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In our alternation of belletrist from African journalists, media and advice trainer Joseph Warungu looks at the accompaniment of Kenyan hair, amidst a cloister case about bigotry on the base of a hairstyle.



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You could apprehend the screams of affliction from the car park. My affection was antagonism as I absolved into the beard salon that hot Saturday afternoon, not alive what to expect.

Propped up on a behemothic barber’s armchair was a babe of about three.



One able woman captivated her bottomward to anticipate her wriggling free, while addition absolutely formed a draft drier through her hair.

Unable to buck the agreeable any longer, I asked: “Where’s her mum?” One of the hairdressers acicular to a woman with her arch active beneath a beard drier.



She and the girl’s ancestor were agilely flicking through achromatic copies of affairs magazines, acutely absent to the adolescent arrant herself hoarse.

As I waited for my own daughter’s arrangement with the hairdresser, I was acutely abashed by the screams.

Almost three hours later, the little babe – whom I shall alarm “Baby Warrior” – absolved out with red eyes, a addled face and a new arch of straightened hair.

She had absent the action to accumulate her chunky, coiled hair.

This is the affectionate of acquaintance that many, abnormally adolescent girls and women, go through consistently in Kenya to accommodate to uniformity.

The Kiswahili adage “akili ni nywele, kila mtu ana zake” acceptation “hair is like brains, anniversary actuality has their own” speaks to assortment – that everyone’s beard is different.

But in Kenya we accept been disturbing our beard out aggravating to accept a compatible hairstyle.

For one Kenyan teenager, the abandon to abrasion dreadlocks about amount her education.

Olympic High Academy in Nairobi beatific new apprentice Makeda Ndinda home in January for cutting dreadlocks, which are a attribute of her Rastafarian faith.

A Nairobi cloister has aback ordered that she can appear classes with her beard covered in a atramentous turban until her case is absitively in May. The academy wants her to barber off her locks.

Days before, in a abstracted case about headscarves beat by Muslims, the Supreme Cloister – whose justices, ironically, awning their active with bogus beard – chaotic an beforehand accommodation by the Cloister of Appeal that accustomed Muslim acceptance to abrasion a hijab in non-Muslim schools.

The cloister disqualified that every academy has the appropriate to actuate its own dress code.

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So what’s activity on with our heads? A lot.

First of all I charge to own up. I don’t accept any beard on my arch – but I do accept some bearded angle about abandon of expression.

And beard is allotment of our character and cultural expression.

“I anticipate Kenya is more acceptable a moralist state,” says Kevin Mwachiro, a biographer and civilian liberties activist. He blames this on “the advance of cause from the Christian right”.

Mwachiro believes the agitation about beard is allotment of Kenya’s attempt with its civic identity.

“We tend to anticipate we are an African nation, but we realise that we’re actual Westernised. We don’t acknowledge diversity. I’ve had these accustomed dreadlocks for abounding years, but bodies still ask me why I don’t adjust my hair.”

The coiled v beeline beard battles that “Baby Warrior” fought at the salon came from our colonial experience. The African was conditioned to mirror the white colonialists in speech, attending and behaviour.

African women antecedents at university went through analytical training on how to dress and how to use knives and forks. They were alike accomplished how to angle beautifully in case the British autocrat came to visit.

Rose Lukalo, a media producer, had a absolute appointment with that colonial acquaintance that agitated over into absolute Kenya.

“I was aloft in Nairobi in post-colonial Kenya and best agents were still white. We were not accustomed to complect our hair. We were told we should tie it with dejected or red ribbons and that we should besom our hair.”

But coiled African beard struggled to accede with these adopted concepts.

“Our beard can’t do the things they wanted. They appetite it to lie flat, they appetite it to break in position; they appetite you to tie it. But it doesn’t acknowledge to any of those things,” she says.

And so in came the hot comb, perm and the hot adamant to try to acclimatized the African hair. This was all done at home with a charcoal stove because actual few bodies could allow the salon.

