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Zulu Hairstyles


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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 ever open.
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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:
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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 it.

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.
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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 African continent.

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 bitter end.

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 world.

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 great elephant."

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 necklaces.

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