History of Dreadlocks

Dreadlocks, sometimes called simply locks or dreads, are matted ropes of hair which will form by themselves if the hair is allowed to grow naturally without combing. Or intentionally formed using various methods to encourage their formation such as backcombing sections of the hair, twisting or a process involving the weaving of the hair with a crochet hook to form knots.

Although the term 'dreadlock' was originally associated with the Rastafari community, people of various cultures have worn, and continue to wear locks, including the Hindu Shiva worshippers of India, European Celts, various African communities, and the Sufisof Pakistan.


The precise date of origin of the hairstyle is unknown. However dates range from 5000 BCE to 1500 BCE. The roots of dreadlocks can be trailed to the Rastafarians of Jamaica, and further, to Indian sages and yogis, but they have never been more popular or widespread than they are today. It is said that dreadlocks originated with eastern holy men, possessing nothing, renouncing the world and possessions (not even a comb) and even personal grooming, hence the inevitable dreadlocks.

The first known examples of dreadlocks date back to North Africa. In ancient dynastic Egypt examples of Egyptians wearing locked hairstyles have appeared on artifacts as well as mummified remains from archaeological sites.

The locked Hindu deity shiva and his followers were described in the scriptures as "wearing twisted locks of hair". The Celts also wore dreadlocks and were described as having 'hair like snakes'. Germanic tribes, the Vikings, the Greeks, the Pacific Islanders, 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 and the Sadhus of Hinduism. The very earliest Christians also may have worn this hairstyle. Particularly noteworthy are descriptions of James the Just, brother of Jesus and first Bishop of Jerusalem, who wore them to his ankles. Locks may have also been part of Mexican culture before the 16th century spanish conquest.

Variations such as the Polish plait were initially treated as an amulet supposed to bring good health and was often worn in combination with extremely long fingernails. These fashions were reserved mainly for noblemen and ascetics, who wished to advertise their freedom from menial labor and earthly attachment.

The Baye Fall, arising from Senegal, wear locks which are called ndiange or 'strong hair' in imitation of Ibrahima Fall, chief disciple of the spiritual guide Shaykh Aḥmadu Bàmba Mbàkke with the goal to cultivate a unique relationship with God through the Shaykh. The Ngati Dreads or Māori Rastafarians, indigenous people of New Zealand, combine the Rasta teaching with the teachings of Te Kooti Arikirangi Te Turuki, a Māori leader and the founder of the Ringatu religion who preached belief in God and the rejection of Māori tohungaism.   
Middle East

Hindu Belief: Shiva takes the weight of the mighty Ganges in his locks and imprisons her. She is released through the locks of his hair, which prevents the river's force from destroying earth, and the waters bring purification to the planet.
Among the Sadhus and Sadhvis, Indian holy men and women, locks are sacred, their formation a religious ritual and an expression of their disregard for profane vanity, and a manifestation of a spiritual understanding that physical appearances are unimportant. This Sannyasin, the particular phase of life in which the person develops Vairagya, a state of determination and disillusionment with material life, does not merely follow a public pattern (that includes letting his or her hair grow in matted locks), but goes through an inner transformation. The public symbol of matted hair is thus re-created each time an individual goes through these unique experiences. In almost all myths about Shiva and his flowing locks, there is a continual interplay of extreme asceticism and virile potency, which link up the elements of destruction and creation, whereas the full head of matted hair symbolizes the control of power.

Locks in India are reserved nearly exclusively for holy people as well as shamans in many of the ethnic groups that still maintain such practices. 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 traveller between two worlds and the master over fire.
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.


Dreadlocks, as popularized worldwide by Bob Marley, has come to bring more fame to Jamaica than any other export. In Jamaica the term dreadlocks was first recorded in the 1950s as a derogatory term when the "Young Black Faith", an early sect of the Rastafari, which began among the marginalized poor of Jamaica in the 1930s, ceased to copy the particular hair style of Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia and began to wear locks instead. It was said that they looked 'dreadful' with their locks and were thought to be disgusting and frightening, hence the term ‘dread’ or dreaded which gave birth to the modern name 'dreadlocks' for this ancient style and was later reclaimed by the ‘Rasta’ community.


