Dreadlocks, as a hairstyle is very unique and interesting dating back thousands of years and forming part of the history in many cultures across the world. Locs are associated with spirituality, fashion and plenty of controversies. They are also behind some of the greatest inspirational voices on our planet. On Let’s Talk, we engage in all sorts of conversations around natural hair from locs to loose hair, from history to fashion, motherhood and much more. So keep it locked!
Locs vs Dreadlocks
Our rope-like strands of hair are popularly known as dreadlocks but these days, a lot of people tend to refer to them simply as locs. But why is that? Is it that one word describes this hairstyle better than the other? Is one more acceptable than the other? Or is there more to it than that? And what should we really be calling our gorgeous God-given crowns? Let’s talk about it.
Some people find the term dreadlocks offensive and repeatedly correct friends and family referring to their hair as dreads. And when you think about it, the word ‘dread’ does not exactly invoke feelings of joy or positivity.
In fact, in the English dictionary, to ‘dread’ means to anticipate with great apprehension or fear. For instance, you might say things like, ‘oh, I dread going out today…’ or ‘I dread Mondays!’ or even ‘I dread seeing him again!’ So I guess it is understandable that people may not want to associate themselves with a word that connotes negativity.
But then again, another meaning of the word dread in the dictionary is ‘to regard with great awe or reverence’. If we think of the Sadhus (males) and Sadhvi’s (females), the holy men and women in Hinduism, their matted rope-like strands are symbolic of their spiritual connectivity. Often referred to as ascetic warriors and philosophic monks, these dreaded men and women are revered by Hindus and seen as representatives of the gods. They are even sometimes worshipped as gods too.1
In West Africa, Nigeria, a child born with naturally locked hair is called ‘Dada’ by the Yorubas and ‘Elena’ by the Igbos meaning ‘Child King’ because they are believed to be gods and their locks are regarded as a special crown to be touched by no one except their mothers.2 And although not all Rastafarians wear dreadlocks, those that do, believe the locks are a sign of inner strength and the knots prevent energy escaping through the top of the head.3
With that being said, there is plenty of speculation as to who actually coined the term dreadlocks. Some say it was the Rastafarians who called their hairstyle dreadlocks to ‘shock’ and challenge the ideologies of middle-class Jamaica in the 1940s 4 whilst others say it was British soldiers in reference to the hair of the Mau Mau fighters5 during the Mau Mau Uprising in Kenya in the 1950s.6 But regardless of who coined the term, what we see through history is that people who wore dreadlocks were perceived as peculiar yet awe-inspiring.
Today, a lot of our views of dreadlocks are shaped by entertainment and news media. Many TV shows and films portray characters from ethnic minorities including those with dreadlocks as criminals, living in poverty and associated with gangs. This constant portrayal of negative cultural stereotypes 8 ultimately influences the way people think of the word dreadlocks. Hence why some people prefer to call their crowns locs not in a bid to sound cool or be more fashionable but to change these negative perceptions and alleviate the stigma associated with the term dreadlocks.7
In many societies these days dreadlocks are frowned upon. People with the hairstyle are viewed as ‘suspicious’. If they are wealthy, they probably acquired this wealth through criminal activity. For example, in Nigeria, this view of dreadlocks has resulted in the victimisation of many young people who choose to sport the hairstyle. Being targeted by SARS officers for their looks, they are often extorted and many have died in the process sparking mass protests in 2020 by the #EndSARS movement.9
Language is such a powerful medium that can significantly affect how we view the world and how we view ourselves. For wearers of this style, language can affect the way they feel about their hairstyle. Not wanting to be associated with negative stereotypes can also spark tension between friends and family and even lead to wearers having feelings of alienation or exclusion. So choosing to dissociate themselves from the word dread might be a possible resolution.
For some groups of people, the term dreadlock is embraced and serves as a reminder of their heritage and spiritual connection. For others, it leads to a misrepresentation of people with this hairstyle and needs to be changed. And for another group, the term might not be ‘that deep’, not really matter and is used loosely or interchangeably. Referring to their hairstyle as locs is seen as fashionable and cool. The rich history and meaning lost in translation.
But what do you think? Should the word locs replace dreadlocks? Does it even matter?
Is language a real contributing factor to perceptions of our hair? And how do you refer to your own crown?
Join the conversation and let me know your thoughts in the comments below. If you have any questions on this topic, please feel free to contact me by email – firstname.lastname@example.org
Main image source: Pinterest
- Holy Men of India: Sadhus, Nagas and Babas (indiadivine.org)
- The mystical Nigerian children born with natural dreadlocks that must never be shaved off – Face2Face Africa
- The History of Dreadlocks and the Rasta Movement – Raw Remedies (rawremediesllc.com)
- Dreads vs Locs: The difference Between Dreadlocks and Locs – The Afrocks Blog
- Did Vikings Have Dreadlocks? Get the Facts – Scandinavia Facts
- Mau Mau Uprising – Wikipedia
- Inside: The Terms Locs vs Dreadlocks – Dr Locs
- Representation: Culture & Perception | Perception Institute
- End SARS – Wikipedia