Natural, Afro hair- tightly coiled and growing up, out and in every direction imaginable. A smorgasbord of textures and characteristics, from porosity to elasticity, length and curl pattern. Such variation can even be found growing out of a single person’s head. Studies suggest that Afro hair evolved so that our ancestors could thrive under the blazing African sun. You may therefore even describe it as ‘nappy’ by design.
A rich history
Delving into African history shows that, much like today, hair is very much seen as a woman’s crowning glory; so inherently associated with beauty. In times gone by, the intricate and sometimes elaborate art of styling Afro hair using threading, wax, clay, beading and braiding (to name a few) was often a direct reflection of the wearer’s wealth and social standing. A beautiful head of hair is and was closely associated with a regal sophistication. Many great African queens were known to wear these bold styles with pride.
An array of bold hairstyles popularised in African history
Typical threaded hairstyles as worn by Nigerian women in the 1960s and 70s
Changing the goalposts
This reverence was upheld for many generations, but geographical migration slowly started to bring more ‘Western’ ideals to our consciousness, and challenged the long-standing mindset in the black community of what true beauty is. Natural Afro hair started to become more and more associated with poverty and slavery, even long after it was abolished.
The desire to ‘fit in’ with this new definition of beauty started with wigs and hair pieces, with a view to emulating more of a European look. In search of more long-term solutions, black women started to experiment with hot combs, perms, Jheri curls and chemical relaxers. Certainly by the late 1980s and early 1990s, perms and chemical relaxers had fully taken hold as the go-to method for achieving a sophisticated, polished and generally more manageable look. But that look came at a price. Any woman of colour who has previously used these chemical hair treatments is almost certainly able to testify to the flipside; hair damage and breakage due to excessive heat and chemical exposure. At this point, many choose to go back to basics.
The natural hair ‘journey’ itself is one that comes about in a multitude of ways. For many black and mixed race women, those who have always proudly rocked their natural tresses in all their glory, there was never a transition to make. But for possibly an even greater number, a conscious decision (or circumstance) led us to embrace our hair in the way that it was intended. The rise of social media, bloggers, more investment in Afro hair and beauty and better education have equipped us with more skills and know-how than ever before. It has been a revolution; a rebirth. It was and is and will continue to be a steep learning curve.
And it doesn’t just stop at the Afro. We maintain our glorious manes through protective styling; braids, twists, bantu knots, locs, threading- the possibilities are endless. These traditional styles tell a rich tale of legacy and heritage; they are so intrinsically connected to black history and culture, having adorned the heads of the queens of yesteryear.
A modern take on the traditional Fulani braid style
Today, the philosophy is simple. We love our hair and its fabulous versatility. We choose to celebrate what it is that makes us, well, us. As first generation African immigrants now finding our own way in the world, we have realised that as women of colour, we’re pretty damn awesome too! And it’s about so much more than just our hair.
The Tiwani Heritage lifestyle was born out of our self-love. Our pride. Our cultural richness. Our regality. Our name embodies all of these elements: based on the Yoruba phrase for ‘Our heritage’. It is a spiritual claim stating what belongs to us. Drawing cultural identity from our ancestors, while paying homage to the great queens that paved the way for us.
For some, the jury is still out. Uncertainty prevails, and we’re still questioning whether our natural hair and ‘edgy’ style choices will suit us. We ask one question: as they’re such a deeply ingrained part of our history, how can they not?