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What Do Dreadlocks Symbolize? 10 Explanations

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Although dreadlocks symbolize many things like spirituality, wisdom, and rebelling against the status quo, many people who wear them don’t attach any meaning to them. People just want to make a fashion statement. Others want to imitate iconic celebrities like Bob Marley.

In the past, shrouded in mystery and stereotypes, dreadlocks were attributed to the Rastafarians (Ras Tafari), whose roots date back to slavery in Jamaica.

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Besides, the Vedic scriptures of Indian origin document evidence of twisted locks of hair as early as 1800 B.C. These ancestors wore dreadlocks not because they wanted to but because they lacked combs and styling options. They didn’t know of gels or any spray they would use to style their hair otherwise.

Below, we discuss some meanings attached to dreadlocks.

What Do Dreadlocks Symbolize?

1. Lion of Judah

The Lion of Judah” by A. Davey is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

In Africa, Rastafarians symbolize dreadlocks with the Lion of Judah, a symbol you can find in the center of the Ethiopian flag.

The Rastafari believe Haile Selassie is a direct descendant of King Solomon and a black woman, Queen of Sheba by way of their son Menelik.

The Rastafari Movement, which began in Jamaica in the 1930s, has been attributed to political figure Marcus Garvey of Jamaica. In the US, Garvey advocated for black empowerment and power.

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2. Strength

Samson and the Lion (Dalziels’ Bible Gallery). Wikimedia Commons

Some interpretations suggest that Samson in the Bible had locs that were a source of his strength. He, however, lost his strength when Delilah cut them. 

Through this simple scenario, people believe dreadlocks have power and unexplained strength. Hence, people wear dreadlocks to symbolize strength.

For example, the Maasai warriors, whom you can easily recognize by their long, red, thin dreadlocks, wear them to symbolize strength. They grow the locs strand on sections of hair, leaving the rest of the scalp bare.

3. Spirituality

c. 1930 – Rastafarians Star” by Zeevveez is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Rastafarian movement in Jamaica based its ideologies and teachings on the Bible.

In Shamanic cultures, priests and priestesses wear dreadlocks to symbolize their allegiance to the deities and spirits they serve and claim to hear from.

Some children in Nigeria are born with strands of hair that are naturally locked. These kids, called Dada, are nurtured to serve as priests and priestesses. 

Priests in the Yoruba ethnic group in Nigeria also wear dreadlocks. Besides the Turkana people of Kenya, the Akomofoo priests wear their hair in locs to symbolize their spiritual or religious affiliations.

In cultures such as the Egyptians and in India, some wear dreadlocks to symbolize power and spirituality. Egyptian mummies, for instance, were discovered with matted hair, while Indian gods are sculpted with locs. 

4. Wisdom

Among some people who wear dreadlocks, it symbolizes wisdom. Based on the story of Samson, people believe the head and hair have spiritual wisdom. 

The Rastafarians believe that locs are related to the Nazarite vows of Leviticus, which forbade shaving the four corners of the head. 

To some folks, dreadlocks symbolize an understanding that physical appearance is unimportant and seen as vanity. As such, wearing dreadlocks shows the wisdom to focus on your spirituality. 

Similar to the Hindu Sadhus, ascetics from Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, and Islam adopted dreadlocks as a way to symbolize their renunciation of vanity and worldly desires.

5. Rebellion

Rastafari” by Luis Alvarez Marra is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Dreadlocks are not only a way to show spirituality, wisdom, and strength but also a symbol of rebellion. 

In the 1930s, Ras Tafari became the emperor of Ethiopia. After Ras Tafari was forced into exile as a result of an enemy invasion, his supporters vowed not to cut their hair again until he was restored to his rightful throne.  

Read also: Black Culture: 9 Most Popular Negro Spirituals

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The Ethiopian emperor was regarded by his disciples, known as Rastafarians, as the messiah or god incarnate. 

Rastafarians used their hair as a form of non-violent rebellion against their British colonizers, who enforced only certain hairstyles. 

This rebellion was also a way to show nonconformity and to connect more deeply with their beliefs. Until recently, people who had locs were seen to be using weed.

6. Power

The Peckham Rastafarians.” by gerrypopplestone is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The Bible references the power of hair in reference to Samson, Moses, and John the Baptist. Samson, unfortunately,  was careless enough to lose his power, and Delilah cut his seven locks of hair. 

7. Freedom and Identity

Panel from Diego Rivera’s mural at Unity House by Kheel Center, Cornell University Library is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

In the past, one of the ways people were stripped of their identity was through their hair. Black people were humiliated by white people through slavery and denied their right to wear their hair as they wanted. 

This was especially useful when one’s hairstyle had a strong cultural connotation associated with one’s identity, as is the case with braids and dreadlocks among African descendants. 

Thus, people wear their dreadlocks to show freedom from oppression and to showcase their unique identity as Africans.

8. Unity

Dreadlocks have the power to represent community cohesion and solidarity. In some cases, people who wear dreadlocks might feel a sense of kinship and share values with other people who have made the same hairstyle choice.

9. Fashion Statements

lucky dube” by caboindex is licensed under CC BY 2.0

There’s a group of people who wear dreadlocks as fashion statements. These people admire the feeling of having their hair in locs and just want to rock them as a lifestyle. Dreadlocks among these groups may or may not be permanent, as they can choose to comb their hair back to their straight hair.

People wear dreadlocks such as free-forms, traditional locs, and sisterlocks as fashion statements.

These long dreads styles are patronized by musicians, athletes, actors, rappers, authors, and many other influential community members.

Others also patronize artificial dreadlocks like faux locs and crochet hair. Still, others choose box braids, style their hair in cornrows, multi-colored synthetic locs, dread perms,  or simply twist it. Their hair doesn’t tangle or experience breakage.

This group is ready to walk into a salon or search for tricks to keep their hair free from dirt. Despite their hair’s texture, they know the best residue-free shampoo to shower with.

10. Sustainable Lifestyle

dreadlocks” by zifunster is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Some people decide to sport dread extensions as a sign of their dedication to a more environmentally friendly way of life. Others think cultivating and maintaining dreadlocks signifies a dedication to leading a healthy, chemical-free lifestyle.

By avoiding the chemical buildup of hair treatments, excessive shampooing, and excessive water use associated with conventional hair care practices, they see it as a way to reduce their ecological footprint.

A person’s interpretation of dreadlock symbolism can depend on their cultural and spiritual context, beliefs, and interpretations.

Understanding these symbolic meanings is crucial to making an informed decision. It’s respectful to engage in dialogue and seek understanding about the significance of specific cultural symbols from those who identify with them.

People also read: Listen to These 9 African-Latin Music Collabs – Latin Music With African Influence

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Abdul Rashid Sani
Abdul Rashid Sani
Abdul Rashid Sani is a talented and experienced Growth and Content Manager with a passion for writing and building relationships. With a strong background in SEO content writing, paid search and social, and content marketing, he possesses a diverse set of skills that make him an asset to any team. In his free time, Abdul is a huge soccer fan and enjoys writing in his spare time. He is dedicated to continually improving his skills and staying up-to-date with the latest trends and techniques in his field.


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