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Whoopi Goldberg is a prominent dreadlock wearer.

Dreadlocks , short dreads (from English dread , " fear "), also felt curls , are strands of matted head hair . These can develop on their own if the hair is not combed , cut or shaved for a long period of time ; however, the matting is usually brought about artificially by aids.

Dreadlocks can come in different shapes, thicknesses and lengths. There are also completely man-made dreadlocks made of wool , known as silky dreadlocks . Some dreadlock wearers (so-called dread heads) also decorate their hair with various jewelry such as beads made of wood, metal, polymer clay or other materials. In Europe and the USA , dreadlocks are mostly worn as a fashionable hairstyle . In some cultures, such as the Rastafari , they can also have religious or spiritual backgrounds.

More terms

The terms Rasta curls , Rasta braids or Rastas are often used synonymously for dreadlocks, but also stand for other hairstyles, for example the braided braids and often also cornrows that are braided directly on the scalp. The term Rasta refers to followers of the Rastafarian culture. The term Afro curls is used less often, as it can easily be confused with the Afro look .

In the English language, especially among the Rastafari, the expression Natty Dreadlocks (more rarely Knotty Dreadlocks ) is common.


Hairstyles made from matted hair have appeared again and again in the history of mankind in different cultures.


In Europe, too, matted hairstyles were popular, for example at the court of King Christian IV of Denmark and Norway (1577–1648). The king suffered from a braid of the Vistula , an undesirable agglomeration of matted hair that was widespread throughout Central Europe from the Middle Ages to the early modern period . The king's wistula braid was shaped like a “pig's tail” that hung down from the left side of his head and was decorated with a red bow. To flatter the king, this hairstyle was imitated by the people at his court. In combination with the millstone collar , matted braids served as a fashionable royal hairstyle variant. It was also believed that diseases caused by the hair left the body and the matting of hair was seen as a good sign, so it should not be cut off. French soldiers also wore matted hair on their necks as protection against saber attacks .


In various religions wearing dreadlocks has through the faith -related spiritual background.


In the pre-Columbian Aztec culture of Central America before the Spanish conquest of Mexico, a similar hairstyle made of long, unkempt, and even moldy hair was the hallmark of the priesthood .

This is how William Hickling Prescott describes in his book The Conquest of Mexico about Aztec priests: "(...) their long and matted locks flowed disorderly over their dark robes (...)".

When a young nobleman chose the priestly career in the religious schools called Calmecac, his hair was shaved and from that point on remained untouched and never cut. They were tied back with white tape and soot was smeared all over their bodies. The hair became matted over time and became long and moldy.

For the priests, their hair was an important status symbol. Should a priest be punished, his hair was cut off as a sign of public desecration .


Sadhus with dreadlocks in Kathmandu , Nepal .

Another example is Hinduism . The Veda scriptures , which are dated between 1200 and 500 BC, describe the deity Shiva and her followers as jaTaa (probably from the Dravidian word caTai = "twist" or "wrap", meaning "wearing twisted locks of hair").

One of the Hindu monk groups in India , the so-called sadhus , see the dreadlocks as a direct bond with Shiva , the deity of destruction and construction. At the beginning of their monastic life, their hair is shaved off as a sign of purification and respect for Shiva. As a sign of lifelong loyalty, hair is no longer cut after shaving in this phase of life and is mostly matted or worn as dreadlocks. Often the matted hair is pinned up or worn under a turban / cloth. Through contact with the Indian babas, dreadlocks came into the India-based hippie scene at the beginning of the 70s, with which dreadlocks - besides the Rastafari - are particularly strongly associated to this day. A legend of the Hindus shows the important role that Shiva's hair is assigned: in order to perform a redeeming death ritual for the dead sons of King Sagara , it was necessary to bring the river goddess Ganga (derived from the river Ganges ) down from heaven to earth. A descendant of Sagara, Bhagiratha, succeeded after many years of asceticism in persuading the goddess to flow back to earth. She warned against it, however, because its falling water would shatter the earth. Shiva alone is able to gently catch the water. After a thousand years of asceticism, Shiva promised his help. As the masses of water fell, he slowed the impact with his holy hair and let the gush flow over his seven long magical locks in seven streams onto the earth.


Historical picture of a dervish with dreadlocks.
Followers of the Baye Fall in Mboro , Senegal .

In Islamic mysticism , the Sufism , dreadlocks are common. Dreadlocks are traditionally worn by dervishes of all ethnicities and skin colors.

The Malangs, Babas and Qalandar -Fakirs in India, Pakistan , Egypt , Iraq and Sudan still wear dreadlocks more often today. In the past, this led to confusion with sadhus in India . Both groups were sometimes referred to as fakirs . The hostility and stigmatization of Sufism supporters as alleged heretics after the end of the Ottoman Empire meant that many Sufism supporters had to go underground. In Turkey and the Arab countries in particular, wearing dreadlocks (and the Sufism turban) is now rare.

