As a young black girl, growing up in a small village in Swaziland called, Emkhaya, it had always been shown in hidden ways by the elderly how much dignity my hair holds. From being told to wear a head wrap over my fresh and nice-looking Benny & Betty at my Mkhulu’s (grandfather’s) funeral, to cutting it off immediately after the burial. Of course, I couldn’t argue and state that I have “rights” to keep it whatsoever, I just had to follow the Usiko (tradition) that has been carried throughout the years by my ancestors. Because I stayed in the village for some time, meaning a lot of things there were still done in an old-fashioned way, Abomalume (uncles) who helped with the cutting of our hair, would just use a razor to cut and wipe out our bold head with a cloth that had methylated spirit to avoid any infections without making us aware. I won’t lie, because I was the only girl amongst five grandchildren in the family, I was more worried about losing my hair than the cloth touching my scalp.
Now that I think about it, nobody amongst the grandchildren asked why we had to shave off our hair or even what the process resembled. Maybe it was because it was nothing new to my cousins as they were boys but for me, it left a lot of curiosity. It was not only after funerals that I had to cut off my hair unwillingly. A year later when I had to start attending grade one in primary, I had nice gorgeous, fluffy hair that took so long to grow after my recent cut. I worked hard for it, I would wash, comb, and even ask Gogo to plait it with wool or do Bantu knots for me. This would happen once or twice at every chance I’d get, it was like a bonding session between her and me. She would start telling me tales about how they always used nature and tree minerals as hair food such as Aloe to keep their afros nice and strong in the 1960s.
I would go do my hair in town during the holidays but by the time the clock hits midnight, I would’ve been hiding somewhere behind the house with a scissor trying to cut off the extensions that made me feel like a mop. Besides being a naughty child, I was very experimental. I loved to see my hair and style it as much as I could. I guess the hair extensions at the age I was didn’t “slap” as much as they do now that I am a teenager. It seemed like my logic came mostly from my dolls because I would look at them and see perfection. Their skin was flawless, always smiled and last but not least, their hair was never tied up or extended to look long and silky. The hair was nice, fluffy, or curly. Even my fashion sense was inspired by them, though they dressed similar to the big girls. That didn’t stop me from crying to get a pair of heels at the age of 4, to a point where my grandmother started calling me Sisana, meaning “little big girl” in Swati. With this personality I had, I had to find out that no girl was allowed to have hair longer than 2cm at the school I was going to attend. I was in grade one. Imagine. All of this “slay kid” or should I rather say “slay princess”. At the age of six even, that was the first time I knew what being heartbroken was. It felt as if I was going to lose my identity and people wouldn’t recognize me. I felt as if without my hair, I was going to look like the rest of my cousins, no offense. I thought I’ll lose my confidence in thinking I’m as beautiful as my princess dolls.
“You are sad just because you want to bank your hair Letho?”, one of my boy cousins asked me with a confused innocent look on his face. My six-year-old mind didn’t know what to say, but instead, keep quiet and hoped he would elaborate more on the question. Sad enough, he didn’t, that was it. A few years later, when I was heading to high school and was now the big girl that I have always wanted to be, that line came back and crossed my mind on a random day. My school principal announced at assembly on a Friday morning, those hair extensions and certain hairstyles were not allowed anymore. They gave us the whole weekend to come up with a new hairstyle that seemed to be, “appropriate” for school, according to them. Believe it or not, I loved the “rainbow nation hair pattern” that was going on at school. We were diverse and creative with the options we had with our hair. Twisted? I’d still tell my friend she looks beautiful. Haircut? Not an issue because as African girls, we inherited generous and lots of amounts of hair from our mothers. What I’m saying is that, maybe…maybe I was not sad when my cousin asked that question.
Maybe the issue had nothing to do with keeping or cutting my hair. I was just confused or mad. That almost my whole life, why do I always have to be told how my hair should look or how I must present it to get society’s approval. Can’t I have my cornrows on the weekend and braids on Monday, maybe a cut next year, I mean it’s MY hair after all, isn’t it? I would have understood if the matter was based on our hair looking untidy as school learners, but telling us that we have limits as to what we can do with it, that was just wrong. It’s as good as taking our pride and control we had when it came to our beauty. That year was the year I made a promise to my hair that nobody, I repeat, nobody but myself can decide what to do with it. Ever since then, I have never underestimated the worth and importance of my hair because my hair is basically who I am. Its strong texture describes exactly what being an African means, its growth symbolizes that no matter what! I must not give up, shrinkage is just my hair hugging itself and showing I’m more than what you can see. At the end of the day, it’s MY WORLD, therefore, MY RULES.