*This post was originally written in August 2014 and recently published in the 1st edition of Afrokanist Magazine, April 2016 *
I recently visited Ghana with very high hopes in the natural hair department. I was expecting to see heads full of lovely thick hair, walking on the streets of Accra, the capital city of Ghana. I expected to see twist outs, bantu knots, african threaded hairstyles, afro puffs and wash & gos.
I saw little to none.
I’m sorry, this is not an exaggeration, I scanned the streets, in hope of seeing at least ten people, who had natural hair out. The number of people I saw with natural hair were in the single digits. However what shocked me was the sheer amazement at my hair! I was genuinely shocked at how many people were amazed at my afro hair. I mean this is Africa right? Where seeing an afro shouldn’t be shocking. To be honest I’ve never turned so many heads in one town. During the walk to the hairdressers from my house, I was gawped at. And it did not end. When I arrived at the hairdressers, the workers were amazed and shocked at my hair. I mean come on! It was like they had never seen long natural hair before (I quickly gather that they had not).
This saddens me because it seems as though Ghana is going backward rather than going forward like the African diaspora. Ways of thinking are changing about natural hair in the African Diaspora, but in Ghana, it seems as though they are lost when it comes to dealing with natural hair. This is a population were 99.5% percent are Ghanaian, with afro textured hair so you’d think they’d know how to care for it.
My experience at a local hair salon
After landing in Accra, I was eager to get Senegalese twists done because I had seen many instagram posts and youtube videos of this hairstyle and it look amazing! I needed my hair washed and blow dried in preparation for this hair style. My mum advised me to prep my hair before leaving but I was so exhausted from travelling, I decided to got to the hairdressers for them to do it. I thought they’d be gentle and care for my hair… boy, was I wrong!
I arrived at the hairdressers and was seated and soon the lady asked me what I wanted to do with my hair. I told her I wanted my hair to be washed, drowdried and I wanted Senegalese twists. Whilst I was telling her this, she was continuously staring at my hair, no eye contact, struggling to understand why I did not have a relaxer.
Washing my hair was a continuous stop/start sequence. She handled my hair aggressively, scratching my scalp so hard; I started to regret going to the hair salon. I told her to stop scratching my scalp and asked her to used the pads of her fingertips. She seemed offended but I didn’t care, I felt I had to teach her how to care for my natural hair.
After she as washed my hair, she began towel drying my hair. She used some petroleum based product in my hair (she put the cream in my hair before I’d realised it was petroleum based), turned on the blowdryer on the highest heat and began to comb through my hair with the attachment. I immediately told her to stop and lower the heat setting because I could see smoke coming my hair. It was burning! the she said…
‘It’s because your hair is natural, I have to put the heat high’.
Deep breathe Tiff. Deep breathe.
At this point I gave up, told her to lower the heat setting, take her time, and sat there itching to leave the place as soon as possible.
After blowdrying, I asked for the twists again and she couldn’t do it because my hair was natural. Well I knew that wasn’t true because its been done on afro textured hair many times before, but I didn’t bother arguing, left the place and went to another hairdressers to get braids done. I eventually got my senegalese twist done in Dormaa (praise the lord!), but the attitude towards natural hair in Ghana is not what I had expected. Relaxers are seen as the norm, and the attitude to natural hair reminded me of the webseries ‘An African City‘ where Nana Yaa explains how her mother complains about her natural hair, she winces when the hairdresser cornrows her hair too tight and when Makena says she couldn’t last very long in Ghana being natural because of the social pressure to relax her hair.
To conclude, my experiences with type 4 natural hair in Ghana arguably shows that Ghana lags behind the rest of the African diaspora in regards to natural hair. Many people wear protective styles in Ghana so its quite difficult to estimate the number of people who have not chemically treated their hair, however, it is clear when you walk in to the shops and stores and the advertisements of Dark & Lovely, that the biggest market excluding extensions are relaxers and texturizers. I really hope this changes the next time I visit Ghana but seeing many children in the school I volunteered at in Dormaa with relaxers in their hair, it won’t be an easy transition.