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In Namibia, were I am from, all through Primary school and High school, all the girls had to have our hair tied up with scrunchies and hair had to be out of our faces, All the girls. I am from Senegal and since most of us are Muslim, babies are shaved at birth and from then on, we wear braids and some of us get to perm their hair after age 10 and get weaves after 16 (I was only allowed to get a weave after 18 even though I had been in the US since 15).
I think it's important to point out in these discussions that these are modern African styling traditions which reflect colonial period attitudes. I have to agree with Naijaprincess, I grew up in Nigeria,and I actually wore my hair until secondary school (middle school and high school here).
I am Nigerian, born and bred, and I never had to cut my hair either in primary or secondary school.
I am from Senegal and interestingly enough for me, my desire to get a perm at 15 was for a desire to have my hair look like african-american celebrities' hair like Beyonce, kelly rowland, and the list goes on. I've been waiting for an African woman to post an article about natural hair in Africa. This is the one of the most thought-provoking and insight-worthy posts I've seen in a long time. Hi ladies, I'm so happy that there has been so many unique but varied responses to this post. Thanks for sharing your experiences Chy’s and providing many of us with insight into this custom. In primary school, every Monday morning we had assembly and our nails were checked (short, neat and no nail polish), our dresses had to be a certain length, shoes polished and clean, it was the same in high school, we wore white shirts and grey skirts. No one had a problem with it and while I cut it often it was always my decision, I would get tired of washing it, COMBING it and having it plaited. At the end of the day, in our culture, hair doesn't have the same cultural baggage as it does here in the US. I'm going to have to disagree slightly with the original poster regarding biracial kids being exempt from braiding or chopping their hair in Ghana. In my secondary school, a girls only school, we had hair styles(corn row) announced every Friday for the next week, and there were two default styles we could do any time.
As far as I know there were no restrictions on how girl's would wear their hair at school so long it was neat. Although I am fr States I live in Africa and see that it would be so nice if the women in Africa could be educated better on embracing their natural hair. Many African girls and women are influenced by African American celebrities, like Beyonce, Rihanna or Kelly Rowland. As an African-American woman in the United States, I've often wondered why African sisters abroad kept their hair short. As many have stated above- relaxing is a rite of passage for many young women because it distinguishes them from secondary school students.
Pretty much the entire world is because of how pervasive western media is and for other possible reasons. African women already have so much confidence and natural hair would just make them seem even more regal. I am currently in Nigeria but I grew up in the US and my hair was natural until junior year in high school.
As I stated in the original post, I was fascinated with finding out why, even though we have varying experiences (A vs. A little back story, I was born Nigerian and grew up in Nigeria until I was 10 years old when we moved to start a new life in Ghana. We have gotten into plenty of disagreements about hair because she still has that old world mentality from Ghana.
I always had long and very hick hair, and the kids at school always told me, that when I am 10 years old i will have to cut my hair, because thats how it goes. The shame modern Africans and Africans from the Diaspora harbor about their hair is a direct hold over from slavery and colonialism and the messaging that was drilled into us and passed along. In secondary school, everyone, black, white, pink, red, biracial cut their hair through middle school and we were allowed to grow it out in high school. In elementary school, our hair had to be neatly braided and groomed, and the braiding styles were often assigned- e.g. I think if there were more posts from our sisters throughout the world we would understand our history (of our hair included) and so much more. It's funny how we tend to ignore the influence african american entertainment has on other cultures.
I just came back from Nigeria and when I went to the salon with my aunties, they would always bring along pictures of the Nigerian or American celebrities whose hairstyles they wanted to emulate.Regarding hair styles in elementary and secondary school, I went to an all girl secondary school in Nigeria where every girl was required to wear a twa.
My family comes in all different shades- from Kelly Rowland's beautiful skin tone to very fair. Light skin is seen as more beautiful and kinky hair is usually seen as ugly and unmanageable.
I'm not going to even get into the historical reasons and implications of those words here.

The only reason I can think of for women with such vastly different experiences with hair to so tightly embrace relaxers is because either way they were taught to be ashamed of their hair. Since I spent most of my formative years in Ghana, that became more home to me than Nigeria was.
