The Complex Subject That Is African Hair

This is the longest I have stayed with short hair. I think I cut it short sometime in July or August 2016 after I ran out of styling options. I didn’t realize then that it will stay short for this length of time. Trust me, it has not been an easy journey.

My hair is the kinky type and for some reason, I find it way easier to manage when at its full length. Sounds absurd, I know but for me, I tend to feel the kink less when it’s longer. I feel it more when it’s short because it coils, shrinks, gets untidy easily and the problematic areas are easier to spot. Basically, everything that is considered wrong with African hair in its natural form.

I’m sure you are probably wondering why I’m talking about hair when this is a Creative Writing blog and not a Beauty blog. I mean, I have to talk about hair! In as much as I identify myself as a Writer, I equally identify myself as an African woman, whose natural hair will remain a constant reminder of her heritage. I might as well address all the insecurities I face with my own kinky head!

As a child, my hair was literally unmanageable. There’s a humorous story that goes around in our family about how my mum, always ensured my hair was in a bonnet as a toddler. This is actually true and not fictitious. I even have a photo as proof.

I am told that my hair was too kinky to the extent that I would not let anyone touch it. The only time I sat quietly and still, was when my uncle on mum’s side paid us a visit and felt he needed to sort out my hair situation. So he asked for a comb and Little Miss Fussy was surprisingly, calm the whole time he combed the shrub on my small head. His hands must have had a magical effect on me!

Lower primary was no different. For some reason, my hair would stubbornly fail to grow at the back. That time, TCB was considered an African hair product of choice and my mum constantly used avocado in addition to that, as special treatment for my stubborn hair. Of course in lower primary, nobody really cares whether you have good hair or not, but that did not stop us from noticing the difference on our Somali and Indian counterparts.

I remember this Somali girl in my class who would take out her hijab, the minute she got to school and give us free access to her long, soft, curly hair. We combed and plaited and twisted until it was time to go home and she put on her hijab again, to avoid getting into trouble at home for letting her hair loose in the first place. The Indian girls were equally generous with their silky, dark hair.

I happened to chance on an online discussion once, where some women of African descent, complained of strangers touching their hair without their permission and I did not really seem to get what the fuss was all about.

These Indian and Somali children in primary school whose mothers, I presume, had painstakingly styled their hair neatly for school that day, still let us African children with our sometimes, rugged cornrows touch and play with their hair. I’m sure we always left it very untidy with our inexperienced little hands and yet an adult somewhere, felt offended when someone touched their hair, out of what I considered pure curiosity. It’s time our African manes also got attention!


My first day of high school, I was quickly drawn to the long, permed hair of some of the girls. That morning, my mum with a pair of scissors had cut my hair short, believing that it would be hard for me to maintain it while in boarding school. Hair that had taken years of tender, loving care to grow into a full mane. Probably the best I had ever seen my hair. How wrong she was! The school I was in, provided a blowdryer per house to be shared by 80 girls.

Mind you, many of these girls had short hair much to the advantage of the ones with longer hair needing maintenance. Plus perming your hair was allowed under the assumption that it was neater than natural hair. However, with perming, came the belief that natural hair was not as beautiful for us impressionable, teenage girls.

It was not long before I joined the bandwagon just to look prettier. And sure enough, the boys noticed! For a girl who had not really gotten a lot of attention from the boys in her first year of high school, it was indeed a pleasant surprise to have a couple of  “suitors” now.

In adulthood, my hair surprisingly blossomed. It was still kinky but it grew to lengths I sometimes did not expect it to. The first time someone touched my hair “without permission” was a Swiss friend of my cousins, who had never really experienced natural, African hair before.

She watched me intently, the previous evening while I undid the braids then waited expectantly, for me to come back from the salon the next day, only to marvel at how it looked. Obviously, my hair and that of another friend fascinated her to the point where, she took photos of our heads to show her brother in Switzerland.

I didn’t really find her curiosity offensive, as I had grown to appreciate my African hair to some extent at that point. That does not mean that I haven’t endured hairdressers, who gladly made mean comments while working on it or times when hair chemicals backfired on me. It takes a certain level of courage to finally admit that your hair is not perfect but you still embrace its imperfections.

Of course I haven’t been spared of the misguided belief that only housegirls have their hair short. Many times, during this current short hair stint, I have been asked by women why I do not like making my hair and each time, I have explained that the hours spent at the salon discouraged me at some point. The looks I got in return, were a mixture of concern and wonder.

Funnily enough, my eyes have been opened to the many natural, African hair beauty products in the market. I do not really remember a time, when they were this many and one of the shops I like frequenting while in the capital, is one that has a whole aisle of natural hair products! How amazing can that get. I have equally experimented with some just to see the results.

Nowadays, you don’t really need a blowdryer to soften and straighten your natural hair. Trust me, the heat from some of those things is enough to cook a meal so you can imagine what it does to your hair. Some of these hair products are all you need to get the desired result.

One thing I have learnt about African hair is that it can only be made maneageable when you fully understand it. No hair type is the same. I see this even in my own family. While my sister’s is long and soft, my mother’s is thick and can grow to amazing lengths and mine kinky and of medium length, yet we probably carry some similar genes being of the same family.

Patience also is key. African hair does not grow overnight. It takes a longer period depending on it’s texture. If you would love to have healthy, natural, African hair do not force it to grow. Nurture it patiently until it gets to that desired length. And once you realize that hair chemicals do not work for you, ditch them for good like I did along the way.

Wishing you a hairful journey!