Objects
Osuanyi Quaicoo Essel

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hair, powered charcoal, soot, sheabutter
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Ghana
Godit, 2017

Decolonizing African Hair Discourse

 

Queen mothers in dansinkran hairstyle and classic. (Source: Godit, 2017)

 

 

This article discusses a purely Afrocentric hairstyle named dansikran of Akan origin. It touches on the educational signification of the hairstyle amongst the chiefdom and the youth and the need of its usage in the decolonisation Ghanaian hair discourse.  It is a hairstyle Western hair superiority politics and black hair discrimination could not erode, and still remains an important hair identity visual code and marker that characterised the majority of the chieftaincy institutions in Ghana. For this and other reasons, it is an important tool in the decolonisation of Afrocentric hair beauty culture practice and education.

 

 

 

Osuanyi Quaicoo Essel
Osuanyi Quaicoo Essel

Different cultures may practise different hair beauty culture. Some of the hair beauty cultural practise could be unisex or may distinguish between sexes. In this instance, hair becomes a tool for sexual differentiation and serves as a precursor to one’s gender. It may tell which part of the world a person hails from. That notwithstanding, one may borrow hairstyles from different cultures other than his or her own for fashionable reasons since fashion inspiration is multicultural. Based on the cultural orientation and the role of a particular hairstyle to a group, society or institution, hair aesthetic ideals may be preserved as a tool for identity construction. A typical example of a hairstyle that has remained resilient even in the face of (neo)colonial and imperial hair aesthetic regimentation of the West on Africa is kentenkye hairstyle (Akan Women’s Hairstyle, 2008), popularly renamed as dansikran. Legendary has it that, queen mother Nana Kwaadu Yiadom II, (1917 - 1945), the sister of Nana Prempeh I, of the Asante Kingdom, performed the majestic Adowa dance during the restoration of the Asante Confederacy around 1935 in her kentenkye hairstyle, which inspired the then Governor’s description of her kentenkye hairstyle as a 'dancing crown' (Akrase, 2008) due to its visual effect during the dance. The phrase ‘dancing crown’ was linguistically corrupted as dansinkran which has become the popular name of the hairstyle.

 

The dansinkran hairstyle is noted for its simple, yet iconic stature in purely indigenous Ghanaian cultural milieu. Its selection was informed by its historical epoch, purely indigenous natural hair beauty care and treatment and socio-political significance in Ghanaian chieftaincy. It has proven to be an unadulterated Ghanaian hair fashion practice necessary in the decolonisation of hair fashion discourse. It is important in the decolonisation of hair discourse in the sense that it is purely Afrocentric which has evolved from its symbolic status to contemporary appropriation. The use of purely natural and sustainable hair treatment cosmetics with little or no harmful effect on the body makes it worthy of handing down to youth. This is because, there has been influx of artificial hair cosmetics with detrimental dermal effects which many youth subscribe to in the name of modernity without recourse to its side effects. The historical significance and interest of this hairstyle for posterity, especially as something of Africa practise, contributes in this regard to the decolonisation process. Dansinkran polity and politics among Akan kings, queens, chiefdom and the society in general reinforced its choice.

 

This hairstyle is achieved by trimming down the peripheries of the crown of the head almost to the skin while the remaining portions are trimmed to define the oval shape of a wearer’s head. The haircut gives the head a calabash-like shape. A natural black pomade-like colourant mixture composed of powered charcoal, soot and sheabutter, is then applied to the hair to give it intense blackened appearance. Charcoal has been in use for hair treatment in precolonial Ghana for many centuries. Considering the intense heat coupled with dust particle in Ghana and other African countries, the use of charcoal as hair treatment helped to protect their hairs from dust build up, dirt, oil and sebum that settled on scalp and negatively affects hair quality and growth. It implies that charcoal promotes hair growth. The natural hair colourant used in this process armours the hair with lustre and protection against bacteria and fungi. It nourishes the scalp and protects it from dandruff infections and maintains the hair’s natural moisture level. The eye lashes are also darkened to complement the facial look of a wearer.

 

The haircut helps to focus on the facials of a wearer since the hair receives little or no elaborate ornamentation. Usually, queen mothers who wear this hairstyle are not supposed to wear earrings during possessions or durbars. Judging from the benefits of charcoal in natural hair treatment it is not surprising that it features as essential ingredient in modern cosmetics manufacturing.

 

The dansinkran hairstyle serves as a socio-cultural barometer, political signifier and as a religious marker. This hairstyle help to identify queen mothers and female kings from other females. It is a symbolic hairstyle that was a preserve of the Akan feminine chiefdom and royals. Some priestesses also wear this hairstyle. Politically, the hairstyle symbolises authority, royalty and power of a female king or queen mother. In this sense, the hairstyle is status-defining in terms of the social rank. It is considered as inevitable lifestyle heritage that needs to be preserved among the chiefdom. When a king or chief passes on, a queen mother who is not wearing that hairstyle is not allowed to pay homage to him/her.

 

In the case of queen mothers, they complement this hairstyle with a feminine Ghanaian fashion classic named queen mothers’ style. This classic consists of a wraparound fashion of a six-yard fabric that stretches from the chest regions to beyond the knee, which is accentuated by another six-yard fabric draped in toga style. The wearing of this classic in addition to the hairstyle has bestowed onto it, the name dansinkran, hence, both the hairstyle and the classic are named as such. Despite the symbolism of the hairstyle, it now worn by the youth in contemporary times. It has acquired the name sweat. The only difference is that the youth who wear the hairstyle do not apply the charcoal mixture on their hairs. It has become unisex hairstyle among the youth.

 

The Western hair superiority politics could not erode the many centuries old hair identity visual code and marker that characterised the majority of the chieftaincy institutions in Ghana. As a traditional lifestyle culture that has proved unyielding despite black hair discrimination and politics, it is an important tool in the decolonisation of Afrocentric hair beauty culture practice and education.

 

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