Those with curly hair want straight hair, those with straight hair want curly hair, those who are short want to be taller, those who are tall want to be shorter, those who are thin want to be curvier, those who are curvy want to be slimmer … and the list goes on and on and on. I recently cut off all my hair (a big deal for my people, lol) and I couldn't be happier. I think most Nigerians are just not as obsessed with hair as other cultures, of course that also means we are mostly uninformed about hair.
I know there were schools where you had to cut your hair, but the previous posters made it seem like all schools were like that, which is not the case.
Now that we are seeing more and more prominent figures proudly wearing their natural hair, other people including myself are feeling more comfortable with their textures. As far as my Ghanaian relatives go,besides just my cousin, brother and mum who like it, I think everyone else is choosing to invoke the 5th amendment, about going natural lol!I agree with Naijaprincess,although in Ghana, it had more to do with the school you attended-usually the public schools.
I think because Natural hair is not seen as desirable or sexy is WHY it's a rite of passage. If, as Anon 9:14 pm says that relaxed hair distinguishes older girls from their younger counterparts, then why is it still the norm for adult African women to keep their hair relaxed, weaved or braided?
What is mandatorily wearing very short hair throughout your school years but being told that your hair is not acceptable? There are many similarities between the two countries and one is the rule to have young girls wear a TWA until they graduate from high school.
Also, I think there is something to be said for personal aesthetic and some just prefer straight, flat, “swingy” hair whereas others prefer curly, full, gravity defying hair! I live in the States and I went natural cos I wanted my kinky hair,I had never liked straight hair and it was not as easy to get it braided as it was in Nigeria(I also desperately wanted short hair) it wasn't a big deal.
There were no exemptions due to hair texture or manageability- that may just be your own perception of the situation. I don't think the previous posters were implying that all secondary schools are like theirs, I think they were just speaking from their own experiences. Why is loose natural hair still frowned upon by African adults, do they regard their own hair as childish? Finally, and probably most significantly, I think that we share a common challenge and that is not knowing what our natural hair can really do and not knowing how to care for it in its natural state outside of braids, ponytails and TWAs. In terms of relaxers, I actually got mine late (around 12), most of my friends also around that same time. The pressure and push back that I got was in deciding to chop it all off- my dad actually called a family meeting of our entire- immediate and extended and begged my aunties to talk some sense into me because he thought I was going through some sort of quarter life crisis.
I have observed a recent trend of Africans at home and in the diaspora reclaiming their culture through fashion.
It might not hold the same weight as it does for African Americans but there's still a lot of discomfort with how our hair grows out of our head.
I’ve noticed many young girls with their hair shaved off and older women with weaves and wigs everywhere you turn here in Nigeria. Like you, Anon 10:05, I will continue to look at the numerous hair blogs of the many African- Americans who are at the forefront of the natural hair care evolution. I think with us, it had more to do with the fact that it was mandatory to have swimming lessons twice a week and do sports once a weeks and we had to do an extra mural sport in the afternoon, so relaxing hair was not on lol. It is hard for me to understand, but it seems that they feel personallly attacked,when a black woman decides to wear her hair natural. Whenever I visit Nigeria, I am not asked to get a relaxer, I am usually asked to wear it in a pulled back puff (which everyone seems to love) or to get it in plaits (mostly because I wear my hair in an uncombed mess for the most parts). I big chopped two months before I graduated from med school,so I guess he thought I was having a nervous breakdown and the stress and anxiety had finally taken its toll on me.
But one of my cousins just had hair that always slipped out of braids and ended looking a mess by the end of the day, so she had to wear it up in a pony tail or in a french braid. However, in my region in Nigeria- Owerri to be exact, most of the public secondary schools in that region required girls to wear twas. I am excited to see so many more African women rocking modern styles made from African prints and wearing their hair natural and looking fly as hell. I'm saying all this as a Nigerian born in Nigeria, raised there and raised in the States.
For African-American women, it often comes from having relaxers or braids from a young age and not knowing how to care for their hair in any other state.
Most of us girls would do our hair during the holidays and then when it came back to going to school, we would have our hair braided or cornrowed.
