Kenyan Mau Mau fighter Muthoni wa Kirima shaves dreadlocks after 70 years, significance

For a majority of Mau Mau fighters, dreadlocks were seen as a sacred symbol of defiance against the British colonizers.

Field Marshal Wa Kirima revealed, during the ceremony, that she had not shaved her hair for close to 70 years.

While fighting against the British, Muthoni was injured on many occasions and at times looked death in the eye. She experienced two miscarriages which eventually left her unable to bear children but her fighting spirit never waned.

Emerging from the forest where she and other fighters had lived in the wild and battled extreme weather conditions, they could hardly believe their achievement.

Once free from captivity, the Mau Mau continued to wear their dreadlocks as a symbol of anti-colonialism as well as a demonstration of self-love and self-acceptance.

Dreadlocks are an integral feature not only in Kenya’s colonial culture but beyond. Dreadlocks are the natural result of three to six months of uncombed hair. Strains of hair intertwine (or lock) together and create the appearance of “ropes”.

All types of hair eventually clunk or matte together if left free of combs and hair relaxers for a long time. Thick and coarse hair develops or grows dreadlocks faster, easier, and may not need chemicals or repeated twisting. Thin straight hair may take longer.

The true origin of dreadlocks is a topic of ongoing debate, primarily because the style holds significance in so many cultures including the Egyptians, Greeks, and even Hindus.

Though dreadlocks can be traced as far back as 2500 BC with the Hindu god Shiva, they are mostly associated with Rastafarians and African roots.

Artifacts and remains from archeological digs have also provided examples of Ancient Egyptians wearing dreadlocks and braided hair.

Followers of Leonard Howell, one of the forefathers of Rastafarianism, were reported to be particularly proud and inspired by the Mau Mau.

Howell was the first Rasta preacher alongside Joseph Hibbert, Archibald Dunkley and Robert Hinds and is known by many as The First Rasta.

Jamaican responses to Mau Mau varied dramatically by class; for members of the middle and upper classes, Mau Mau represented the worst of potential visions for a route to black liberation.

However, for marginalized Jamaicans in poorer areas, and especially Rastafari, Mau Mau was inspirational and represented an alternative method for procuring genuine freedom and independence.

For these people, Mau Mau epitomized a different strand of pan-Africanism that had most in common with the ideas of Marcus Garvey. Theirs was a more black-focused vision that ran alongside and sometimes over more traditional views.

Just like Mau Mau, Rastafarians regard the ‘locks as both a sign of their African identity and a religious vow of their separation from their oppressors.


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