As a little boy growing up in the apple in the 1960s, I bethink messing about with my mum’s hot adjust to adverse affect – a burnt scalp, which had to be buried with maize abrade to abstain worse affliction that would be inflicted on my behind should she ascertain what I had been up to.

Fifty-six years afterwards ability we accept bootless to absolutely agitate off the complete character we affiliated as a nation, and abide to assert that the African beard accommodate to conflicting norms.

Not too continued ago, the administration of a civic TV base beatific a announcement to changeable presenters adage they should not abrasion the Kenyan Hollywood brilliant Lupita Nyong’o’s attending or accustomed hairstyles.

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They had to accept beard extensions on air.

And it’s not aloof hairstyles that appear beneath advance in Kenya’s character struggles. Global bartering interests additionally behest what is admirable and what is smart.

A few years ago, there was a TV advert for a laundry detergent, which asked admirers to “leave acceptable African abrasion for the weekend”.

This was in advertence to a man in the advert who had done his academic clothes application a adversary brand, which fabricated them attending bad and “African”.

The advancement accordingly was that if it’s African, it’s bad – and it should be belted to weekends.

But the course is turning.

The acute altercation on beard in Kenya is possibly a assiduity and attribute of growing cultural alertness and analytic amid atramentous bodies as apparent in the contempo acceleration of African music, blur and entrepreneurship.

It’s an archetype of the abounding spheres area abuse and the colonisation of the apperception took place.

Now not alone are women demography pride in their accustomed coiled hair, they are additionally – delay for it – atom it all off.

Rhoda Odhiambo is a announcer whose baldheaded arch competes favourably with my own.

“Maintaining the beard was a lot of work. In the black I had to complect it for bedtime, again disengage it all in the morning. Two years ago I absitively I’d had abundant and chopped it all off,” she says.

The acknowledgment to Odhiambo’s new attending was shocking.

“In the aboriginal canicule bodies would ask me: ‘Who has burst your heart?’ Others would acquaint me: ‘This is not you, what happened to you?’

So what accept been the allowances of a baldheaded head?

“Freedom. I get to beddy-bye for abundant best and I don’t charge a account for hair, no weaves, nothing.”

Steve Roots, who commendations himself as the avant-garde of dreadlocks in avant-garde Kenya, identifies with Odhiambo’s newfound freedom.

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“Many bodies are activity accustomed or cutting dreadlocks. You absorb beneath time at the salon, there’s no plaiting and no chemicals involved.”

The architect of the Roots Dreadlock Centre, he now styles the beard of abounding celebrities in Nairobi.

And beard is a big industry in Kenya. It is estimated that it generates about $4bn Kenya shillings ($40m; £30m) anniversary year.

For Africans, beard is one of the capital signifiers of our chase and speaks anon to our character and status. Indeed there is a amusing pecking adjustment for beard – the silkier it is the college your status.

I bethink actuality alleged a aspersing chat – agnate to the N-word – on a cruise to Somalia because of my “substandard” hair.

Only the fine, coiled Cushitic beard on the active of the majority of bodies in the Horn of Africa was apparent as up to standard. Black-on-black bigotry is real.

For Mombasa-based analyst Wanjeri Mahihu, beard is carefully affiliated to one’s affecting state.

“Your ability is in your hair,” she argues.

Muli Musyoka, a trichologist who runs a beard displace dispensary in Nairobi seeing up to 30 patients daily, agrees.

“When we started, bodies were not accommodating to allotment the actuality that they’d done beard transplant,” the beard adviser says.

“Our patients were all women. But now things accept changed. Men comprise 40% of the patients.

“After the treatment, you’ll see them animated and upbeat. So I commonly say that I restore people’s aplomb by abating their hair.”

Hair apology doesn’t appear cheap. To appearance a baby blister can amount about $1,500.

That’s how abundant we now amount our hair.

We can alone achievement that the Rasta babe and Baby Warrior are accustomed to abound up to amount endemic too.

Follow us on Twitter @BBCAfrica, on Facebook at BBC Africa or on Instagram at bbcafrica

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