A man with natural freeform dreadlocks.

Dreadlocks, also called locks, a ras, dreads, "rasta" or Jata (Hindi), are matted coils of hair. Dreadlocks are usually intentionally formed; because of the variety of different hair textures, various methods are used to encourage the formation of locks such as backcombing. If the hair is not brushed or cut, it will tangle together as it grows, eventually resulting in the twisted, matted ropes of hair known as dreadlocks.

Dreadlocks are associated most closely with the Rastafari movement, but people from many groups in history before them have worn dreadlocks, including many Sadhus of Nepal, India and the Sufi Rafaees, the Maori people of New Zealand, the Maasai of East Africa, and the Sufi malangs and fakirs of Pakistan.



The word is a compound word combining the words dread and locks that dates to 1960. The intent may have been to evoke the dread aroused in beholders of the hair; "dread" also has a sense of "fear of the Lord" in Rastafarianism, which can be partially expressed as alienation from contemporary society.[1]


The first known examples of broomheads date back to East Africa and some parts of North Africa. Masai men found in the regions of northern Tanzania and southern Kenya have been wearing dreadlocks for as long as they have survived. There hasn't been official date of the "start" of Maasai dreadlocks, but it is a tradition that has been going on for thousands of years.[citation needed] Even today, Masai men can be found easily donning their dreadlocks, with a tint of red color from the soil.

Ancient Egypt In ancient dynastic Egypt examples of Egyptians wearing locked hairstyles and wigs have appeared on bas-reliefs, statuary and other artifacts.[2] Mummified remains of ancient Egyptians with locks, as well as locked wigs, have also been recovered from archaeological sites.[3]

The Hindu deity Shiva and his followers were described in the scriptures as wearing "jaTaa", meaning "twisted locks of hair", probably derived from the Dravidian word "Sadai", which means to twist or to wrap. The Greeks, the Pacific Ocean peoples, the Naga people and several ascetic groups within various major religions have at times worn their hair in locks, including the monks of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, the Nazirites of Judaism, Qalandari Sufi's the Sadhus of Hinduism, and the Dervishes of Islam among others. The very earliest Christians also may have worn this hairstyle. Particularly noteworthy are descriptions of James the Just, first Bishop of Jerusalem, who wore them to his ankles.[4]

Pre-Columbian Aztec priests were described in Aztec codices (including the Durán Codex, the Codex Tudela and the Codex Mendoza) as wearing their hair untouched, allowing it to grow long and matted.[5]

In Senegal, the Baye Fall, followers of the Mouride movement, a sect of Islam indigenous to the country which was founded in 1887 by Shaykh Aamadu Bàmba Mbàkke, are famous for growing locks and wearing multi-colored gowns.[6] Cheikh Ibra Fall, founder of the Baye Fall school of the Mouride Brotherhood, popularized the style by adding a mystic touch to it ,its important to note that warriors among fullani,wolof,serer and mandika were also known to have dreadlocks when old and cornraws when young for centuries.

In Jamaica the term dreadlocks was first recorded in the 1950s as a term for the "Young Black Faith", an early sect of the Rastafari which began among the marginalized poor of Jamaica in the 1930s, when they ceased to copy the particular hair style of Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia and began to wear dreadlocks instead.[citation needed] It was said that the wearer lived a "dread" life or a life in which he feared God, which gave birth to the modern name 'dreadlocks' for this ancient style.[citation needed]

Many Rastafari attribute their dreadlocks as a dedication to Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia as well as the three Nazarite vows, in the Book of Numbers, the fourth of the books of the Pentateuch.[citation needed]

All the days of the vow of his separation there shall no razor come upon his head: until the days be fulfilled, in the which he separateth himself unto the LORD, he shall be holy, and shall let the locks of the hair of his head grow.

— Numbers 6:5, KJV

By culture

There are many reasons among various cultures for wearing locks. Locks can be an expression of deep religious or spiritual convictions, a manifestation of ethnic pride, a political statement, or be simply a fashion preference. In response to the derogatory history of the term dreadlocks, alternative names for the style include locks and African Locks.[citation needed]

Africa and the Western World; Caribbean, North and South America

The controversy of whether dreads came from African slaves or Hindu laborers can be debated only with those with no knowledge of the subject. A simple fact check is observing the many areas of the Caribbean where dreadlocks is overwhelming. Example; dreadlocks are not in abundance in Dominican Republic, Cuba nor Haiti, this is because of the cultural and ethnic make up of these areas, originally (of course current times are not in this debate since Caribbean culture is far more mixed than before). Dreadlocks are also not as abundant in the north east Caribbean. Instead it is abundant in 3 major regions; Jamaica, South eastern Caribbean (Trinidad, St Vincent, Barbados), and Guyana/Suriname (again dreadlocks can be found all over south America, and Caribbean, as of late, due to culture spreading and media of course). And these of course are the heaviest concentration of the arrival of east Indian laborers.

