Hairdo: Adopting old styles, forgoing their meanings

A great revolution is ongoing in the hair circuit of the fashion industry with so many daring styles popping up and the line that demarcates the male and female styles continue to blur by the day. But how many of these hairstyles are based on new creativity? YEJIDE GBENGA-OGUNDARE explores the genesis of the trending hairdos and how much was adapted from the traditional Yoruba hairstyles of ancient times.  


In today’s world, fashion is a serious and expensive venture. And the hair is an important part of fashion that is seldom overlooked, probably due to the fact that it is one of the first things that people notice in an individual.

To this end, the hair industry has experienced a lot of revolution; giving birth to different kinds of hairstyles both for males and females alike. The styles which cost thousands of naira tend to be bourgeoisie and out of the norm of perceived normalcy, causing some people to criticize them on the grounds of culture, tradition and religion.

And more often than not, the people who do this hairstyles only do it for fashion and to feel trendy among their peers as the styles are often not economical and cannot be said to have any other function; cultural or otherwise than making those that do it feel good about themselves and on top of their game.

The more fashionable an individual is, the weirder the hairstyles tend to be. But this was not the situation in times past, hairstyles were issues that are determined based on some code and ethics; this is basically due to the fact that among the Yoruba people, the head is given a pre-eminent place above other parts of the body and this in extension reflects on the hair.

This head is respected so much based on spiritual and cultural beliefs of its importance as the center of body’s activity and the fulcrum of attaining ones destiny, consequently, serious care is given to the head and the hairdo also becomes very important especially among the womenfolk.

However, at that period, hairstyles are not just for beautification but could be a sign of identification; religion, age, occupation, political power, ceremony or the marital status of a woman.  For married women in Yoruba land, the common trend is for the hair to flow from the front down to the nape of the neck; the hair may also emerge from both sides and join at the top of the head or come from the forehead and back to meet at the center of the head while for the maidens, the hair flows from the right ear to the left in a boys follow me mode.

Then, hairstyles were more than a fashion statement; they were used as a medium of communication, mark of initiation or the state of mind. Traditional hairstyles then need no explanations as people already know what it means whether it is on the head of a male or the female. The hairstyle called Aaso, is one where the hair is made into nine knots, three round patches in the front of the scalp, three in the middle and three in the back. It is reserved for male children of the influential and wealthy people and princes.

There is also the Aaso olode/ologun which is for warriors and hunters which is a central patch of hair made into a knot that hangs to the left side; the Aaso Onifa which is plaited by ifa priests and it comes in the form of a small round patch in the middle or front of the scalp but is only plaited by diviners during the festive period, on normal days, they just plait whichever style catches their fancy.

Other styles include the dreads for olokun worshippers, Ere; a variant of the Aaso which is shaped like the pig tail and is allowed to grow at the center or front of the scalp for Esu worshippers, the idanri apakan where half of the hair is shaped which is a sign of identification for men of the Aragberi clan of the Mesa royal family, renowned for their versatility in herbs and magic in Oyo and the ilari osanyin which involves shaving of alternate sides of the hair every two weeks in honour of Osanyin, the god of medicine and it is for abiku and court messengers.

Other contemporary hair styles then include suku, koroba, kolese, panumo, ipako elede, moremi, ojokopeti, akaba, onile gogoro, kojusoko or koyinsoko, patewo, agogo, aarinomonimasun, pakunpo, ajankolokolo, awoyoyo, eko bridge, agogo, ade oba, roundabout, face to face, police cap, oro oko kowoti and concord among many others.

Today however, women do not fancy these old styles and many now go for contemporary hairstyles and generally use diverse hair extensions which are available at different prices with some being extremely expensive. But the reverse is what applies to the masculine gender as those that keep hair among them plait the styles that the feminine gender has abandoned as archaic.

And many that barb their hair also go for styles that would have cause a furore, had they been in existence few decades back. Now, more men’s styles emerge in the society with regular frequency and these styles all tend to follow the ones used in the ancient time while many end up being a better and improved version of the Aaso of old.

The funkier the style, the more it looks like a variation of the styles barbed for identification or religious purpose in times past. But for those that do these styles, there is no cultural meaning or a mode of communication, it is simply a case of following fashion.

Speaking to Nigerian Tribune, Sanya Bello, a barber in Basorun area of Ibadan stated that it is true that there are many styles that are now unisex, attributing the development to the evolution of the fashion industry all over the world.

“Today, the line between styles for women and men are blurred and there is a mix. We now have men that braid and plait their hairs while women also sport hair cuts that were previously seen as hairstyle for men. This is not so bad really and it has nothing to do with religion, it is just fashion,” he said.

Speaking on the argument that hair plaiting is not in the culture of the Yoruba people, Bello said it is an argument that has no solid footing and is erroneous.

“How can anyone say it is not in our culture for men to plait hair? That is an argument made in ignorance of our culture. In the ancient time, men are known to plait their hair in different styles. In fact, it is the mark of a mighty and powerful man.

“Fashion today has evolved beyond those arguments and criticisms and people need to know that wearing a particular style does not make you a bad boy or a good one. Often, some favour particular hairstyles because of their job; showbiz, painters, models etc., that does not make them irresponsible, it is just a hallmark of their trade and a marketing technique.

