My guest commuter for today has been here before. Tosin Osunlaja, is probably more accustomed to “smelling the salt”, spending days at sea on oil rigs off the coast of Nigeria as a field engineer at Baker Hughes. She’s lived in Port Harcourt most of her life, and brings us today a rather touchy observation she’s made, seeing as I’m totally unqualified to write about it. Share it, and comment as usual. Enjoy.
It was a hot day on Okporo Road in Port Harcourt. Too hot to be outside, but I refused to take a keke. Maybe what made me notice the seller and buyer was my sudden craving for a snack. It was a posh young lady buying roasted groundnuts from a young girl. What struck me, though, was their hair. Poles apart in quality, but both, for want of better wording, fake.
African women ask, ‘Why would God give us such wooly hair that can hardly be tamed?’ For years, we sought solutions to this unbearable condition. Along came relaxers. Not long after they were embraced, women began to see the side-effects of these chemicals, mainly as a result of half the hairdressers being untrained and hardly reading instructions. What once was a full, fluffy black cloud transformed into discoloured strands falling lifeless from their heads because of too wrong and too frequent application. As women lost their natural hair, they began to seek ways to salvage what was left of their glory.
If this were the only reason women have suddenly taken to the use of ‘hair-that-does-not-belong-to-me’, then maybe it’s justified. Unfortunately, this is not the case.
I remember when all that the average woman had was her natural hair, and attachments were once-in-a-while luxuries. Looking at my mum in her beautiful wedding dress, and the tiara on her full curly hair, I can only ask where those days have gone. It’s almost unthinkable for a bride to walk down the aisle without hair extensions.
I confess. I’ve never used a hair extension in my life. I’m just amazed at how women have traded their natural beauty for artificial coverings. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against it. I’m only amused at the complexities of keeping up with the craze.
Some years ago, a woman would only braid her hair just before Christmas. Wigs were used by the rich and political figures who wanted to look classy. Unfortunately, many at times ended up like Tina Turner on a bad hair day. For our religious sisters who couldn’t stand the thought of using what they called ‘the mermaid spirit’s hair’, wool came in handy.
As time and fashion progressed, women would sit down for 2 days, as 2 or 3 other women twisted their hair into millions of braids. With the inception of the weave-on, women spent less time in salons, yet came out looking, in my opinion, twice their age. What is fondly called here in Nigeria ‘Ghana weaving’ came onto the scene just in time to save women from looking too old. However, they eventually chopped off most of their hair because of how ‘tight’ the hand of the weaver can be. Then, like the Amazon women who fought for the salvation of their women folk, the Indians, Brazilians and Peruvians started cutting and shipping their hair to Africa, selling them to us for the price of 50 bags of cement and our identity.
Then, there are the many decisions one has to make before she can settle on a particular hairdo. Colour, texture, length and even weight have contributed immensely to how difficult it is to decide on what a woman will carry on her head. Incredibly, the colours are known by numbers: Colours 1, 2, 4, 27, 30, 33 and onwards, each figure representing a particular shade of brown, black, red, and what have you. So for the girl who doesn’t know how to count, a selection of different colours of synthetic hair could be her breakthrough in a later mathematics class.
Sadly, the Lady Gagas, Rihannas and Beyoncés have done nothing to help the situation. Today, African women walk the streets as redheads, purple heads, yellow heads and multi-coloured heads, in peacock, chicken feather and horse tail styles.
Apparently, colours are not the only mathematical aspect. The length comes with its differentiation. I came across a lady who wanted a change of hairdo, so she bought 2 pieces of 14-inch weave-ons. I expected her to walk out with pretty long hair. By the time the stylist was done with the blade in his hand, the hair on her head was half the length of what she’d bought. Amazing.
Unless my little calculation was flawed, I realised that most natural-haired women save good money in hair expenses compared to the frequent changers of artificial hairdos, considering the inflated price of the weave, the cost to get it on, and the risk of not liking the outcome, taking it off a week later and putting on another one. I suppose their husbands and boyfriends will be the ones with weeping wallets, because for our big hair spenders, as long as the money keeps flowing … KA-CHING!!!
Spending four years of my life in KNUST made me see there are a lot of similarities between Ghanaians and Nigerians. This is my observation. But I’d really like to hear what you think. Do you agree with me? Or am I too biased in my opinions?