It is not clear where the word “dreadlock” comes from.
Translated it means locks / curls of dread / awe, which could refer to the sense of “dread” (awe) for God, often mentioned by Rastafarians and other Christians; therefore, it is by no means excluded that “dreadlock” is a Rastafarian term.
Another theory argues that whoever wore this hair had “scared” (dread) someone else who then wrote or talked about it.
There is talk of African warriors, for example, who frightened the first European invaders.
Dreadlocks are locks of hair that over time have compacted together to form tubular skeins.
This happens spontaneously by letting the hair grow without being combed, which applies to all ethnic groups and all hair types.
Spiritual Meaning of Dreadlocks – Meaning
According to logic, therefore, the history of dreadlocks began with the birth of man.
However, if we talk about figurative evidence of the use of dreadlocks, the first ones come from 3600 years ago, with this fresco on the island of Santorini, Greece, depicting wrestlers with dreadlocks.
The Bronze and Iron Ages brought many pictures like this to us. For example, it seems that among the Egyptians, the Sumerians and other populations, many wore dreadlocks.
But it’s hard to tell dreads from braids in fairly basic depictions like this one above. Dreads are also said to have been found on Egyptian mummies, but I have not found any photos.
Let’s now pass to the non-figurative testimonies of the history of dreadlocks, in particular those related to sacred scriptures, which allow us to go much further back in time than statues and frescoes.
The first written testimony is given to us by the Vedas, the Hindu sacred texts, which describe Shiva wearing dreadlocks, called “Jada” or “Jaata”. Many “naga”, or ascetic followers of Shiva, still carry their Jata today.
These Jata have functions related to the spiritual energy of the wearer. The holy men called Sadhu, who can be seen in India and Nepal wandering around with a sly air, always greeted with kindness, wear their dreads curled up on their heads.
The Bible offers us another written testimony, which is cited in the English sources of the history of dreadlocks. In a passage from his friend Testament Samson loses his strength when his hair is cut.
In the English versions, hair is called locks rather than hair, and for many English speakers this means dreadlocks, but it could simply be a discrepancy in bible translations.
Dreadlocks or non-dreadlocks, hair often plays a role in the spirituality of the human being. There is often the belief that hair is an extension of our nervous system and that it also strengthens the spiritual energy of the person who wears it.
Sometimes they even give paranormal powers, acting as antennas, to capture the intentions of others before they are externalized.
In this sense they are excellent for warriors and hunters. It is said that this is the reason why the American Indians wore their hair long, and also the reason why they were so agile in nature.
Many believe that the life force, also called “qi” (read “CI”) or “prana”, involuntarily escapes from the body through the top of the head, and keeping the hair or dreads curled on the top prevents or delays the release.
Spiritual Meaning of Dreadlocks – Symbolism
hair to dreadlocks. Some believe that the weight of the dreadlocks helps the crown chakra to open and the cosmic energy to flow to us, between us and from us.
However, speaking in more “Western” terms, dreads often lent themselves well to any spiritual practice, as they expressed the absence of vanity.
In fact, taking care of and combing one’s hair is an act that expresses attachment to one’s image and to the material world, so many monks chose between a shaved head and dreads (simply not combing their hair).
This applies to the Abrahamic, Dharmic and Taoic religions. It is very ironic that nowadays dreads are an element that seems to express vanity, and even I cannot say that I am innocent: I like myself much more with dreadlocks.
Dreads are said to have been used by indigenous peoples everywhere, including pre-Columbian peoples in America and some Aborigines in Australia. There is traces of the use of dreads since ancient times, on all continents populated by man.
However, this is obvious, given that the hair “dreads” by itself, if not combed, regardless of ethnicity.
Let’s move on to the most interesting part: the Rastafarians. Why are Rastafarians often described as “inventors” of dreads, and why do they often claim their exclusive cultural property?
It is often thought that the history of dreadlocks begins in the context of Rastafarianism, but as we have seen it is incorrect.
However, if it weren’t for the Rastafari movement today there wouldn’t be so many dreahdead. But let’s go in order: what is Rastafarianism?
Rastafarianism is a religious-spiritual movement born in a context of colonialism and slavery, in Jamaica of the last century. The island was in fact invaded and colonized shortly after the discovery of America, first by the Spaniards and then by the British.
The Jamaicans we know now are not the natives of Jamaica. The Spaniards decimated native Jamaicans, and very few (if any) appear to have existed when the British ousted the Spaniards a few decades later, taking over Jamaica. Indigenous Jamaicans are said to have become completely extinct by the 1600s.
Colonial countries have supported the slave market for centuries, whereby many Africans were kidnapped and then sold as slaves (the British were among the first buyers), ending up in Jamaica and other colonies around the world. To a lesser extent this also happened to other populations of territories occupied by the British, for example India.
A curiosity: some Indian slaves brought with them cannabis seeds, which in Hindu sacred scriptures is smoked by Shiva, one of the main deities. The word “Ganja”, which is commonly associated with Jamaica, actually comes from Sanskrit, the ancient Indian language. African slaves are said to have started smoking weed due to contact with Indian slaves, who smoked as a tribute to Shiva.
During the period of the slave trade, between 10 and 20 million Africans were kidnapped from their land, home and family, their right to be treated like people, and an estimated 600,000 of them ended up. in Jamaica. African slaves were much more in demand than Asian slaves, because their build seems very robust and suitable for heavy work.
The slave trade was abolished in the early 1800s, and the practice of slavery in Jamaica was officially abolished in 1834, but it remained in use, through manipulation and subterfuge by the British, for at least another century. The Jamaicans of today are the descendants of the slaves brought by the British, and are therefore predominantly of African descent.
