By Murungi Atuhairwe, RA 2018 Fellow
“Don’t come back here if you’ve actually cut your hair,” my mum shouted from the other end of the line after telling her about my big chop. I had tried to prepare her for this, but she wouldn’t listen. I was not ready to let her decide my hair journey again. She had taken me to the salon for my first perm before joining university, insisting that natural hair was for ‘poor people’.
Two years later, her view of my mane hasn’t changed, but fortunately, my confidence in my strands has grown.
Many young black women like me have faced discrimination; at home, work place and even from our inner circles. I remember the looks my friends would give me with my tweet-weeky afro (commonly known as TWA), or with my finger coils. The exhaustion from having to deal with all this negative perception about my natural hair got me wondering about who sets these standards – long and silky – as the more acceptable.
Over time, I’ve come to learn that the struggles I faced starting out this journey is very similar to that of many young women trying to keep their hair in its natural form. We still have a long way to go, especially in majority of our traditional schools that do not accept us with kinky hair to keep it but allow for girls with silky and straight hair (mostly foreigners) to do the opposite. My classmates and I struggled with esteem because our hair couldn’t grow at the same pace with the rest or didn’t have the color, we wished we had.
However, as we continued struggling with these challenges, the Ugandan natural hair industry has been growing. It has grown into a movement over the years and is now dominated by brands like Livara beauty by Musiimenta Maxine, Kentaro handmade organics by Charline Kalentaro Otim, Thamani organics among others. Different natural hair salons have also come up like the Enviri za Nacho Shop and salon who have made the natural hair products available and organized talk shows where naturalists come together to learn more about their hair.
Myra, the CEO of Afros and Mo, one of the leading natural hair salons, has been hosted on various T.V shows and talk shows. She has used these platforms as well as their social media pages to show how natural hair is beautiful and teach women how well they can take care of their hair, in its natural state.
I cannot talk about the natural hair movement in Uganda and leave out Kyomugisha Amaani, aka Kyommm.book page. She was of so much help during my transitioning. There’s a way she talks about natural hair with such enthusiasm and that greatly helped me deal with the criticisms and discrimination during my early days as a natural. The natural hair Uganda facebook group is alot more like family with lots of friends sharing their experiences, styles and inspirational along their natural hair journey.
These and many more have shaped the world of curls in Uganda, inspiring many ladies to embrace the natural hair movement and overcome the stereotypes. This has resulted into events like the Kinks and Curls expo that happens annually. Organized by the Natural Hair Uganda, it features different brands and entrepreneurs that run businesses around kinky coils. Many mainstream salons have adapted to using sulphate after products to favor their naturalista clientele, the latest being Zziwa, Hair by zziwa.
On the international scene, Nick Kaepernick the N.F.L player has time and again been criticized for wearing his Afro. Many actresses and models have failed auditions simply for having natural hair. I’m 2017, Lupita Nyong’o blasted the Grazia magazine for editing her natural hair to give it a smooth look. The magazine editors thought her hair didn’t look as beautiful.
The journey to keep my hair natural has taught me numerous lessons about self awareness, esteem, and bodily autonomy. I’ve learnt that we’re all uniquely beautiful. Different manes have different curls and that’s the beauty. Each one’s hair is different in protein content, porosity, colour, texture. The day you get to know your hair type and falling love with it, sister, that’ll be your liberation day.
We don’t need to have a Ugandan version of Sanaa Lathan’s Nappily ever after to wake us up, or to wait till your favorite celebrity transitions and you think it’s pretty to try it out. You have all you need right within you. To tell yourself that your crown doesn’t have to look like anyone’s. You’re unique. You are you…The self-awareness and enlightment doesn’t stop with character. It goes all the way to every part of your anatomy. You must know how each of them looks like, functions and how to take care of it, them watch it blossom before your very eyes.
I’ve learnt that I have the power to let anyone put me down, or get up and wear my crown straight. Like Nyong’o you can either fight back or give to their pressures. Like AFROS AND MO has been doing awareness talks in traditional schools in Uganda, we need to learn that our hair is differently beautiful and love it. That’s when you’ll realise the glamour in the curls and coils that don’t exist in the blonde and straight hair.
That it isn’t straight and permed hair. This is about hair, specifically the minority hair. One that we all don’t think is good enough to go to office, a dinner date, or a friend’s party. It’s still hair. Let those with permed hair think everyone should straighten out their hair, or those with natural hair with chemicals that were banned. We all have our crowns, endowed with different stones that glitter differently. Stop focusing on the glitter of your neighbor’s crown and you forget your own sparkle.