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Isi Dada

Updated: Jun 13, 2020

Many West African cultures place immense spiritual value on the human head and recognize it as a powerful indicator of overall wellness. In this region the head is regarded as the most significant part of the human body, and thus great care is taken to maintain its health and cleanliness through thorough personal grooming and hygiene. Among the Igbo and their neighbors, various hairstyling trends encompassing twists, plaits, braids, knots, and the like have been traditionally employed by both men and women to promote feminine beauty and male grooming.

In these societies, as in most in their region, long hair is traditionally considered to be unkempt, wild, and an anomaly for human beings. It signals a lack of restraint over one’s body and is often attributed to the presence of supernatural forces as well as insanity, disease, danger, or death. In nearby Yoruba society, children with dreadlocks are referred to as “Omolokun” (children of the sea), while among the Igbo, terms such as “isi mgbaka” (disorientation of the head) and “isi adighi nma” (irregularity of the head) are used to describe individuals suffering from mental illnesses, which is associated with wild hair or “Isi Dada” (dreadlocks).

In parts of Igboland, exceptionally Iong and unkempt hair is a common hairstyle amongst powerful native doctors, whose connection with the spiritual world prohibits them from cutting their hair to resemble ordinary people. In towns along the Niger, Urashi, and Njaba rivers, where the Mammy Wata institution is prominent, priestesses and maidens of river deities often braid and plait their hair in long strands and special styles to symbolize their affiliation with Mammy Wata, whose long, flowing hair is seen as a testament of her refusal to conform to social norms and an embodiment of supernatural beauty.#Igbohistory


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