If you have read some of my earlier posts on this blog, you know that I started out talking about my childhood in Nigeria and my recollections of the fancy hairstyles that I grew up accustomed to seeing on the heads of Nigerian women. Even though I don’t wear those styles now, I have always admired them for their beauty and artistry. As I was digging around on the internet, I found an online collection featuring some of the work of J.D. Okhai Ojeikere, the photographer who I talked about earlier on this blog. This online display is part of the Contemporary African Art Collection, which is a private collection that was created by a Italian named Jean Pigozzi.
The above photo, from the collection of Klara Kristina is licensed under a creative commons 2.0 license
My black hair journey began in Nigeria, West Africa. When I was a young child, I went to live in the city of Ile-Ife with my mother, my father, and my sister. My mother is a black American who was born in Oklahoma. My dad is a Yoruba from Nigeria, West Africa. We went to live in Nigeria because my dad had gotten a teaching job at the University of Ife (now known as Obafemi Awolowo University) in Ile-Ife. It was here, in Nigeria, that I have my first memories of African hair. I got to see the different hair styles that Nigerian women wore. The two styles that I remember best are plaiting (what Americans can cornrows or french braids) and string-wrapped hair. String wrapped hair, or coiled hair, is done in a way similar to braiding. The hair is sectioned off, but instead of each section being braided, each section is tightly wrapped in shiny black thread. When all of the sections of hair are completed, the hair coils are flexible and can be left as is, or sculpted into interesting designs like the style on the cover of J.D. ‘Okhai Ojeikere: Photographs. These styles can be beautiful to look at, but they tend to pull out the hair around the hair line.
I also saw women in fancy outfits that wore head dresses instead of hair styles. This was also very fashionable. A woman with this style would have a blouse and skirt made out of fancy fabric, and wear a piece of cloth made from the same fabric tied in an elaborate way around her head.
Many school age girls got their hair cut very short like boys. This was because that was the easiest way for them and their parents to deal with their hair at that age.
Growing up, and seeing all of this, I realized from an early age that my African/black-American hair is one of the most versatile types of hair on earth. Africans and black Americans can style their hair in a multitude of ways. To me, affirming my culture is not wearing my hair in only one way. Affirming and acknowledging my culture is appreciating my hair for what it is, enjoying what it can do, and wearing it in the way that is best for me.