The African Black Hair Photo Diary: A Sierra Leonean Girl’s Journey from Braids, Weaves, to Cornrows, Afros, Twists and everything in between

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It’s been almost two months now since i chopped off my afro and went Grace Jones. Alot of people have asked me why i cut my hair. In my three years in Sierra Leone  I have tried almost every possible type of hairstyle and in the beginning it was liberating experience to be able to change my hair and assume the different identities without fear of being stereotyped as being one way or the other.

When i was in the States I fell in love with the nappy hair movement and reveled in being natural. It was an educational experience discovering the long forgotten texture of my natural hair which was lost in the the first perm of 1993 at age 9years. I had long since begged my mother to perm my hair but in the summer of 1993 she finally acquiesced after i got a bad case of lice. My cousin Salwa and I got our first perms together.

Over the years my hair was permed every 3 weeks and braided for school. By the time we made it to Ethiopia in 1994 i can not deny envying the beautiful long hair of the Ethiopian girls at school. In 1995, after my first visit to America I came back to Addis with a head full of slicked back gelled hair a la TLC, then my favorite group. When i fell in love with Brandy’s braids in  the video “i wanna be down” i started braiding my hair again; getting it in a short bob or really long down my back. Most of the African girls at Sanford English Community School had braids and i was happy to braid my hair. Every couple weeks we’d dedicate 5/6 hours to the braiding process, it use to hurt but there was a saying sierra leonean girls learned very early “yanga na pain” which translates along the lines of to make yourself beautiful is painful.

When I moved to the States in 1998 my hair was unequal. My then best friend Sallie had used a curling iron and accidentally burnt my hair off. I didnt want to cut my hair to make it even so for the longest time I had uneven hair. When i went to the States my father had to bear the burden of paying for me to get my hair then an excercise that never cost less then $100 a month. I remember the first time he took me to get my hair done and the shock and surprise of learning that my braids were going to cost $200. I didn’t even like the braids.

All through high school my father probably spent between $500-$800 paying for my hair to be done. Funnily enough, he never really complained and as a good african dad accepted the expense as a fact of life. After spending $100 to get your hair done you have to tie your head at night and make sure that the hair stays neat for as long as possible. As my curly natural hair would begin to unravel around the edges i would sometimes remove the braids and re-do them all around to maintain a fresher do.

I headed to college in 2002 and during my 4 year high school experience i only removed my braids in the final semester of senior year. I graduated with blond streaks, and a perm on my head. My first semester at Haverford College i had long braids, with human hair and for the first two years that was my style. I’d braid my hair at the start of the semester and keep it till fall break when i absolutely had to make a trip to 125th street in Harlem for some cornrows which were usually cheaper than single braids. I hated getting my hair done in the over crowded and loud salons where mostly francophone African women competed for customers. “Braid Miss, Braid? I give u good price”.

In 2004 I moved to Paris and found myself without a full time stylist or access to someone who could do my hair. I had to take the RER train to a banlieue  an hour out of Paris to a woman i paid 50 Euros to braid my hair. I didn’t have alot of money in Paris and i hated having to spend the little money i had for food on my hair. I had been toying with the idea of going natural since i first went to Haverford. There is something about the intellectual black experience that makes a sister wanna go natural, and once your eyes are open it definitely starts to weigh down on your mind.

So i was in Paris, No Money, and No Hair Dresser. Two weeks after my 20th birthday i got in the shower and asked my friend Sallie to cut my hair. As my permed hair fell on the floor i discovered soft curly hair at the root bottom my of hair. I played with it all night as we went to out to celebrate my new do.

My mother was shocked and surprised and i remember her saying that she didnt like it at all. A couple days into my christmas holiday in Freetown she convince me to braid my hair which i did and gladly removed soon as i was back in Paris. Initially, i thought men would react to me differently if i didn’t have any hair but what i discovered was that it made me somewhat exotic to both Parisian and African men.

I headed back for the States after a year abroad and I was a new person. My views on race and culture had changed. I was no longer a semi millitant black woman, I had blossomed into a global african citizen fully armed with my natural hair which I saw as a statement of my new found identity.

At graduation I was the only one who did not wear a cap. I had a braided frohawk and i didn’t want to ruin it, i tried to wear the cap but it just didnt look right so I took it off for the entire ceremony

Fast forward to working and living and working in NYC and my hair was between my afro, corn rows, and braids, never fully embracing the weave because i didn’t want to bear the weight of the stereotypes of black women with weaves, however true or false they were.

I came to Sierra Leone probably more educated about black hair than most. I had spent countless hours reading blogs, magazines, and researching products and styles on natural hair care. I started out with very tiny small corn rows..local called brush or sade in Nigeria. Then I launched my frohawk which I must say is now one of the most popular local hair styles. Then I progressed to big thick fat cornrows braided up in a bun. Then i down graded to thick corn rows coming straight back. After that I did blonde single braids, short kinky twists, long fat twists, full afro, two strand twists and twists outs, many different colors and sizes of corn rows and single braids, braided mohawk.

In december of 2008, my friend Mahawa convinced me to get a weave and we spotted shirley temple curls for new year and I went weave crazy. I’ve had a long weave, curly weave, bob weave, rihanna weave, and all the weaves in between. I created my own signature braided styles and became known for creative braids and hair dos.

When I started doing my  TV show I had a different hair style for each episode which meant that I was in the hair salon every week or so. By the end of last year I knew something was wrong when the Salon gave me a gift as their best customer. I had spent so much money there that they actually gave me a gift.

The year rolled around and I was still spotting different hair dos every week but i realized i had now trapped myself into a never ending cycle of having to do my hair. The worst being that I felt that every hair do had to out do the last. Before i knew it I was spending $50 a week on my hair in Sierra Leone. It was getting absolutely ridiculous, wasteful, and crazy.

So in April this year after a night out with friends left my Rihanna weave smoke filled and sweaty i came home cut out the weave, combed out my fro and 5:00 am in the morning with my mother asleep in bed I took a pair of scissors and cut off my hair.

I released myself from my self imposed hair addiction. It’s been two months now and while i get the urge to braid every now I am currently hair free stuck between Grace Jones and myself.

I am happy with my hair and most importantly happy with my self.

  • Ms.Willie-B
  • C. Dominica