- In indigenous cultures, hair serves an important purpose.
- Different hairstyles can reflect important moments in life.
- For indigenous peoples, hair is seen as an extension of the self and connection to the world.
In cultures around the world, hair has different meanings. In African American history, as a product of the transatlantic slave trade, braided hair began to serve as a medium for everything storing and hiding food a way to send secret message, In ancient Greece, hair lengths and styles separated people by class and place of origin., And in some indigenous cultures, hair is considered an extension of the self, as well as a connection to the world.
Having long hair, or growing hair, is a custom common to some native tribes. For some tribes, long hair equals strength. In others, it is a symbol of strength and virility. Long hair is also seen by some to represent rebellion against the colonized world and indigenous pride.
“Typically when people are starting their spiritual journey and reconnecting with their culture and tribe, they grow hair,” whisper bissonnette, an Indigenous hairstylist, told Insider. Whisper is a member of the Oglala Lakota and Anishinaabe Ojibwe tribes, where long hair sometimes represents respect for a loved one who has passed away. Whisper said that his mother kept her hair long to honor her grandmother’s life.
A tie to life old and new
Hair has a deep connection with the old and new life in the tribes. In the original culture, a widespread belief It is that when one’s hair is cut, one loses a small part of one’s relationship with oneself. In the Navajo Nation, hair is cut to mourn a death in the immediate family. The cut hair represents time that was once spent with loved ones and the new growth represents the afterlife. Whisper said, “From my personal experience, all that matters to the person who is dead is the amount of hair you cut off.” In some tribes, getting a haircut can be a sign of a traumatic event or a major life change. It can also represent breaking away from past actions and thoughts as a way to start anew.
There are many reasons for cutting hair other than mourning. In the Apache tribe, the ritual of haircuts is held every spring to welcome health and success. Meanwhile, the Navajo tribe cuts their children’s hair on their first birthday and then lets them grow without trimming. In some indigenous cultures, cut hair is considered sacred and is never thrown away. Instead it is saved or ceremonially burned with sage or sweetgrass.
In addition to long hair, braids are a common style sported by indigenous peoples, but the reason goes beyond aesthetic purposes or style preferences. “In all tribes, pretty much all of us believe that the three strands in a braid represent the body, mind, and spirit,” Whisper said, noting that hair connects you to Mother Earth.
battling a colonized world
Whisper said, “When indigenous people say that we walk in two worlds, which is our world and the modern colony, then having long hair shows that you are bringing that part of yourself into whatever you are doing.” Taking them along.” His younger brother has been growing his hair out for nine years, to honor his grandmother who survived a Catholic-Indian boarding school and was forced to cut her hair.
In the mid-nineteenth century, Indian boarding schools, or residential schools, were established to eliminate traditional American Indian lifestyles and replace them with white, Eurocentric culture. Native children were taken from their families and placed in boarding schools run by the federal government and Christian churches, where they were forced to cut their hair, learn Christianity, and give up their traditional clothing, names, and even language. to be done. By 1969, in order to “kill the Indian, save the man”, off-reservation boarding schools subjected Native children to sexual abuse, exploitative labor, death, and punishment, a longstanding fear of expressing Native identity. was.
Even in modern society, indigenous peoples still grapple with a colonized world that punishes displays of expression banning feathers on graduation caps to prohibit holding a Navajo traditional bun at high school varsity basketball game,
Whisper said, “It comes from the principle of colonization in our society and being forced to cut our hair. We all carry that trauma down the generations to cut our hair and look a certain way, which is what happened in our lives.” Never was for.” In a culture where hair has been a symbol of identity and spirituality, indigenous hairstyling is more than an aesthetic – it is a sacred preservation of history.