I should also point out that even when my hair was relaxed in Nigeria (and it was healthy and long) I never wore it out, I always wore it in plaits and braids which is what most Nigerian women I know do, and if your hair is in Braids (which is not a western style btw) who cares if it's relaxed or natural.
However, the vast majority of them with kinky curly hair wore their hair in the mandated braided hairstyles etc.

I went to Holy Child, an all catholic girls boarding school and you can expect a statement like that from a teacher, which could be followed by him or hair zipping a pair of scissors through your hair.
It’s a choice and we should be able to move between the two with complete ease and clarity.
I noticed that many (not all) private schools permitted their female students to wear their hair at whatever length they wanted, as long as it was braided up neatly.
For Nigerian and Ghanaian women, keeping the hair short effectively does the same thing as it’s pretty much wash and go.
By the way, I was born in Zambia and Moved to Namibia (when in Zambia, my hair was tied up or plaited or braided - Never relaxed). I got my first relaxer (which my mum did not approve of) because I could not abide combing my hair, it was the most painful thing ever, and for that reason I cut my hair often, now I have a better handle on it.
I also grew up around of a lot of Indians and Lebanese in Nigeria- obviously they couldn't comply with the braid mandate for girls in my primary school but they were required to wear their up and out of their faces. When it comes to negative statements about natural hair, I think, the less educated a person is, the more you can expect to hear negative comments from them, if I take a stroll through the market or through a village somewhere, I will not be surprised by the number of people who would wonder why my hair isn't relaxed, these are the same people who usually bleach their skin. The only girls who were exempt from this rule (public and private school) were those who were biracial.
One is never able to learn how to care for natural hair allowed to grow long, which requires a certain level of knowledge and skill. I should note that in Namibia, we have school uniforms and only very few (I think perhaps 3 schools dont have a uniform) however, all the girls hair were always neat, tied up and out of our faces, no matter which school you went to. But I think for most Africans, while we will admire long hair, natural (like with the fulani's) or relaxed, our self identity and esteem is not tied to our hair in anyway. I agree with the commenter who said that people aren't as knowledgeable about hair care over here. I understand the implications of the chemicals and consciously choose to use them until I choose something else. So, ultimately, for both groups of women, relaxed hair may just seem easier and less complicated. I mean you represented your school till the last bell went out and even in the afternoons, if you were caught in the shops in your uniform with your hair loose or shirt tucked out you could be reported the next day lol.
The purpose of these hairstyles and later on the twa in secondary school was ensure uniformity and to remove the unnecessary distraction that hair often provides and to focus it where it belongs, on education. Although as already posted above, there is a lot of influence from AA celebs, and pretty much everybody is a weave queen nowadays. Shoot people aren't very knowledgeable in the US but there sure are far more resources there. In the german speaking countries the natural hair movement is still small, but we are growing. Hair doesn't carry the same baggage in many African cultures as it does in the United States. My hair needs to be gorgeous in whatever form I wear it and that’s after washing it day in day out after Bikram yoga class.
A relaxer is seen as a coming of age for many girls once they finish secondary school, because it distinguishes them from being in high school. Some had weaves, some wore TWAs, and some had the most beautiful, fierce styles I have ever seen. I spend a lot of time in Nigeria, although I now reside permanently in the US, and I've seen lots of naturals.
And every single one of them wore it cropped short the whole time they were in school, except for my mother. My mother went to a catholic school where as part of the dress code hair had to be pulled back smoothly from the face.
She does not have the kind of hair that cooperates with that kind of style and so it was either get a relaxer or go to the school on the other side of town where cornrows were permitted.
I suspect that hair maintenance and health using wholesome products isn’t a major focus here. My family members are simply amazed and lots of my aunties are now contemplating going natural as well.
With proper education, I could totally see women rocking gorgeous natural or relaxed hair all of their own. I think if they found out that natural hair can be lush, moisturized and fabulous and they could do it themselves, more women in Nigeria may go the natural way.
Many of the experiences I read on blogs pertaining to natural hair are those of African-American women. The stories go on to say that since relaxers were the norm for them, they just kept getting them until their decision to either BC or transition.My question is this, why after having two very different and distinct experiences do African -American and African woman have this reluctance to let go of the relaxer?

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