“And for me, fashion is just embracing tradition and culture more than before, though with more creativity and panache, so people shouldn’t say what is happening is strange to our culture,” he concluded.

Aside the  dreads , locks and plaits, men also barb styles like side and up, gallax, mohawk, two step, three steps, defined wave cut, tapered afro, box fade cut, layers, mini afro, galaxy, low side parted taper, wavy fade, long tight taper, low tapered afro, clean and short cut, straight brushed up, afro, natural quiff, short and curly, faded undercut, grown out buzz, short patterned mohawk, polished fade, pampadour, buzz cut, partly dyed curls, classic afro, classic fade, classic sporting waves and the full coverage shave also called clean shave or skin among others.

The various types of mohawk cut and galaxy that are popular today are direct descent of the Aaso of old but it is not for any purpose aside that of fashion and those that use it do not even understand if it has any meaning.

Miracle, a student sporting the mohawk spoke to Nigerian Tribune on his hairstyle. “I don’t understand why you think this style must have any religious or cultural meaning. It is just fashion, there’s nothing attached to it and you shouldn’t look for a meaning that does not exist,” he said.

For the women however, the old styles have lost its appeal and it is usually only students in primary and secondary schools that still utilize them. Women would not plait or braid their natural hair without adding various degrees of hair extension and the closest many get to the natural hair or old style is the cornrow plait.

A local hairdresser, Mrs. Bolude James popularly known as Iya igbira in Gbagi area of Ibadan told Nigerian Tribune that school children form the greatest percentage of their client as women only patronize them when they are not financially buoyant or have a dire need to make their scalp rest.

“We are used to plaiting hair for small children and young girls because women do not like doing this kind of hair again.  They only come to us when their hair develops problems like weak tips, breakage, stunted growth or massive pullout due to excessive use of chemicals or constant pressure of pulling through use of hair extensions.

“When this happens, their hair dressers advice that they plait their hair for a while to allow their scalp rest and strengthen the hair but some rather than plait will prefer to cut the whole hair and go on low cut or baby curls till the hair grows out in its natural strength.

They just believe that it is old fashioned to carry simple plaits without extension, it is the men that now plait those styles at expensive prices. For me, it is fashion taken too far,” Iya Ebira said.

The common hairstyles for women today according to Nigerian Tribune investigations are Brazilian hair,  braids in its diverse forms, baby curls with tint, gel packing, the bun, dreadlocks, straw curls, Ghana weaving, afro gel, pony tail and the afro wig style among others

In spite of the love for modern trends, there are some female hair styles that continue to reinvent and find a way into the fashion top list. The styles come out with a little variation and spread quickly across the fashion world and become the in thing which is seen on many women over a specific period while the cost also increases. These styles reigns for a period and reminds people especially the old ones of the good old days before becoming stale again to come out with a little variation in a few years.

Some of the old styles that are now rocking the fashion chart presently include crotchet braids which used to be the belle of the society in the 70’s. Today, it is one of the trending styles and is used by many fashionistas. Another trending style is the bob braids which in its earlier years is known as Shaba but is now back with diverse modern variations and is plaited using colourful hair extensions.

There is also the faux locs, a variation of the dreadlocks which was originated from the Rastafarians and is still a signature look in that community. But today, it is a style worn by many women in diverse professional fields.

The Afro is another style that continues to reinvent and flip the chart of reigning styles decade after decade and has refused to completely go out of circulation in the fashion world just like the gel pack in its various variants like the pig tail, telephone wire and curly tips; it continues to reign every time and has remained a constant hairstyle for all occasions.

One other style that has stood the test of time is the Bantu knots which initially was used to create curl patterns in the hair but later became a style that is worn by women of all age grades for different occasions.

There is indeed a revolution going on in the realm of hairstyles and for many, it is just a means of expressing their feelings or what they do. Yomi Togun, an instrumentalist sports the Mohawk hairstyle and for him, it is just something to attract attention.

“I am in a competitive business and I cannot afford to look like any other person. In my line of business, I need to stand out and have a different look, this starts with my hair style, it is an attention-getting device and it fits my face and gives the impression I want,” he said.

Togun’s stance is supported by a popular chef, Marc Forgione in a quote where he stated that, “I’ve had every haircut you could possibly imagine: mullet, tail, dreadlocks, afro, crew cut. It’s always been an expression of who I am.”

The reemergence of cultural Yoruba hairstyles with new and trendy names in various forms merely attest to the fact that history tends to repeat itself and there’s really no new idea around especially in the beauty and fashion industry. And to those that embrace such styles that many think is really way out of the Yoruba norms, Sanya Bello encourages that they study the culture and history of the Yoruba race in the times of old.

Borrowing from the styles of old seems to be the trend today but the cultural and traditional aspects are not respected or considered. And though many argue that the styles are ugly, those that wear them believe that beauty is in the eyes of the beholder.

And the words of a popular saying seem to encapsulate this. It says, “I think there is beauty in everything. What ‘normal’ people would perceive as ugly, I can usually see something of beauty in it.”