African slaves brought to South America, Caribbean, and of course America, did not arrive with the dreadlocks concept. This is apparent by the actual culture of how hair was worn upon arrival in the new world. This is also evident, in that no picture past mid 1800’s containing any African wearing a dreadlock style (approximate time of east Indian labor arrival). Rather Dreadlocks have exploded in the western world in the last 50 years. Since 90% of the root African population in North America is from the Caribbean (something not taught in Most North American classrooms of actual numbers of slaves directly brought from Africa to North America), and since the Caribbean culture has exploded in north America in the last 30 to 70 years, it is obvious the dreadlock culture has come from the Caribbean or its 1st stop was the Caribbean when reaching the west.

Since many people are not educated on the history of the Caribbean including those of Caribbean descent, there is a very unclear understanding of the culture, to which everything is considered West African origin, instead of the obvious mixed culture that presents itself in each island and or region. Due to the different make up of the people who have been part of each regions culture, many are unaware of the actual origin of dreadlocks, and other aspects of culture such as the variety of patois in the Caribbean. Therefore, many, especially of Jamaican origin are unaware, or do not accept how certain parts of the culture have found their way in the fabric of the culture. This is apparent by how Jamaican culture refers to the non African population of Jamaica as Jamaican Indian, or Spanish Jamaican, or Chinese Jamaican. While those in the ethnic group themselves consider themselves Jamaican before bothering looking at their forefather region of disbursement. On the other hand, Trinidad and Tobago citizens refer to themselves as Trinis 1st, and of course will clarify if mixed or not if needed. That is the difference in the strength or mindset of the culture. With the widespread arrival of indentured laborers into the Caribbean in the mid 1800’s, the style of dread locks was born. This style was worn by those who followed a Sahdus or “hill coolie” lifestyle. Sahdus are considered the holy men of India (also those responsible for the Marijuana explosion). Many of indentured laborers from India are of aboriginal decent, and came from villages that mirrored those of aboriginal decent in South Africa, and Madagascar. This is apparent all throughout India, in all regions, and those who wear the style come from all backgrounds of genetics, from Negritos, Caucasoid, monagloid, and or course the mix of all 3, the average East Indian person. Since many east Indians in the western world have either had their history lost or themselves are preoccupied by western culture, they themselves are not aware of the roots of the Indian culture. The lifestyle or culture of Sahdus is the root of the Rasta movement. As the concept of being vegetarian, and wearing the hair in a way that one does not care how society views you are apparent. Both concepts believe that any creature that bleeds is a creation of the earth or god and is a sin. Smoking ganja is one of the most important trait to the lifestyle, as it is considered an herb from mother earth, and can take the mind to levels of supernatural being, if used correctively. They heavy influence of the East Indian laborers is overwhelmingly obvious in certain parts of the Caribbean (Jamaica, Guyana, Suriname, south east Caribbean; Trinidad, Barbados, st Vincent). The actual dialect of loan words from Hindi and west African dialect, the numerous curry and spiced dishes, and marijuana explosion (ganja in Jamaica, for the Ganges holy river, where the crop was taken to the Caribbean by Sahdus), and dreadlocks and facial hair. Ganja especially going hand in hand with the dreadlock culture in India, as it is a staple and one of the most popular crops all throughout India. Other aspects of Indian influence in the Caribbean would of course be the dance, music, infused in the music and dance style with the West African styles combined into one. Many fruits have also been transported from India to the Caribbean, such as sapodilla, and sweetsop or cherimoya. However there are other indigenous versions of sweetsop to the Caribbean.

Africans and people of African descent are known to wear this hairstyle. Members of various African ethnic groups wear locks and the styles and significance may change from one group to another. However this is most Likely a blend of the returning slaves from the west.

The Ashanti people and other related Akan groups of Ghana reserved dreadlocks for their spiritual leaders or okomfo . The co-founder of the Ashanti Empire, Okomfo Anokye is believed to have worn dreadlocks. In modern Ghana, dreadlocks now have a negative connotation and are associated with spiritualism that is contrary to Christianity.