In Senegal , the members of the Islamic Sufi order Baye Fall , which belongs to the Muridiyya movement, are famous for their hairstyles, which they call Ndiagne (“thick hair”), and for their multi-colored clothes. Sheikh Ibrahima Fall , founder of the Baye Fall School, claims to be "the first dreadlock wearer in West Africa".

According to tradition, the apostle Ibrahima Fall held out his hands to the face of Sheikh Amadou Bamba , who in 1887 founded the Sufism Brotherhood (" Tariqa ") Muridiyya. The spiritual guide looked at his disciple and spat on the palms of his hands. So blessed, Ibrahima Fall rubbed his head with his hands and vowed never to wash his hair again because of this gift.


Today's distribution of dreadlocks has its origin in the Rastafarian movement. In the 1930s, the Rastafari formed a small minority within the lower social class on the Caribbean island of Jamaica .

The name Ras tafari derives from the recourse of Messiah recognized Ethiopians from Ras Tafari Makonnen, who as Haile Selassie the Emperor was crowned. His followers consider him to be a saving figure who is mentioned as the “ lion of Judas ” in the Revelation of John ( Rev 5.5  EU ) (New Testament).

After the end of the Italo-Ethiopian War in 1936, Haile Selassie fled the country. His followers then vowed not to cut their hair and let it grow naturally until the emperor was back on the throne. In doing so, they were guided by a commandment from the fourth book of Moses ( Num 6.5  EU ) (Old Testament), which prescribes that the hair should grow freely during a vow .

Haile Selassie returned to his throne in 1941. At that time, however, the dreadlocks had long had an independent meaning.

Delilah shears off Samson's seven locks, copperplate engraving by Master ES (around 1460/1465).

An additional myth is that Rastafarians wear matted hair as they believe the hair gives them strength and power. The model is, among other things, the biblical story of the Israelite leader Samson from the Book of Judges ( Judges 13  EU , Judges 14  EU , Judges 15  EU and Judges 16  EU , Old Testament), who wore seven locks as a sign of divine strength. He lost his strength when his lover Delilah , who was a spy for the enemy Philistines , cut off his curls.

At the same time, the Rastafari wanted to deliberately distance themselves from the " imported " culture and the ideal of beauty of the white upper class , i.e. the British colonial power , and thus protest against the destruction of their culture. Since the matted curls of the Rastafari did not correspond to the ideal of beauty of the whites at all, they were perceived by outsiders as threatening or repulsive. For these reasons, all sorts of negative rumors quickly spread about the Rastafarians themselves, so that the other people began to be afraid of them and not only found the hairstyle repulsive. Hence “dread” from “fear” or “dreadful” from “terrible”, “terrible”.

These quickly became the symbols of the Rastafari, and with the success of reggae music, dreadlocks also became known and loved around the world.

Since many Rastafari smoke marijuana ("ganja"), the cliché of the dreadlock- wearing stoner also arose in western cultures .

Ideological motivations

For some people of African descent, their hairstyle, which is characterized by wavy and frizzy hair, is an expression of ethnic pride. For example, during the civil rights and black power movements of the 1950s and 1960s, African-Americans interpreted hair straightening - which was particularly popular with women at the time - as an adaptation to and submission to the Europe-centered culture of whites and therefore rejected it.

Even Malcolm X was initially short straight hair (the so-called Conk ) what he later described as "the first step to deny his identity as a black man."

With the development of the black civil rights movement, “original African” hairstyles became popular instead, to express individuality and freedom, but also as a rejection of oppression and imperialism , as a sign of black nationalistic or pan-African political convictions, as symbols for black people Unity and power as well as to emphasize the African roots. These hairstyles initially included the afro look , later dreadlocks were added in connection with the spread of reggae. In the meantime, however, wearing dreadlocks has become mainstream and has lost its explicitly political message.

The anti- establishment philosophy of the Rastafari, repeated in many reggae songs of the 1970s, also had an impact on the white population, especially among politically left-wing youth, so that dreadlocks became popular here too. At the same time as the reggae movement began, dreadlocks became popular in the Goatrance scene in the 1970s, when the Goa-based hippies began to adopt the hairstyle, jewelry and attitudes of the Indian sadhus and to transform them into a new subculture. Therefore, dreadlocks are still very common in today's Goa scene. Likewise in the alternative movement , which functions as a generic term for left-alternative lifestyles. Dreads are also represented in the anti-globalization and environmental activists ' movements.

In the 1990s, for example, the British Daniel Hooper alias Swampy was a well-known wearer.

Sub and pop culture

Within different subcultures , mostly influenced by styles of music or politics , dreadlocks can be an expression of creative self-development or demarcation. For the wearer they are a symbol of individuality and a form of rebellion against traditional conventions and restrictions.

Dreadlocks as a stylistic device for expressing sympathy or eccentricity are widely accepted in pop culture and have established themselves as a hairstyle. The felt hairstyle is also represented among actors, musicians and athletes.

