To our people hair was an extremely sacred thing.
It was seen to be a link between people on earth and
the spirits in the land of the Gods.
So it was one of our strictest laws that a person
took the greatest care of his or hair to keep the
links between the spirit world and the physical world
For this reason our people devised, hundreds of
years ago, combs to keep the hair tidy, combs used
as weapons to expel nits and lice from the hair,
combs to keep the scalp healthy. And next to combs
there were also long, flexible needle-like things made
of horn, sometimes with tiny ornaments dangling at
one end and these long horn needles were used for
scratching the scalp, for dressing the hair and for
keeping it clean.
Our people believed that the
healthier your hair was, the healthier was your body.
When a woman died, her comb was buried with
her so that she would look after her hair also in the
other world. .
Africans used to form their hair into all kinds of elaborate
styles, some of them of very great intricacy and complexity.
They had these hairstyles for various reasons:
|An ebony comb
To show national as well as tribal identity - so that if there
was a battle being fought, one could tell friend from foe by
the hairstyle - to show one's age group, one's marital status,
one's profession or craft and one's aggressiveness or lack of
There were also hairstyles whose purpose was to protect
the wearer from certain kinds of harm, for example, one of
the oldest hairstyles in Africa, is called in Zulu isiqhoua se
mpangele, that is the crest of the guinea.fowl. This is a
hairstyle in which the hair on top of the head has been
woven and teased into the form approximating the sort of
bony crest that one sees on a guinea-fowl.
This hairstyle was sported by warriors who wanted to ask
the Gods for protection in battle, and also warriors who
wanted to show enemies, as well as potential enemies, that
if it came to a fight, they were as quick as guinea-fowls and
just as difficult to bring down.
This hairstyle was sported by many African nations from
the Niam-Niam people of the Sudan right down to long lost
and forgotten tribes which used to exist in Southern Africa
and whose memory and whose hairstyles were kept alive by
Bushmen cave painters who painted people sporting such
hairstyles, hundreds if not thousands of years ago.
|A comb made out of cow horn
Amongst the many figures that are shown with the famous
White Lady of Brandberg, a rock-painting in a cave in
Namibia,near Brandberg, several wear the guinea-fowl crest
hairstyle. This hairstyle is also found amongst many tribes
throughout West Africa in the Nigeria-Ghana area of the
Amongst the several kinds of protective hairstyles that I
recall having being sported by African warriors in the last
century, is one which was worn by Lozi warriors and
consisted of fine dreadlocks-like plaits grown on the top of
the head and which were then bound together into a pointed
cone which rose about eight inches or more above the top of
the warrior's head. At the point of this cone of hair was tied a
little bon-bon, which was decorated with beads and smeared
with red ochre This gave the warriors an appearance of
having long pointed heads. Such hairstyles are called by the
Barotse people of Zambia the chikuza hairstyle.
When Zulu, Xhosa, Swazi and other warriors went to
battle, they often plaited their hair into short, thick, sharp,
pointed plaits known as the amagoda These plaits were
often smeared with protective medicine to protect the
warriors from being killed too early in battle. These amagoda
plaits showed the warriors' determination to fight to the
It was believed that there were spiritual beings,
angel-like beings usually of the feminine sex, who used
to come from the sky and choose those warriors who
had fought well, from amongst the dead. These
warriors were then taken to the great village of the
War God, Dumakade, in the land of the Gods. It is said
that when one of these spirit beings descended from
the sky, she would seize the chosen warrior by these
amagoda plaits and pull him bodily into the spirit
There was once a time, in olden days, when it
became a fashion for warriors to collect the heads of
enemies, whom they had slain, after the battle.
In those days, battle champions, men who were sure
of their skill in battle, used to deck themselves with the
brightest and the most expensive ornaments, such as
bangles and necklaces and so on They also used to
sport very elaborate hairstyles as a challenge and as a
dare to enemy warriors to come forward and fight them
if they wished. It became a feather in the hat of any
warrior to collect amongst the heads, a head of a man
with a beautiful hairstyle, a hairstyle which proved that
this man had been a warrior of note.
There was a proverb:
"He who brings down a great lion, becomes a
In other words, the more champions you kill in battle,
the more beautifully hairstyled heads you collect, the
greater a warrior you become.
This practice of collecting parts from fallen enemy
warriors was continued by Zulu warriors until well
into the middle of the last century, where you saw
warriors collecting the finger joints of dead enemies
from which the flesh was afterwards scraped so that
only the bone remained. These bones were then
pierced and made into long necklaces which were
worn like cross belts by the warrior who owned them
These finger joints were called iziqu
When I was a little boy, I used to see old warriors
who sported as many as fifty iziqu on their