Thursday, 13 October 2011

The Journey Of Hair


One day while I was walking with Adi inside the apartment block, a Somali neighbor (cannot say whether from Kenya or Somalia) playfully passed her hand over Adi’s hair. She stood stunned for a moment and remarked, “you Indians are lucky to have such hair, Masha Allah”. This is probably how many locals feel.

The day I had called my housekeeper for job interview, she was sporting short hair. But one week later, when she came to work for me, she had long hair. The whole day I was thinking was I mistaken in her image that I had in my mind from the earlier day. A few days later when she had settled down, I asked her about her hair style. That is when she opened my eyes to the big industry based on Afro textured hair. She told me that as her hair grow; managing it becomes tougher and needs a blow dry from time to time, even to comb. In slums like Kibera, switching on a blow drier would put off electricity for all. She would have to go to a salon to get her hair blow dried and combed (she would pay around 100 bobs for that). So she decided to get a weave, which costs minimum 300 bobs for the weave and another minimum 200 bobs to get it attached. This style lasted for around two and half months, by which time the original hairs outgrew the joints. Then she got her hair braided, which again cost minimum 500 bobs. She enlightened me on the difference between weaving (post which scalp is not visible) and braiding (post which parts of the scalp are visible). She added that those who can afford can of course change their styles more frequently. The latter style lasted one month or so. The same hair piece attachment can not be re-used. She is back to sporting short hair now; she does not have the money for a styling this month. This is indeed quite an expense head considering her income. 

From the day of the first discussion with her, I have started noticing the local hair styles more closely – so many of them – hair kept short, straightened, corn rows, braids and so many whose names I do not know. I have seen women taking out plastic caps or bags immediately at the first signs of rain; certain hair styles need to be protected from water (I do not know exactly which ones though). Majority of the men have taken the easiest and cheapest route – they simply sport a clean-shaven head. At Adi’s school, I see less than six year old girls sporting hair styles with these hair piece attachments and I start wondering - is this safe, hygienic and comfortable for the baby. I guess I should not be judgmental; I may have done the same when in their mothers’ shoes.

I found these links from Wikipedia on Afro textured hair:
The one below is more technical, I have only managed to grasp certain parts:
I have quoted some excerpts below.

 “… the average density of Afro-textured hair was found to be approximately 190 hairs per square centimeter. This was significantly lower than that of White people's hair, which, on average, produces approximately 227 hairs per square centimeter.
Further, Loussourarn found that Afro-textured hair grows at an average rate of approximately 256 micrometers per day, while that of White people grows at approximately 396 micrometers per day. In addition, due to a phenomenon called 'shrinkage', Afro-textured hair that is a given length when stretched straight can appear much shorter when allowed to naturally coil upon itself.
Afro-textured hair may have initially evolved due to an adaptive need (amongst humanity's hominid ancestors) for protection against the intense UV radiation of Africa. Subsequently (and/or additionally), due to the fact that the relatively sparse density of Afro-hair, combined with its springy coils, results in an airy, almost sponge-like effect, the resulting increased circulation of cool air onto the scalp may have served to facilitate our hominid ancestors' body-temperature-regulation while they lived in the open savannah. Further, Afro-hair does not respond as easily to moisture/sweat as straight hair. Thus, instead of sticking to the neck and scalp when wet (as do straighter textures), unless totally drenched, it tends to retain its basic springy puffiness.”
“During the mid-19th century afro-textured hair was basically outlawed in New Orleans. While in public, African-American women with kinkier hair textures were to cover their hair with a scarf.”
 “…, “Once upon a time there lived a Good Fairy whose daily thoughts were of pretty little boys and girls and of beautiful women and handsome men and of how she might make beautiful those unfortunate ones whom nature had not given long, wavy hair and a smooth, lovely complexion” (Johnson, 338). This was an advertisement for Madam C.J. Walker’s hair products that were targeted towards black women. The advertisement depicts any hair that isn’t wavy and smooth as undesirable and something that the Good fairy has to fix. Over a hundred years later, black women still value straight hair.”

Lastly the most interesting find was regarding the origin of the hair.
The most desirable hair for weaves come from India. Much of this hair comes from a hair shaving process that is part a tonsuring ceremony performed at the Tirumala Venkateswara Temple.”
“Most human hair used for weaves and wigs is obtained from Asia (perhaps most often China, India, and Korea). It is collected from barbers' floors or Indian temple floors and aggressively treated with acid and other chemicals. These chemicals destroy the cuticle partly or totally.”
Indian hair has its own inherent advantages: it is simultaneously thin and strong.”
“… the multibillion-dollar hair business has shifted from African-American manufacturers to Asian manufacturers. Even though these products are targeted towards black consumers, Asians are the ones who are making the money from the products (Catsoulis).”

So when my housekeeper gets her new weave or braid next month, a small part of her may have made a long journey from India. I imagine hearing Raj Kapoor timeless melody from the laundry area “Mere baal hain Hindustani”!

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