African Red Mud Hair

One of my favorite roommates in college was a guy named George. As I recall, his mother was Irish and his father was Kenyan – an interesting mix for sure – and he was from Hawaii.  There are a few memories about George that really stick out in my mind.  First, he was a great dancer – he would habitually practice in front of the mirror for hours on end before attending a dance.  Rumor was, he made M.C. Hammer blush back and he taught Michael Jackson some of his signature spins.  Second, he said grace with a hamburger nearly touching his teeth and with his mouth wide open (as did many of his Hawaiian friends).  Third, we nearly got killed together one time – a local Aryan group nearly ran us over with their truck – we barely made it behind the safety of a telephone pole as they drove by, shouting various epithets not worth repeating (this was in Northern Idaho).  And fourth, he slept with a plastic cap on.  Having never roomed with an African American before, this was my first exposure to their unique hair challenges and I was intrigued by the lengthy explanation that he gave me to explain his shower cap look-alike night cap thing.

While modern society offers various options for African hair, some of their more traditional solutions to their unique hair challenges are much more innovative and interesting than you might suppose. Just google African red mud hair and you’ll see a few styles that are quite different from what we Westerner’s are used to seeing (make sure to filter your results if you are shy about naturism; they are  NSW).  For centuries, several tribes have used Shea butter to sooth a dry or itchy scalp but some tribes have taken that a step further.  They make a paste of butter, fat, and red ochre to saturate treat their hair and skin.  By making multiple “snake” coils, they can keep their hair out of the way while they work while keeping it from getting too dry or itchy at the same time.

The image above shows a particularly creative application of this hair style, along with a very creative use of face paints.  Step aside with a blush, all ye face painters who specialize in hearts and kitty cats!  I lost the link to the National Geographic page with this image on it.  It won a top 50 award and is just another in a long series of photographs that demonstrate why National Geographic remains such a strong influence in the world of photography.

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