The warriors of the Maasai nation of Kenya are famous for their long, thin, red dreadlocks. Many people dye their hair red with root extracts or red ochre. In various cultures what are known as Fetish priests, sangomas, or shamans, spiritual men or women who serve and speak to spirits or deities, often wear locks. In Benin the Yoruba priests of Olokun, the Orisha of the deep ocean, wear locks. The Himba people in the southeast of Congo-Kinshasa also dye their locks red, but their style is thicker than that of the Maasai. Other groups include the Fang people of Gabon, the Mende of Sierra Leone, and the Turkana people of Kenya.

Throughout the diaspora, particularly in America, dreadlock styling and maintenance for Africans has grown and evolved to be increasingly stylistic. In the early 90's, Dr. JoAnne Cornwell launched a versatile hair care system that involved creating fine dreaded tresses called "Sisterlocks" or "Brotherlocks." The company Sisterlocks has promoted the spread of the techniques of sisterlocking since 1993.

Another interpretation among the Rastafari is that "dread" refers to the fear that dreadlocked Mau Mau warriors inspired among the colonial British.[citation needed] The Mau Mau, a largely ethnic Kikuyu rebel group in Kenya fighting to overthrow the state government of the British Colony and Protectorate of Kenya from 1952–1960, hid for many years in the forests, during which time their hair grew into long locks. The images of their rebellion, then broadcast around the world, are said to have inspired Jamaican Rastafari to wear locks.[7]

Dreadlocks on a Rasta's head are symbolic of the Lion of Judah which is sometimes centered on the Ethiopian Flag. Rastas hold that Selassie is a direct descendant of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, through their son Menelik I. Rastas also believe African people are the descendants of the Israelites' Tribe of Judah through the lineage of Kings of Israel David and Solomon, and that he is also the Lion of Judah mentioned in the Book of Revelation.


Sadhu with jata (long locks) twisted in a knot on top of the head.

Similarly, among some Sadhus and Sadhvis, Indian holy men and women, locks are sacred, considered to be a religious practice and an expression of their disregard for profane vanity, as well as a symbol of their spiritual understanding that physical appearances are unimportant. The public symbol of matted hair is re-created each time an individual goes through these unique experiences.[citation needed] In almost all myths about Shiva and his flowing locks, there is a continual interplay of extreme asceticism and virile potency, which link the elements of destruction and creation, whereas the full head of matted hair symbolizes the control of power.[citation needed]

Gangadhara Shiva captures and controls the river Ganges with his locks, whose descent from the heavens would have deluged the world. The river is released through the locks of his hair, which prevents the river from destroying earth. As the Lord of Dance, Nataraja, Shiva performs the tandava, which is the dance in which the universe is created, maintained, and resolved. Shiva's long, matted tresses, usually piled up in a kind of pyramid, loosen during the dance and crash into the heavenly bodies, knocking them off course or destroying them utterly.

Locks in India are reserved nearly exclusively for holy people. According to the 'Hymn of the longhaired sage' in the ancient Vedas, long jatas express a spiritual significance which implies the wearer has special relations with spirits, is an immortal traveler between two worlds and the master over fire:

The long-haired one endures fire, the long-haired one endures poison, the long-haired one endures both worlds. The long-haired one is said to gaze full on heaven, the long-haired one is said to be that light ... Of us, you mortals, only our bodies do you behold. ...For him has the Lord of life churned and pounded the unbendable, when the long-haired one, in Rudra’s company, drank from the poison cup (The Keshin Hymn, Rig-veda 10.136)

The Shaiva Nagas, ascetics of India, wear their jata (long hair) in a twisted knot or bundle on top of the head and let them down only for special occasions and rituals. The strands are then rubbed with ashes and cowdung, considered both sacred and purifying, then scented and adorned with flowers.


Within Tibetan Buddhism and other more esoteric forms of Buddhism, dreadlocks have occasionally been substituted for the more traditional shaved head. The most recognizable of these groups are knowns as the Ngagpas of Tibet. For many practicing Buddhists, dreadlocks are a way to let go of material vanity and excessive attachments. [8]


A few Sufi groups such as the Qalandari sects do not cut or comb their hair, however it is unknown how this relates to their specific religious practices or Islamic thought. This leads to natural formation of dreadlocks. However, some of them will be very thick and others thin or untwisted because the actual making of dreadlocks and giving it a regular look is frowned upon. This process of dreadlock formation takes many years.[citation needed]

Western styles

When reggae music gained popularity and mainstream acceptance in the 1970s, the locks (often called “dreads”) became a notable fashion statement; they were worn by prominent authors, actors, athletes and rappers, and were even portrayed as part and parcel of gang culture in such movies as Marked for Death.

