Dreadlocks, also called locks or dreads, are interlocked coils of hair which form by themselves, in all hair types, if the hair is allowed to grow naturally without grooming for a long period of time. Dreadlocks are associated most closely with the Rastafari movement.


The first known examples of dreadlocks date back to ancient dynastic Egypt. Examples of Egyptians wearing locked hairstyles and wigs have appeared on bas-reliefs, statuary and other artifacts. Mummified remains of ancient Egyptians with locks, as well as locked wigs, also have been recovered from archaeological sites.

The locked Hindu deity Shiva and his followers were described in the scriptures as wearing "jaTaa", meaning "twisted locks of hair", probably derived from the Dravidian word "caTai", which means to twist or to wrap. The Greeks, the Pacific Ocean peoples, the Naga people and several ascetic groups within various major religions have at times worn their hair in locks, these include the Nazirites of Judaism, the Sadhus of Hinduism, the Dervishes of Islam and the Coptic Monks of Christianity, among others. The very earliest Christians also may have worn this hairstyle. Particularly noteworthy are descriptions of James the Just, first Bishop of Jerusalem, who wore them to his ankles.

Locks may have also been part of Mesoamerican culture before the 16th century Spanish conquest.

In Senegal, the Baye Fall, followers of the Mouride movement, a sect of Islam indigenous to the country which was founded in 1887 by Shaykh Aamadu Bàmba Mbàkke, are famous for growing locks and wearing multi-colored gowns. Cheikh Ibra Fall, founder of the Baye Fall school of the Mouride Brotherhood, claims that he was "the first dread in West Africa".

In Jamaica the term dreadlocks was first recorded in the 1950s as a term for the "Young Black Faith", an early sect of the Rastafari which began among the marginalized poor of Jamaica in the 1930s, when they ceased to copy the particular hair style of Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia and began to wear dreadlocks instead. It was said that the wearer lived a "dread" life or a life in which he feared God, which gave birth to the modern name 'dreadlocks' for this ancient style.

Most Rastafari still attribute their dreadlocks to Selassie as well as the three Nazarite vows, in the Book of Numbers, the fourth of the books of the Pentateuch.

All the days of the vow of his separation there shall no razor come upon his head: until the days be fulfilled, in the which he separateth himself unto the LORD, he shall be holy, and shall let the locks of the hair of his head grow. (Numbers 6:5, KJV)

Nazarites for life who wore locks and were mentioned in the Bible include the Nazarites Samuel, John the Baptist, and probably the most famous biblical figure with locked hair, Samson, who, according to scripture, had seven locks and lost his great strength when they were cut.


The rise in popularity of reggae music during the 1970s and the worldwide fame of singer and songwriter Bob Marley, who exhibited dreadlocks for many years, prompted an interest in locks internationally. The anti-establishment philosophy of Rastafari, echoed in much of the reggae of the time, had a particular resonance for many left-leaning youth.

Like the afro, locks also can have social and political ramifications. For some peoples of African descent, locks are a statement of ethnic pride. Some see them as a repudiation of Eurocentric values represented by straightened hair. For some, the rejection of ideas and values deemed alien to African peoples (which locks embody) sometimes can assume a spiritual dimension. Similarly, others wear locks as a manifestation of their black nationalist or pan-Africanist political beliefs and view locks as symbols of black unity and power, and a rejection of oppression and imperialism. While most Rastafari sects welcome all ethnicities and the history of locks attributes the hairstyle to almost all ethnic groups, some blacks who attach strong ethnic meaning to locks disapprove of the wearing of locks by white people viewing such practice as a form of cultural appropriation.

In white counterculture, locks have become popular among groups such as the "anti-globalization" movement and environmental activists (such as Swampy, well-known in the 1990s). One issue of SchNEWS, an English anarchist newsletter, described the coming together of striking dockworkers and green protesters as "Docks and dreadlocks come together". Some people also describe them as "neo-hippies".

Rastafari and British film director and musician Don Letts, explained the punk-rasta unity, which emerged in Great Britain during the early 1970s, in terms of a shared sense of a rebellion against the establishment and established norms.

Dreadlocks are likewise popular in reggae and ska subcultures.

In the 1990s dreadlocks became more common among heavy metal fans. Musicians such as Max Cavalera started to fuse heavy metal with Brazilian tribal music. Dreadlocks came into prominence in the 90's with the introduction of Nu metal with many bands such as Korn, P.O.D and Incubus donning dreadlocks. Rob Zombie, Anders Fridén, Chris Barnes and Tom Kaulitz are other prominent artists known to wear their hair in dreads.

Within other youth subcultures, locks can variously be a means of creative self-expression, a symbol of individualism and a form of rebellion against traditional ties and restrictions. For example the members of the Cybergoth movement in Europe setting out to shock with creative hair displays like wildly coloured lock wigs, "dread falls" and elaborate extensions complemented by dramatic make-up to oppose representations of authority and conformity.

Certain children, especially Africans, cultivate dreadlocks from the time of birth which is sometimes thought to be a sign of spiritual power of the new born.

