According to Western scientific understanding, hair is composed of keratinized cells that emerge from follicles embedded in the scalp. These cells are produced by the hair follicles and pushed upwards, eventually emerging from the scalp as strands of hair. The visible portion of hair that extends beyond the scalp is essentially composed of dead cells, devoid of any biological activity.

Western science views hair as a non-living structure, much like nails or the outermost layer of the skin. It is considered to be a protein-based filament that has no metabolic functions or the ability to regenerate once damaged. This perspective has been widely accepted in the scientific community and forms the basis for the development of haircare products and treatments.


African Spirituality: Hair - A Living Connection to the Divine?

In contrast to the Western scientific perspective, certain African spiritual traditions hold a belief that hair possesses a unique connection to one's spiritual essence or life force. For instance, in various African cultures, hair is seen as a channel through which energy and spiritual messages can flow. It is believed that hair has the ability to absorb and transmit spiritual energy, connecting individuals to their ancestors, deities, and the divine realm.

For many African people, hair is not merely an aesthetic feature but a reflection of one's spiritual identity, heritage, and connection to the cosmos. Different hairstyles and grooming practices can convey specific meanings, such as marital status, social rank, or spiritual devotion. Hair is viewed as a sacred part of the body that requires careful attention and respect.


My thoughts:
We can reconcile both views. I believe both. I have never fully aligned with the scientific assertion that hair is dead. I’ve jokingly said in the past that scientists should tell Samson that! For clarity, in the bible, Samson’s incredible strength was believed to have been linked to his long hair. His hair was a symbol of his dedication to God and his Nazirite vow, which granted him supernatural abilities. However, when his hair was cut, he lost his strength (Judges 16:17).

Let’s leave aside the bible, in which there are other powerful references to the hair. Let’s talk about African spirituality or beliefs where hair is not only considered as living but a powerful energy source. I have always been at pains to stress that my brand name ‘Ori’ has both a literal and metaphysical meaning. The literary meaning of ‘Ori’ is head yes, but there is also a Metaphysical meaning, ‘Ori’ also refers to the inner essence or divine consciousness of an individual. In fact, your head “Ori’ is often seen as a personal guardian spirit that guides and influences a person's destiny, character, and purpose in life. "Ori" is believed to be a source of wisdom, intuition, and personal power. You can ignore it or tap into this energy. And because the Yorubas attach such importance to the head everything associated with it is revered, most especially one’s hair!

For full disclosure, I also grew up with a mother who emphasised the spirituality and the power of our head/hair. This is why my mum treats her hair with the utmost reverence, only letting certain people touch her head and hair. My mother would be horrified to learn that many of us allow up to 4 people to braid our hair simultaneously. Or that we chop and change stylists!! She would lament at all the energy hovering over us, interfering with our unique energy.

So where am I going with this? I have no doubt that it is my mother’s deep believe in the metaphysical meaning of Ori that makes her treat her hair with such care and respect. The way she nurtures it shows that she has deep respect for it and this is tied to her belief.

Many of you will also know of elders who would never ever leave their hair on the floor at a salon or barbers. They’d pick it all up and dispose of it safely. They too believe there is power in our hair which is tied to destiny. They gather the hair to prevent stealers of destiny from taking and using it.


Bridging Perspectives: Embracing Cultural Diversity

It is important to recognize and respect the diversity of beliefs and cultural practices surrounding hair. I think it can even help us! Western science and African spirituality offer contrasting perspectives, both rooted in their respective contexts and traditions. While Western science provides a thorough understanding of hair's biological composition and function, African spirituality offers a deeper connection to the spiritual and metaphysical aspects of hair.

Rather than dismissing one perspective in favour of the other, we can embrace the opportunity to learn from and appreciate the richness of cultural diversity. By fostering open-mindedness and understanding, we can appreciate the significance of hair in different cultural contexts and engage in meaningful conversations that bridge these different viewpoints.

Western science emphasises and guides us on the biological nature of hair as a non-living structure. This is great. This is what I used to grow my hair, my daughter’s hair and it is what I used to help hundreds of you to go the same. Scientifically it is easier to understand the science behind washing the scalp, the ingredients, their benefits, etc.

African spirituality highlights the spiritual and cultural significance of hair as a living connection to the divine. This too plays a role! It plays a role in the level of respect we show our hair, how we treat it, whether long or short. It prevents us from being reckless and letting others be reckless with it.

Rather than promoting one belief over another, it is vital to respect and appreciate the diversity of cultural perspectives, recognizing that hair's significance extends beyond its biological composition. Through mutual understanding and appreciation, we can celebrate the beauty of cultural diversity and foster a more inclusive and tolerant society.

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