With the Rasta style in vogue, the fashion and beauty industries capitalized on the trend. A completely new line of hair care products and services in salons catered to a white clientele, offering all sorts of dreadlocks hair care items such as wax (considered unnecessary and even harmful by many),[9] shampoo, and jewelry. Hairstylists created a wide variety of modified locks, including multi-colored synthetic lock hair extensions and "dread perms", where chemicals are used to treat the hair.

Locked models appeared at fashion shows, and Rasta clothing with a Jamaican-style reggae look was sold. Even exclusive fashion brands like Christian Dior created whole Rasta-inspired collections worn by models with a variety of lock hairstyles.

In the West, dreadlocks have gained particular popularity among counterculture adherents such as hippies (from the 1990s onwards), crust punks, New Age travellers, and many members of the Rainbow Family. Many people from these two cultures wear dreadlocks for similar reasons, symbolizing a rejection of government-controlled, mass-merchandising culture. However many of the Rastafarian community see this as a form of imperialism and an appropriation of their Black Liberation and Pan-African ideology that re-invoked the use of dread locks to communicate the freedom struggles of people of color world wide. It was/is seen in the hyphy and goth scenes. Members of the cybergoth subculture also often wear blatantly artificial synthetic dreads or "dreadfalls" made of synthetic hair, fabric or plastic tubing.

Since the rise of the popularity of dreadlocks, Blacks mostly in the Americas and the Caribbean have developed a large variety of ways to wear dreadlocked Afro-textured hair. Specific elements of these styles include the flat-twist, in which a section of locks are roll together flat against the scalp to create an effect similar to the cornrow, and braided dreadlocks. Examples include flat-twisted half-back styles, flat-twisted mohawk styles, braided buns and braid-outs (or lock crinkles). Social networking websites, web forums, web-logs and especially online video-logs like YouTube have become popular methods for people with dreadlocks to transmit ideas, pictures and tutorials for innovative styles.

Methods of making dreadlocks

Traditionally, it was believed that in order to create dreadlocks, an individual had to refrain from using shampoos, brushing and/or combing. This method created dreadlocks that varied greatly in size, width, shape, length, and texture. The method has come to be known as "Organic," "Neglect," or "Patience". Similarly, "Freeform" dreadlocks are created by allowing the hair to knit together naturally into locks of varying sizes. However, freeform locks are patterned to a degree, as the hair is pried (not parted, just pulled apart in "chunks") into fairly determined sections after washing, as opposed to organic dreadlocks that tend to bifurcate and coalesce haphazardly.

Salon dreadlocks created with two-strand twists.

A variety of other methods have been developed to offer greater control over the appearance and shampooing frequency of dreadlocks. Together, these alternate techniques are more commonly referred to as "salon" or "manicured" dreadlocks.[10]

As with the organic and freeform method, the salon methods rely on one's hair matting over a period of months to gradually form dreadlocks. The difference, however, is in the initial technique by which loose hair is encouraged to form a rope-like shape. Whereas freeform dreadlocks can be created by simply refraining from combing one's hair and occasionally separating matted sections, salon dreadlocks use one of a variety of established hairstyles or tool techniques to form the basis of the dreadlocks.

Salon dreadlocks can be formed by evenly sectioning and styling the loose hair into braids, coils, twists, or using a procedure called dread perming specifically used for straight hair. Backcombing, twist-and-rip, and twist-and-pin are also some of the more popular methods of achieving dreadlocks. The palm-rolling technique, involved in retwisting the roots of highly textured hair, is considered the foundation technique for lock maintenance. One can also utilize tool techniques such as interlocking, involving a latch-hook to draw the dreadlock through its un-matted root repeatedly in varying directions in order to manually and instantly weave the hairs at the base. The latch-hook is also used to create dreads in straight hair by drawing loose hairs into the body of section of hairs that have been teased together (either by back-combing or irregular plaiting) and maintaining loosened hairs from the resulting dreadlock the same way. Once installed, the dreads are groomed every few weeks, typically once a month using either natural or commercial products. Once the hair is styled into a defined pattern, the locking process occurs as the hairs begin to knot.

