Illustrated by: Capu Toons
If you grew up in the eras of Wanugu, Wacucu and Rasta, maybe you would understand the stigma around dreadlocks from older folk. Rasta – who earned the moniker for merely wearing locks, and with whom anyone who spots dreads now shares an alias – was touted as one of the country’s baddest criminals, with urban legend having it that he once gifted his girlfriend an AK-47, because flowers were too common and he wasn’t a middle-of-the-road type. This was the sort of notoriety accrued by Kenya’s involuntary dreadlocks poster child.
Enter reggae and associated stigmas – they all have locks, they all smoke ganja and are susceptible to criminal tendencies (Bob Marley with his signature locs openly smoking a joint didn’t help matters when it came to skeptics). Marry this to the home guard-driven anti-MauMau narrative – they are dreadlocked violent criminals moonlighting as freedom fighters, and you start seeing the weight of dreadlocks, literal and otherwise.
Locs, therefore, became the signature for misfits and miscreants, the black sheep. And yet here we are, still rocking ém.
And so from me to you (future confrere), here’s an unsolicited heads up.
You will miss the haircuts. Your barber and the whole fleet giving you post-haircut massages. We don’t have those on this side. It’s all a tug and pull affair. Instead of massages, we get doormat-like scrubbings, an attempt at doing a month’s cleanup job in a span of minutes. Your hair gets yanked, tagged and wringed. No finesse, no tenderness, no dexterity.
Retouches are painful. I know of a friend who takes painkillers before she sees her loctician. As for me, most times I simply walk in hammered. Forget the Kenyatta Market braiders, infamous for assaulting your root follicles. The real tyrants are locticians.
Baby locs aren’t the cutest. There’s just no nicer way of putting it. Everyone has to pay their dues. Pay yours.
Forget what your parents named you. From now onwards, you’re officially baptized Ras (yes, like Rasta, that thug), unless and until you and your locs part ways. My old man will soon start calling me Ras. I can put money on it.
Everyone assumes you either use weed, are a peddler, or know one. It’s a normal thing to get stopped by strangers and getting queried as to where they can get a joint. Policemen will frisk you for the hang of it because they are looking for blunts. Look, not that I don’t know where to get weed, but it would be courteous if you assumed I didn’t. Also, don’t carry blunts. Everyday is a good day to get busted and pay a real vulgar bribe.
Appearances matter. Neat locs will open doors that even Jesus would only open post-resurrection. Those painful retouches should be consistent and mandatory. Ignore them and even your Nduthi guy cannot trust you enough to give you a ride past 9PM, and it reeks of a different kind of mistrust when a Nduthi guy cannot trust you. Unkempt locs bode nothing but ill will.
Policemen are to be avoided at all costs. Cops see everyone in locs as ruffians and will easily snap cuffs on your hand or put a piece of lead in your cranium faster than you can say River Yala. Petty tiffs are a no-go zone. It’s a silly way to lose your life.
You get the goodwill of the streets. Street children will rustle you with less ferocity. Matatu kanges and panhandlers will treat you with innocent geniality. You are on everyone’s good side until you do wrong, upon which time when you cross that line a clean shaven accomplice is likely to walk scott free more than you are. If you are in dreadlocks, mere suspicion can mean kicking the bucket.
Your parents will question your sanity even when your brain is intact. Prospective employees will ask whether you can shave before you start working, and that’s always my que to walk from the table (anyone who has a problem with my hair is probably someone I should not work with).
It’s worse with the churches. So just you know, the devil does his anti-dreadlocks campaigns from the pulpit. I sing in church with a music group (and I’m learning to play the sax, so the next time you see a rasta sax player it’ll probably be yours truly, I hope) and we get to do little tours from time to time. But lately, the band gets those weird discriminatory undertones of can-you-not-sing-without-the-guy-in-dreadlocks? It’s a shameful kind of pity.
Some of the most brilliant chaps you know don locs. Think about it…