The spread of the dance music ska by Jamaican immigrants in England in the 1960s, but above all the success of reggae, which emerged from ska during the 1970s , brought the hairstyle international attention.

Numerous musicians from these closely related genres, including the Jamaican ska group The Skatalites and the Jamaican reggae singers Bob Marley and Peter Tosh , made the hairstyle known worldwide.

More recently, dreadlocks have also become popular in the punk and metal scenes (especially nu metal ). Well-known bands who contributed to this include Korn , POD , Coal Chamber , In Flames and Ill Nino .

World record

The American Asha Mandela holds the title of Longest Dreadlocks in the World in the Guinness Book of Records . Her dreadlocks were 8 feet and 9 inches (about 2.67 meters) long at the time of the record. The 46 year old woman has grown her hair for the past twenty years. She uses a full bottle of shampoo and a bottle of conditioner to wash her hair.

Production and method of creation

Schematic representation of crocheting .

Traditionally, dreadlocks are created automatically through slow matting if the hair is not cut or combed. Human hair with a strong natural frizze becomes matted very quickly, with straight hair the process takes much longer, which is why the matting process is often artificially accelerated for reasons of time.

As an artificial method especially the mechanical felting is popular, in which the hair often roughened by repeated combing against the hair growth direction or toupiert be (Backcombing method).

Friction is also used. There are two options here: The highlight method is suitable for longer hair. The hair is rubbed between two fingers until small knots are formed. The rubbing method is used on short hair, whereby it is rubbed on the scalp for several months until a pile of felt is formed, on which the dreads will soon adjust themselves. Dreadlocks must also always be re-felted in order to avoid smooth regrowth. To aid the process, it is recommended that you wash them with sea salt shampoo, as this tends to dry out the hair. On the other hand, silicone-containing shampoos should be avoided as they tend to straighten the hair. Also curd soap performs its basicity to an unnecessary irritation of the scalp, continue to remain unsaponified grease residues in the hair and can smell bad after a short time.

There is still the misconception that dreadlocks are treated with special hair wax , which is completely counterproductive because the wax slows down the felting process and makes the dreadlocks greasy. One technique is to crochet smaller strands into existing dreadlocks.

There is also the option to braid the hair and let it grow. The hair then grows back on the scalp as dreadlocks.


  • Volker Barsch: Rastafari: From Babylon to Africa. History, background and values ​​of the Rasta movement. Ventil, Mainz 2003, ISBN 978-3-930559-97-8 .
  • Werner Zips: Rastafari: A universal philosophy in the 3rd millennium. Promedia, Vienna 2007, ISBN 978-3-85371-265-8 .

Web links

Commons : Dreadlocks  - Collection of pictures, videos and audio files
Wikibooks: Dreadlocks  - learning and teaching materials
Wiktionary: Dreadlocks  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Friedrich Beschorner: Der Weichselzopf: After statistical and physiological relationships Verlag Hirt, 1844 restricted preview in the Google book search.
  2. Hairstyles to ward off saber attacks. In: jungle-world.com. Retrieved July 19, 2016 .
  3. ^ William Hickling Prescott : History of the Conquest of Mexico , 1843 (German translation, Die Eroberung von Mexico , Parkland Verlag, 2000) ISBN 3-88059-993-9 .
  4. Information about the hairstyles of the Aztecs at www.mexicolore.co.uk (English)
  5. Frances Berdan / Patricia Anawalt: The Essential Codex Mendoza (University of California Press, 1997).
  6. Narration of the Hindu legend and further information about dreadlocks in the second part of the report Grow your natty Dreadlocks on www.r-mag.de ( Memento of December 2, 2007 in the Internet Archive ).
  7. Information about the history of dreadlocks, including dervishes, on www.dreadlockz.net .
  8. Narrative of the foundation of the Baye Fall and further information about dreadlocks in the second part of the report Grow your natty Dreadlocks on www.r-mag.de ( Memento of December 2nd, 2007 in the Internet Archive ).
  9. Martin Luther : The Bible - Lutherbibel Standard Edition , German Bible Society, Stuttgart, 1985, ISBN 3-438-01562-5 .
  10. Malcolm's Conk and Danto's Colors; Or, Four Logical Petitions concerning Race, Beauty and Aesthetics ( Memento of March 3, 2009 in the Internet Archive ), from the Journal: The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism , January 1999. 57.1, pp. 16-20.
  11. ^ Hauke ​​Dorsch: African Diaspora and Black Atlantic. LIT Verlag Münster, 2000, ISBN 978-3-8258-3929-1 , p. 132. Restricted preview in the Google book search.
  12. ^ Guinness World Records 2010, Bibliographisches Institut, Mannheim
  13. Contribution to the attempted record list of the longest dreadlocks in the world ( memento of March 4, 2016 in the Internet Archive ) in the Guinness Book of Records at www.worldamazingrecords.com with video.