Rastafarianism is an Abrahamic religion, therefore monotheistic, with its own interpretation of the Bible. It was born in Jamaica in the 1930s and is divided into different “branches” with different rules, for example some eat chicken while others are 100% vegetarian.
Many argue that it is not a religion, but a “livity” or a way of life, as religions are tools to manipulate the masses while Rastafarianism, or “Rastafari Movement”, aims at liberation.
For Jamaicans, Rastafarianism represents a sort of spiritual bridge with what is considered the fulcrum of the world, the center, the womb of mother Africa: Ethiopia. This creed was not only adopted by Jamaicans, but tended to focus on the “return to Africa” theme. So it was mostly embraced by people with African origins dogs who continued to be victims of racial abuse.
Rastafarianism sees the king of Ethiopia elected in the 1930s, Hailé Selassié, as an incarnation of God (“Jah”) and the second coming of Christ. A curiosity: the real name of Hailé Selassié is Tafarì Maconnèn, and was also called “Ras” Tafari, with the term Ras which means boss or prince: hence the term “Rastafari Movement” or Rastafarianism.
According to Rastafarianism, Jah, or God, resides in a small part in each of us and smoking weed strengthens the connection with the divine. The parallelism with the Hindu view of ganja linked to the god Shiva is quite clear.
The presence of ganja (cannabis, marijuana) is seen as essential by “rastaman” (a way to call male Rastafarians), and is theoretically taken and shared in community rituals, not at any time of day.
The Rastafari also preach against intoxicants such as alcohol and drugs. This might be a bit confusing – why the ganja yes, and the other drugs not? It is worth opening a parenthesis:
Question: if by “drug” we mean an intoxicant harmful to oneself and others, potentially deadly, is cannabis a drug? Shouldn’t alcohol and nicotine be considered more “drugs” by far?
If, on the other hand, a “drug” is an illegal substance, then yes, cannabis is a drug at the moment. In Italy. But let’s not forget that “drugs” and “illegal substances” are two things that are often different.
Cannabis is not dangerous, it doesn’t make people aggressive, it doesn’t make fatal choices, it doesn’t cause fights, it doesn’t inspire sexual violence. It is not difficult to guess why the Rastafarians distinguish it from “intoxicants”.
Cannabis inhibits and calms, and no one has ever “died of cannabis” like alcohol, nicotine and other drugs. If you are wondering why it is illegal in Italy, well … good question, and congratulations: asking questions about things considered “obvious” is the first step to activate the critical mind.
Rastafarianism promotes a lifestyle that is as natural as possible, so hair should be allowed to grow without combing it. It seems that the thing is also linked to the passage in the Bible relating to Samson, of which Ras Tafari was considered a descendant, among other things.
This explains why Rastafarians so proudly wear hair of often very long dreadlocks, symbolizing their devotion to the divine and to their cause. The Rastafarians did not invent dreadlocks, but they have invested a decisive role in the history of this hairstyle, a role that will become clearer in the 70s.
Often Rastafarianism and its messages were spread through reggae music, one of the pillars of Jamaican culture and a source of strength for many Jamaicans. Music is an accessible tool even when you are completely powerless in the face of violence and abuse – we are not yet clear how, but music can improve the mood in an instant.
If you listen to the lyrics of reggae songs you can only feel a great sense of esteem for these musicians, who seem to have the mission of spreading strength and positivity (and offering a sort of moral and spiritual guidance) to a population that is going through centuries. of unimaginable abuses.
Reggae music was of such strength that it spread globally. In the 70s of the last century the Bob Marley phenomenon exploded and reached all Western nations. This has caused a lot of attention from abroad – from rich countries – to focus on the struggles of Jamaicans, supporting their cause.
We Europeans were mostly strangers to Rastafarianism, but music has nevertheless influenced many people, and has spread some of the messages conveyed: for example, what matters is to be well together, and to be on guard against “Babylon”, or lifestyle. western, where everything revolves around money and power games. Not wrong!
The music arrived accompanied by the physical and behavioral characteristics of the musicians, which were those typical of Jamaica and Rastafarianism: the Rastafarian tricolor, the relaxed attitude, the use of ganja and dreadlocks.
People who enjoyed reggae music have started to adopt the customs of the Rastafarians, and some have come to adopt their beliefs.
Dreadlocks and deadheads in Italy have begun to be called “Rasta”, because in Italy (as in many other countries) the surge in the spread of dreads has gone hand in hand with that of the success of reggae music.
This is a key moment in the history of dreadlocks: from the 70s to now, dreads have become a statement, be it political, religious or style. They have been adopted by authors, actors, athletes and musicians all over the world, and all have contributed to broaden the style to more groups of the population and universalize it.
50 years after the explosion of the Bob Marley phenomenon, Rastafarianism has spread so much that many adhere without having any direct ancestry with Africa (although it is said that if we look back enough, the whole human species originated in that which today is Africa).
There are even some Italian Rastafarians. Those yes, it’s okay to call them “Rasta”!
But having dreads doesn’t make us dreadlocks, and hair shouldn’t be called dreadlocks. Unless, of course, they are not “Rasta hair”, or the dreadlocks of a Rastafarian.
Maybe, if it weren’t for Bob Marley’s boom 50 years ago, I wouldn’t have my beloved dreads today, but it’s hard to say …
Being the dreads in use even among Shiva’s followers and other cultures, and being a natural transformation hair, (and being fantastic), I think sooner or later it would have spread anyway.