Rastafarianism however is something entirely separate. Rastafari associate dreadlocks with a spiritual journey that one takes in the process of locking their hair. It is taught that patience is the key to growing locks, a journey of the mind, soul and spirituality. Its spiritual pattern is aligned with the Rastafari movement. The religion resonated with the ideologies of the day, for example socialism, marxism, nationalism and black power. It was therefore, seen as a threat to Christianity and came under attack by the authorities that tried to suppress the ‘Rasta’ movement and imprisoned those who possessed ‘ganja’. Rastafarians smoked cannabis because they thought it prompted a clearer state of being.

Many Rastas eat limited types of meat. Many Rastafari maintain a vegan or vegetarian diet all of the time. Food approved for Rastfari is called ital. The purpose of fasting is to cleanse the body. Usage of alcohol is also generally deemed unhealthy to the Rastafari way of life, partly because it is seen as a tool of Babylon to confuse people, and partly because placing something that is pickled and fermented within oneself is felt to be much like turning the body (the Temple) into a "cemetery".

So close is the association between dreadlocks and Rastafari, that the two are sometimes used synonymously. As important and connected with the movement as the wearing of locks is, it is not deemed necessary for, or equivalent to, true faith.


Certain sufi groups such as the Qalandari sects don't cut their hair and don't comb it. 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.

Western Culture

In the West, dreadlocks have gained particular popularity among certain subcultures, though, while dreadlock hairstyles are widely associated with these sub-cultures, they are not exclusive to them. This is to say that, for instance, being spotted with dreadlocks does not automatically mean that you subscribe to the Rastafarian faith, are a hippy or smoke loads of dope, because when all is said and done, the dreadlocks remain just a variety of hairstyles should not come across as belonging to a certain faith or sub-culture.

Political motivations

The rise in popularity of reggae music in the 1970s prompted an interest in locks internationally. The anti-establishment philosophy of Rastafari, echoed in much of the reggae of the time, had a particular resonance for left-leaning youth of all ethnicities — especially and primarily among African Americans but among counterculture white people as well.

Like the afro, locks had social and political ramifications. For some people of African descent, locks are a statement of ethnic pride. Some see them as a repudiation of Eurocentric values represented by straightened hair. Others wear locks as a manifestation of their political beliefs and view locks as symbols of black unity and power, and a rejection of oppression and imperialism.

In white counterculture, locks have become popular among groups such as the "anti-globalization" movement and environmental activists  sharing a sense of a rebellion against the establishment and established norms. Dreadlocks are also popular in the punk and rave subcultures. Apart from anti-establishment politics and spiritual reasons locks also can be a means of creative self-expression, a symbol of individualism and a form of rebellion against traditional ties and restrictions. For example the members of the Cybergoth movement in Europe set out to shock with creative hair displays like wildly coloured lock wigs, dread falls and elaborate extensions complemented by dramatic make-up to oppose representations of authority and conformity.


The hairstyle brought into mainstream culture through the worldwide success of reggae artist Bob Marley. Sporting locks himself, he prompted an international interest in the style, and the anti establishment philosophy of Rastafarian culture. When the reggae music in the 1970s gained popularity and mainstream acceptance dreadlocks became a fashion statement, a trend for the secular, worn by prominent authors, actors, athletes, politicians, rappers, and were even portrayed as part and parcel of gang culture in movies.

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 emerged in salons that catered to a Caucasian clientele, offering all sorts of "dreadhead" hair care items such as wax, shampoo, and jewelry. Hairstylists created a wide variety of modified locks, including the popular multi-colored cyber synthetic lock extensions. Locked models appeared at fashion shows, and Rasta clothing with a Jamaican-style reggae look were sold. Even exclusive fashion brands like Christian Dior created whole Rasta-inspired collections worn by models with a variety of lock hairstyles.

Fast forward a few decades and things have changed but dreadlocks remain prevalent. They have became increasingly popular and there are many reasons in various cultures for wearing them. They can be an expression of deep religious or spiritual convictions, a manifestation of ethnic pride. They can make a political statement, or simply be a fashion preference.

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