Dreadlocks history takes us back to ancient times when many ethnic groups had a tradition to wear dreadlocks, like several ancient Hamitic people from north and east parts of Africa, most notable of whom being the Ethiopia’s Oromo and northern Kenya’s Maasai. Other ancient ethnic groups who wore dreads were West Asia’s Semitic people, and Europe’s and South Asia’s Indo-European people, like the ancient Spartan warriors from Greece and the Indian and Nepali Sadhus. Also Anatolia’s and Central Asia’s Turkic people, Pakistan’s Sufi fakirs and malangs and Sufi Rafaees used to wear dreads. As seen from the Paleolithic cave art in Europe, some Cro-Magnon and Neanderthals too wore dreads, probably for spiritual reasons.
If we keenly see in dreadlocks history, we can see the first examples dating back to the Horn of Africa (Somali Peninsula) and North Africa. Examples of dreads are also seen while studying ancient Egypt, as bas-reliefs and other artifacts show pictures of people wearing locked hairstyles. Also archeological excavations have given evidences in form of remains of mummies wearing locks and locked wigs.
Maasai men from northern Kenya say that men in their tribe wear dreadlocks from the beginning. Even today Maasai men are found with dreadlocks with a red shade from the soil.
Hindu dreadlocks history is very interesting. Hindu god, Lord Shiva is famous for wearing “Jataa” meaning dreadlocks. When holy River Ganga descended from the heavens on the Earth, Lord Shiva captured the powerful flow (which could have washed off all the life on the Earth because of its vigorous force) into His mighty Jataa and then Ganga started flowing calmly on the Earth. Locks are supposed to be sacred among Hindus. Many Sadhus (holy men) and Sadhvis (holy women) wear them as a religious practice. Dreads are worn to express disregard for profane vanity and are re-created every time when a person undergoes these unique experiences. When Lord Shiva dances (Tandava), His locks usually tied neatly on His head are loosened because the Lord is very angry and shakes His head vigorously. The dreads thus loosened strike heavenly bodies like whiplashes, while Lord’s mighty feet crush the life on the Earth, and thus the universe is destroyed (Lord Shiva is the god of destruction among the Hindu Trinity) to be created again by Lord Brahma (the god of creation).
According to Rig-Veda, the wearer of locks (Jataadhari) has extreme power and endurance over fire, poison and both worlds, and is supposed to have drunk from the poison cup, in Rudra’s (Lord Shiva) company.
Africa, Europe, Caribbean and Americas
Dreadlocks history of these regions shows that the Greeks and many ascetic groups in major religions, including the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church’s monks and Judaism’s Nazirites, have been wearing dreads at times. The earliest Christians also might have been wearing dreads. E.g. the descriptions of James the Just, Jerusalem’s first Bishop say that he wore dreads reaching up to his ankles.
Maasai warriors are known for their thin, long, red dreads. In many cultures, those people wear locks who have the ability to speak to deities and spirits.
Rastafari movement originated in Jamaica in the 1930s. According to their faith, wearing dreadlocks is considered to be supported by Leviticus (the third book of Hebrew Bible). Though adherents of Rastafari movement don’t wear dreads exclusively, they don’t make their heads bald and don’t shave off the corner of beards.
Dreadlocks history teaches us a lot about dreads, and their significance, relevance and position in ethnic and cultural stream. It also removes many misconceptions about dreads from our minds and encourages us to wear dreads some time or the other in life.