Black history: Women, HEAD WRAPS & BACON GREASE

ETHIOPIA – CIRCA 1973: A skullcap of butter is smeared thickly over a bride’s hair, Ethiopia (Photo by James A. Sugar/National Geographic/Getty Images)

Without the combs and herbal treatments used in Africa, in the 1800’s slaves whose hair was not cut off relied on bacon grease, butter and kerosene as hair conditioners and cleaners.

When slaves were captured, their hair was cut off, in order to begin the process of eradicating culture and identity. They were then given head-wraps to use protect against harsh weather and the spread of head lice. When hair grew back, there was no time to form elaborate hair styles. Originally, these head-wraps were given to both sexes but later were used exclusively by women. In some places in the South, women were required by law to secure their hair in these wraps.

While the head-wraps signified poverty and inferiority to the slave owners, to the women they became a source of communal and personal identity. The style in which head-wraps were worn depended on the region, and also differed slightly for each individual.

The wearer would tie her wrap uniquely, developing a style and look that suited her. In this way, the head-wraps gave the women a sense of liberty and empowerment.

And now…


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