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What Are Rastafarian Dreadlocks?

By Lakshmi Sandhana
Updated May 21, 2024
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"Rastafarian dreadlocks" is the term given to a certain hair style where the hair hangs in matted locks. This type of hair style can be achieved naturally in a free form manner by allowing the hair to grow, without cutting or combing it and washing it occasionally. Others get this kind of look in salons through using beeswax and other substances. While the term Rastafarian dreadlocks is associated with this type of hairstyle, it is believed to have originated with the tribes of Masai people in Africa, long ago. Those who belong to the Rastafari movement, that came into being in Jamaica in the 1930's, adopted wearing dreadlocks as one of the fundamentals of their faith.

Wearing hair in this fashion became the accepted norm for the Rastafari because they believe that the comb, scissors and razor are inventions of the Romans or Babylonians, which they are strictly opposed to. While not all Rastafari or Rastas follow the practice of keeping their hair in dreadlocks, they do believe it to be supported by the book of Levitcus in which passage 21:5 says "They do not make baldness on their head, and the corner of their beard they do not shave, and in their flesh they do not make a cutting." Some believe that the Rastas adopted this hairstyle to highlight the marked difference between the straight hair of those with Caucasian origin and the curly hair found in those of African descent. Others believe that Rastas took to wearing dreadlocks to defy the European culture imposed on them post emancipation, because the Europeans living there considered it to be 'dreadful.'

That particular word is thought to have led to that hairstyle eventually being called 'dreadlocks.' While this hairstyle is popularly known as Rastafarian dreadlocks, it also called "natty dreadlock." For many Rastas, the process of growing dreadlocks is a kind of spiritual journey.

Rastafarian dreadlocks are normally grown until they reach a great length, by not brushing or cutting it, but just washing it with clean water from time to time. Rastas honor God in this way and some keep their hair covered to avoid getting it dirty or being disrespected by those who don't understand its significance. Rastas believe that their hair is their strength like Samson of legend. In earlier times, this belief was used against them. Sometimes their hair was cut off if they were arrested, causing many Rastas in earlier times to relocate to uninhabited areas of Jamaica.

Sometimes Rastas eschew wearing dreadlocks when working in jobs that involve being around machinery or even just to avoid ridicule. Most though are proud to wear their hair in this fashion as it symbolizes a lion's mane in the Lion of Judah, a title given to Ethiopian kings. Deeper meanings include how the lion represents power as the king of the jungle and is not dangerous until provoked.

Rastafarian dreadlocks have been adopted by many people worldwide. People of different ethnic groups wear them for stylistic reasons. Pure Rastas may refer to them as a wolf in sheep's clothing to distinguish themselves from these type of people whose behavior could potentially affect the reputation of true Rastas.

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Discussion Comments

By fify — On Jul 29, 2014

I grow Rastafarian dreadlocks for spiritual reasons. I believe that growing dreadlocks helps one develop patience. And the length of the dreadlocks show an individual's level of wisdom. It's sort of like a marker of one's spiritual journey and how far one has come.

By SteamLouis — On Jul 29, 2014
@serenesurface-- Rastafarianism is a way of life. Although the world identifies this way of life with dreadlocks and reggae music, this is not all that his way of life or belief system is about.

There is also a misconception in the US and the world in general, that all Jamaicans are Rastafarian. In fact, a very small percentage of Jamaicans are Rastafari. There are also followers of this way of life in many countries around the world.

By serenesurface — On Jul 28, 2014

I certainly don't mean any disrespect to any religion or belief. But I think that Rastafarian dreadlocks are a part of a political social movement. I realize that many people wear this hairstyle for religious or spiritual reasons. But I don't think that religion requires this hairstyle.

I think that all holy books are straightforward and easy to understand. I think that the passage in the book of Levitcus is clearly opposing a very specific practice that must have been popular at the time. I don't quite understand how this passage equals wearing dreadlocks. It simply means not to shave the head bald, not to shave the corner of the beard and not to make a cut in the skin. It doesn't mean grow your hair and do not comb it or wash it.

So I think that Rastafarian dreadlocks are just an interpretation of this passage. I think that the true symbolism of this hairstyle is about a struggle against invaders and oppressors. It's a social and political symbol. I don't see it as a religious symbol. This is just my opinion about this topic.

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