"Sisterlocks" and "brotherlocks" are a particular patented genus of dreadlocks that are created in Afro-textured hair that are installed in needle-thin twists to create very fine locks. "Sisterlocks" or "brotherlocks" are maintained exclusively by tightening the roots, or "new growth" with the latch-hook tool as the tension created by excessive twisting encourages locks to thin and potentially break off.[11] Another method is the rub method which is best used on very short Afro-textured hair by washing the hair in circular motions going in the same direction and also drying the hair (with a towel or fibre cloth or sweater or sponge etc.) in circular motions going in the same direction. This will create tiny neatly parted coils around the head and will grow into small locks resembling sister-locks but with more of a circular coil-like diameter.

Regardless of hair type or texture and method used, dreadlocks require time before they are fully matured. The locking process is continuous as the hairs within the dreadlocks continue to form tighter and tighter knots and the un-matted hairs at the base of each lock continuously begin to follow the pattern of the more mature sections of the lock.

Guinness Book of World Records

On December 10, 2010, the Guinness Book of World Records rested its "longest dreadlocks" category after investigation of its first and only female title holder, Asha Mandela, with this official statement:

"Following a review of our guidelines for the longest dreadlock, we have taken expert advice and made the decision to rest this category. The reason for this is that it is difficult, and in many cases impossible, to measure the authenticity of the locks due to expert methods employed in the attachment of hair extensions/re-attachment of broken off dreadlocks. Effectively the dreadlock can become an extension and therefore impossible to adjudicate accurately. It is for this reason Guinness World Records has decided to rest the category and will no longer be monitoring the category for longest dreadlock." [12]

See also



  • Kroemer, K. (2001). Ergonomics. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall. ISBN 0137524781. 
  • Publius (or Gaius) Cornelius Tacitus (AD98). De vita et moribus Iulii Agricolae

External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Dreadlocks — Dreadlocks, kurz Dreads (von englisch dread = Furcht) oder auch Filzlocken sind Strähnen verfilzter Kopfhaare. Diese können sich unter Umständen selbst entwickeln, wenn das Haar für eine längere Zeitperiode nicht gekämmt, geschnitten oder rasiert …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • dreadlocks — [ drɛdlɔks ] n. f. pl. • 1984; mot angl. ♦ Anglic. Petites tresses multiples autour de la tête, à la façon des rastas. « Le bandeau dans ses dreadlocks, Loko conseille, distribue la balle, félicite » (Libération, 1996) . ● dreadlocks nom féminin… …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • dreadlocks — 1960, from DREAD (Cf. dread) + locks (see LOCK (Cf. lock) (2)). The style supposedly based on that of East African warriors. So called from the dread they presumably aroused in beholders, but Rastafarian dread (1974) also has a sense of fear of… …   Etymology dictionary

  • dreadlocks — (izg. drèdloks) m DEFINICIJA duga kovrčava upletena kosa rastafarijanaca i reggae poklonika (nastaju kao ritualni spomen na Samsona), kasnije dio nekonformističke mladenačke mode ETIMOLOGIJA engl …   Hrvatski jezični portal

  • dreadlocks — ► PLURAL NOUN ▪ a Rastafarian hairstyle in which the hair is twisted into tight braids or ringlets. DERIVATIVES dreadlocked adjective …   English terms dictionary

  • dreadlocks — [dred′läks΄] pl.n. long, thin braids or uncombed, twisted locks of a style worn originally by Rastafarians …   English World dictionary

  • Dreadlocks — Pour les articles homonymes, voir locks. Les dreadlocks d un rasta. Les dreadlocks ou cadenettes, appelés parfois tout simplement dreads ou locks ou encore …   Wikipédia en Français

  • dreadlocks — [[t]dre̱dlɒks[/t]] N PLURAL If someone has dreadlocks, their hair is divided into a large number of tight strips, like pieces of rope. Dreadlocks are worn especially by men who are Rastafarians. He was turned down for a driving job when he… …   English dictionary

  • Dreadlocks — Dread|locks 〈[ drɛ̣d ] Pl.〉 Haarfrisur, bei der das Haupthaar zu kleinen, oft mit farbigen Kugeln befestigten Zöpfchen verflochten wird, Bestandteil der Rastafari bzw. Reggaekultur; Sy 〈kurz〉 Dreads [<engl. dread „Angst, Furcht“ + lock „(Haar… …   Universal-Lexikon

  • dreadlocks — Rasta Dictionary 1. hair that is neither combed nor cut; 2. a person with dreadlocks …   English dialects glossary

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