|Caucasian hair, African hair, Caucasian hair|
So I have pretty typical "white girl" hair. It's fine, straight, and sort of limp. I struggle with flatness and grease and a lack of ideas. I never really know what to do with it, so usually I just tie it back. Out of sight, out of mind, right?
I didn't really understand African hair when I arrived in Mozambique, either. It took me months to realize most of the long hair that I was seeing was fake, and that women would change their hair on a month-to-month basis. It was impossible to remember who was who just by identifying hair, hair color, or hair styles.
|Four little girls with four different hair styles|
After living in Mozambique for more than a year, I have learned a lot about styling African hair.
Here is what I have learned:
African hair is super, super curly! It generally grows more slowly than other hair types, and is more prone to breakage. To counter this, boys usually keep their hair very short. Girls wear their hair in short, temporary styles or braid in lengths of fake hair.
Short styles include braids, spirals, spikes, and puffs. Hair is held in place with clips, beads, caterpillar hair ties, or bits of string. Because the hair is so coarse, braids will stay in place without being tied. To create longer hairstyles, hair can be bought and braided into the original hair. This process takes hours and often yields beautiful lengths of (semi) natural-looking hair.
|Short, natural hair: Braids|
|Short, natural hair: Spikes|
|Short, natural hair: Unstyled|
|Short, natural hair: Spikes and Poofs|
|Short hair extensions|
|Medium-length hair extensions|
|Long hair extensions|
|Fancy hair extensions|
|Long, natural-looking hair extensions|
Women usually change their hair every few weeks. Because of the cost and effort that it takes to braid in longer extensions, little girls usually just wear short, natural hairstyles. For little girls, long hair is a mark of maturity. For older women, well-managed hair is a sign of prestige.
Here are a few extra facts about hair in Mozambique:
- Peace Corps volunteers are often asked for their hair! My neighbors are especially fond of my yellow "American" hair, and have requested that I leave some of it behind when I am finished with my service. Since it's already 12 inches long (with more than one year left to grow), I am considering it.
- Hair extensions can be expensive and they can take hours to tie in. Because of this, extensions will often be added over the course of several days. It's not uncommon to see girls walking around with long, raggedy mullets while they wait for the rest of their braids to be finished.
- Mozambicans are really fastidious about their hair. A fantastic punishment for secondary school teachers is the old "eraser bop." Kids hate having chalk dust in their hair!
- Little boys rarely grow out their hair, but they are expected to comb it. Sometimes, if boys don't brush their hair, they get sent home from school as a punishment for being "untidy." It always looks the same to me, though.
- Our 6-year old neighbor once begged his mother to let him grow out his hair to look like "Dani." She has flat-out refused him, arguing that his hair would absolutely NOT look the same. Junho is still not convinced.
Final Challenge: It can be really difficult to recognize somebody after they have drastically changed their hair! This was a huge problem for me in my first few weeks as a teacher. Can you tell which (older) girl is actually shown twice in the pictures above?