The Origin and History of Dreadlocks
Dreadlocks have a very colorful history that reaches back to ancient times. Many different religions, African cultures, and spiritual practices are hidden in the history of dreadlocks. From the Vikings to ancient Greece, and even in our more recent history, we can see just how rich the practice of locking the hair in dreadlocks has been for people historically.
Where Do Locks Come From?
Although many different cultures show signs of dreadlocks, the earliest signs of their existence are found within the Ancient Minoan Civilization. This civilization dates back to 1500 BCE. The Minoans were colonized in Crete and evolved into what we now recognize as ancient Greece. We can see through preserved sculptures depicting ancient greek royalty, noblemen, spiritual teachers, and greek warriors adorned with hair twisted into locs.
In this time, locs represented high-class persons or well-trained warriors that had earned enough respect to have their hair styled in locs. They were also adopted by spiritual men who had dedicated themselves to the church. The locs represented a refusal to spend their lives in vanity and self-absorption. Spiritual leaders would stop brushing and grooming their hair, which would result in the hair matting together into large locs on the head. It has also been said that in maintaining a head of locs, spiritual people could hold more energy by locking it in through their crown chakra, which is found at the top of the head.
Locks Appear in Different Cultures and Religions
Looking at different cultures, we will often see them using locks as a form of superior spiritual power, willpower, strength, and divine blessings. In Hinduism, Lord Shiva is wearing locks draped across his shoulders in extraordinary length. Many devotees have styled their hair the same as a form of dedication and connection to Lord Shiva.
If we look at the Bible, there is a Legendary Israelite warrior named Samson, who was said to have seven large locks on his head. When these locks are removed in the biblical story, Samson loses the power and confidence he believed to have come from his locks.
How "Locks" Became "Dreadlocks"
Looking at the more recent history of locks, we see them used often in African and African American cultures. A deep cultural meaning has been built behind locks over time. Let's look at Ethiopia in the early 1900s. We see an emergence of the Rastafarians who focus their attention on the Emperor of Ethiopia, Haile Selassie, after his exile due to the Italian invasion.
But before the Rastafarian movement, these people self-prescribed themselves as "Dreads" and were mainly located in Harlem, NY. They made this name to depict true fear, dread, and respect for God. They supported their name by allowing their hair to knot together until it formed what they called Dreadlocks. This group developed a large following amongst the Black population of Jamaica, and this enthusiasm led to the Rastafarian movement.
After Haile Selassie was exiled from Ethiopia, this new group of Dreads from Harlem, NY, and their growing popularity dedicated their movement to the suppression of those in Ethiopia. The Rastafarian movement grew rapidly amongst different African groups and cultures worldwide. This empowerment birthed a new threat to White people who wished to maintain control and continue colonizing places like Ethiopia. This is where the term Dreadlocks began to be used more negatively.
White people often referred to dreadlocks as "deadly" and "dreadful," claiming they were unclean and messy. This put a dark undertone behind the word dreadlocks and is a big reason why many African Americans still struggle today to maintain this spiritual practice in European-based professional environments. Even despite these struggles, many Africans and African Americans still maintain the faith that inspired Dreadlocks, and because of this faith, they are fighting to protect their culture and the spiritual connections that dreadlocks have long represented.