Hair not just about beauty; it carries significance for communities
Hair, especially for Africans, comes with loads of meaning, and sometimes, baggage.
From signifying background, social status and spirituality to indicating style and trends, hair is both a political and social statement, so much that there were certain dos and don’ts that guided everything around it.
In most communities, when a child was born, their baby hair was supposed to be cut off after a couple of days. They believed keeping this hair could cause misfortunes to the child.
However, this has slowly disappeared as most parents today keep the hair and even style it- a practice frowned upon by many traditionalists.
For the Mijikenda of the Coast region, keeping the original hair is inviting witchcraft that might put the child’s health and life in danger.
Nothing to take
“The first hair attracts a lot of dangers to a child all through to adulthood, so it is just safe to cut it off. For instance, as a mother, you are not totally aware who has good intentions for your child.
Others might be evil and jealous that you got a child and might use black magic (uchawi) to cause harm to the healthy child. If they take even a little portion of the child’s original hair, they can use it to bewitch them.
Consequences include hair refusing to grow back, or scanty and unhealthy hair. If an evil person shaves your child’s first hair, it might take years to grow, it would be unhealthy and the child’s health would be affected,” says Dama Kirao, traditional healer and member of Malindi District Cultural organisation (Madca).
According to Giriama traditions, a girl was supposed to be brought out of the house eight days after birth.
Her hair must be shaved before any visitors are allowed to pay homage, speak blessings and welcome her to the world with presents. For boys, this was done after 10 days.
“You don’t always know who we receive into our homes. The only way to actually protect the infant is to remove this virgin hair.
It is for protection because evil people have so much attachment to it, they can use it to do a lot of bad things.
So when you shave it off, they have nothing to take,” adds Sikubali Safari, the women representative at Madca.
The two women add that adults whose first hair was not shaved as children might still be exposed to threat from evil eyes.
“If your parents never shaved your hair- and it is growing beautifully- and these evil people touch it or take a few strands, you will start to lose hair, or your health. This evil eye is called dege,” adds Sikubali.
People who have the dege may carry it and even pass it to descendants. This evil eye also applies to food.
For instance, if a person with dege looks at what you are eating and wants it for themselves, or feel jealous, it could cause stomach pain or discomfort.
In both religious and traditional beliefs, these are treatable through spiritual intervention to break the curses.
In Islam, the last three Surah of the Quran are dedicated to this kind of thing.
“In Islam, if you want to show that you have good pure appreciation for any good thing someone is blessed with, you have to add the word Mashallah.
To show that you are truly honestly loving what someone has, in this case if its hair and add the word Mashallah because God has chosen this person to bless with good hair and not you and it is truly ok.
Recitation of the last three Surahs protects you from the evil eye. Also there is the use of Hubbat Sauda as instructed by Prophet Mohammed to protect us from such evil eyes.
Some people have even bad hands so when they handle your hair you start to lose hair or you have pimples and your scalp is completely destroyed, its evil,” says Grace Kauthar.
In Christianity, the evil eye is called an evil spirit or demonic powers. According to Pastor Philip Mueni of St Enoch Church Bombolulu, the person who possesses the demonic spirits can bring the curse on other people.
Even in the Bible, there are many incidences when people possessed with evil brought curses upon other people.
“I have encountered this kind of spirit about three times now. Where someone would look at another person’s good thing and a bad thing would happen.
They can all be prayed over both the person with the spirit and the person cursed with the evil spirit and the power of God will restore them,” says the pastor.
The cutting of hair from someone’s head is pure witchcraft and not a curse, he says.
“Sometimes, someone will come and cut your hair off your head at night to bewitch you with it. I have encountered this and after praying and anointing the person I instructed her to shave the hair and let it grow back and it did.
Witches and darkness exist in all forms and only the power of God can free and restore a person,” he adds.