By culture


There are many reasons among various cultures for wearing locks. Locks can be an expression of deep religious or spiritual convictions, a manifestation of ethnic pride, a political statement, or be simply a fashion preference. In response to the derogatory history of the term dreadlocks, alternative names for the style include locks and African Locks. It is also argued that the accurate term for the process of creating the style is locking rather than dreading.

Among some Sadhus and Sadhvis, Indian holy men and women, locks are sacred, considered to be a religious practice and an expression of their disregard for profane vanity, as well as a symbol of their spiritual understanding that physical appearances are unimportant. The public symbol of matted hair is re-created each time an individual goes through these unique experiences. In almost all myths about Shiva and his flowing locks, there is a continual interplay of extreme asceticism and virile potency, which link the elements of destruction and creation, whereas the full head of matted hair symbolizes the control of power.

Gangadhara Shiva captures and controls the river Ganges with his locks, whose descent from the heavens would have deluged the world. The river is released through the locks of his hair, which prevents the river from destroying earth. As the Lord of Dance, Nataraja, Shiva performs the tandava, which is the dance in which the universe is created, maintained, and resolved. Shiva's long, matted tresses, usually piled up in a kind of pyramid, loosen during the dance and crash into the heavenly bodies, knocking them off course or destroying them utterly.

Locks in India are reserved nearly exclusively for holy people. According to the 'Hymn of the longhaired sage' in the ancient Vedas, long jatas express a spiritual significance which implies the wearer has special relations with spirits, is an immortal traveller between two worlds and the master over fire:

The long-haired one endures fire, the long-haired one endures poison, the long-haired one endures both worlds. The long-haired one is said to gaze full on heaven, the long-haired one is said to be that light ... Of us, you mortals, only our bodies do you behold. ...For him has the Lord of life churned and pounded the unbendable, when the long-haired one, in Rudra’s company, drank from the poison cup (The Keshin Hymn, Rig-veda 10.136)

The Shaiva Nagas, ascetics of India, wear their jata (long hair) in a twisted knot or bundle on top of the head and let them down only for special occasions and rituals. The strands are then rubbed with ashes and cowdung, considered both sacred and purifying, then scented and adorned with flowers.


Similarly, the Rastafari wear locks as an expression of inner spirituality and to emphasize their idenity. Their religion states that they must remain "whole" (hence why Rastafari Bob Marley refused to have his cancerous toe removed which could have saved his life). Following Haile Selassie cutting dreads are highly prohibited in the rasta culture. Due to this dreads knot naturally because their hair is not to be tampered with

Another interpretation among the Rastafari is that "dread" refers to the fear that dreadlocked Mau Mau warriors inspired among the colonial British. The Mau Mau, a largely ethnic Kikuyu rebel group in Kenya fighting to overthrow their colonial British oppressors from 1952–1960, hid for many years in the forests, during which time their hair grew into long locks. The images of their rebellion, then broadcast around the world, are said to have inspired Jamaican Rastafari to wear locks.

Dreadlocks on a Rasta's head are symbolic of the Lion of Judah which is sometimes centered on the Ethiopian Flag. Rastas hold that Selassie is a direct descendant or reincarnated form of Christ. Rasta's also believe african people are the desendants of the IsraeliteIsreali people.Tribe of Judah Through the lineage of Kings of Israel David and Solomon, and that he is also the Lion of Judah mentioned in the Book of Revelation.

Western Styles and Co-optations

When reggae music gained popularity and mainstream acceptance in the 1970s, the locks (often called “dreads”) were co-opted by the secular and became a notable fashion statement; they were worn by prominent authors, actors, athletes and rappers, and were even portrayed as part and parcel of gang culture in such movies as Marked for Death.

With the "Rasta style", the fashion and beauty industries capitalized on the trend. A completely new line of hair care products and services emerged in salons that catered to a Caucasian clientele, offering all sorts of "dreadhead" hair care items such as wax (considered unnecessary and even harmful by some), shampoo, and jewelry. Hairstylists created a wide variety of modified locks, including multi-colored, synthetic lock extensions and "dread perms", where chemicals are used to treat the hair.

Hair salons in Black communities boomed as well, with well-known Black artists such as Rosalind Cash, Whoopi Goldberg, Alice Walker, Toni Morrison, Lauryn Hill, Lenny Kravitz, Bobby McFerrin, Malcolm Jamal Warner, Living Colour, Lil Wayne and Keith Hamilton Cobb inspiring a "new" look for Afrocentric hair free from chemical processing. While some mistakenly view Milli Vanilli as examples of this type of dread, their hair was actually styled in multiple braids viewable on several of their album covers. Microbraids as well as two-strand twists are sometimes mistaken for dreadlocks. Famous non African-Americans with dreadlocks include Zack de la Rocha, Rob Zombie, and Tom Kaulitz from Tokio Hotel.

Locked models appeared at fashion shows, and Rasta clothing with a Jamaican-style reggae look were sold. Even exclusive fashion brands like Christian Dior created whole Rasta-inspired collections worn by models with a variety of lock hairstyles.

See also



External links

Search another word or see dreadlockson Dictionary | Thesaurus |Spanish
Copyright © 2015 Dictionary.com, LLC. All rights reserved.
  • Please Login or Sign Up to use the Recent Searches feature