest in supporting Black business and in keeping the facts straight regarding what's left of our culture, which has been spread out all over the face of the earth in the wake of slavery.

I like your products, but I wish you would truly show the spirit of brotherhood you profess, and give credit where credit is due. I mean no disrespect, and hope that this has helped you.


Universal Zulu Nation Japan Prez.

Knotty Boy hopes that by reprinting this email with permission, we are 'giving credit where credit is due' and demonstrating that our intentions are not at all to minimize the impact that Black culture has had on the World throughout history, but with love, to simply provide ethical, quality products for this unique style, whatever an individuals' cultural background or reason for choosing to wear them.

The History of Dreadlocks by Wikipedia is also a good compilation of information on the origin of dreadlocks.

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