Tue | Oct 27, 2020

Garth A. Rattray | Dreadlocks are not nasty

Published:Monday | August 10, 2020 | 12:09 AM

I was intrigued by a Washington Post article written by Kate Chappell and titled ‘Jamaica’s high court rules school can ban dreadlocks’. The matter had been going on in Jamaica for a couple of years, but now the article was telling the world that the highest court in Jamaica, the country where Rastafarianism originated, the home of Bob Marley, ruled that a primary school can ban a child from wearing dreadlocks.

It looked bad because, all over the world, many people from all races, religious beliefs and social classes wear dreadlocks. The hairstyle is an offshoot of the Rastafarian locks. Non-Rastas wear it as an expression of their African roots and/or simply as fashion and it is especially popular with the ladies, they call it ‘sister locks’. I also understand that some call it ‘freedom locks’.

It turns out that the High Court ruling did not support the banning of ‘locks’, it supported adherence to school dress codes that did not condone the whims and fancies of fashion trends. Rastafarians are never barred from any school because of their locks. I believe that, given the sociocultural significance of dreadlocks, they transcend fashion and should be allowed anywhere.

Despite her locks, the little girl still attends the school. But what grabbed my attention was the repeated mention of locks posing a hygiene concern. It was suggested that, in the past, student(s) wearing some kind of locks caused a hygiene problem. That was put forward as part of the reason for the hullabaloo.


Wearing locks is no simple task and locticians don’t come cheap. In the United States, their fee can easily run about US$200. Caring for locks is something else. I have quite a few Rastafarian friends, some have thick, long and heavy natural locks. They routinely wash their locks every weekend. They use special shampoos and conditioners that do not leave residue in their hair. They steam their hair and keep it moisturised. They massage their scalp with oils and style the hair before going under a dryer or using a towel and nature’s air and/or sun to dry the locks. Some even apply scented oils for a pleasant odour. Many either tie the locks at the back, twirl it on top of their head or put it into a pouch.

Others who wear locks for fashion tell me that they also wash their locks weekly. They use a shampoo and a conditioner, and some use an oil in the hair. They protect their locks from dust and dirt by putting it in a sack whenever they are doing chores that may be dusty or dirty.

Obviously, not every single Rastafarian or person wearing dreadlocks is fastidious about their haircare; but all the ones that I have met are very clean. From a distance, some people look as if they are growing locks because they have long, flowing hair that hang like ropes from their heads. However, as soon as anyone takes a good look at their hair, they can easily tell that it is not any kind of Rasta locks or dreadlocks – it is only matted and unkempt. You will find that kind of hair on unfortunate street dwellers, who can’t afford haircare, and psychotics, whose illness causes them not to care about personal hygiene.

I have never felt the urge to wear any kind of locks; I know of many individuals in socially and economically elevated positions who do. These include prominent politicians and ministers of religion. The dreadlocks hairstyle is an expression of ‘blackness’, of being ‘rootsy’, and of functionality. It is as natural as plaits. It does not require any chemical or heat treatment to alter the structure and shape of the strands of hair.

Garth A. Rattray is a medical doctor with a family practice. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and garthrattray@gmail.com.