I cannot express the uneasiness in me caused by these findings that brought a nostalgic intrusion of mystery and beauty all at once. The truth about head wraps has released me from a tyranny of conscious thoughts about my past.
A story about my past is that , In the beginning of times, it is said that head wraps were a standard dress for the enslaved. In the west, they were worn by African-American slaves so as to absorb their perspiration as they worked tirelessly in the harsh sun. Now, the truth about my past is, here, south of the equator before slavery, Africans had identified with it as a communal identity symbol and further used it as a shield to tote water or balance off farm produce on their heads.
Originally from the sub-Sahara, head wraps are worn usually by women to functions or special celebrations as a sign of respect.In my Tswana culture, a head wrap, tukwi, is an essential cultural token – a concrete token or symbol of identification, and mostly worn as a status symbol and also signals botho “respect“. It is donned mostly by married women for special celebrations and occasions like weddings, or used as a veil for widows, but in black.
Fast forward to the modern times, one feet from gold, still painting our own visual meditation, head wraps are still regarded as a significant part in most African cultures. They are nowadays mostly worn as a sense of style -a fashion statement or as an accessory solution to cure a bad hair day. In fashion terms, the bold and ornate the cloth, the bolder the tribal art statement.
As I was skimming through historical articles and journals (Unwinding the symbols) about head wraps, I learnt that it might have been an object of oppression from one vantage point, years ago for Africans Americans but for us, Africans, it shall remain an important token of cultural conversation – a crown rather than a helmet of courage.
Therefore, on this day I say, NOW is the time, more than ever to be ruthless. Be ruthless with ourselves and embrace who we truly are. To the world, respect OUR doek, respect the tukwi, in all its African sherbet hues.
Happy Youth Day!
- The African American Woman’s Headwrap: Unwinding the Symbols By: Helen Bradley Griebel
Photography | Botlhe Dikobe