Maintaining beautiful hair has long been a part of civilization. However, contrasting cultures approach hair care differently, depending on the significance of hair color or texture, as well as prevailing popularities. Traditions, customs and beliefs shape the influence that hair has and how a people approach the significance that beautiful hair provides.
Native Americans, for example, took great care of their hair, applying grease and coloring to maintain health and add spiritual, individual or personal meaning. Southwestern Native Americans applied jojoba oil to their hair and skin to moisturize it, and the Chickasaw natives throughout the heartland would prevent dandruff and other scalp problems with a solution made from Willow tree wood. Generally, Native Americans did not trim or cut their hair, except during times of mourning, which was symbolic for the loss of a loved one. The deep spiritual meanings surrounding hair in the Native American culture can still be found today.
In ancient France, long, healthy hair was a sign of great power and importance. When Julius Caesar conquered Rome in 50 BC, he forced the French leaders to cut their hair, humiliating them and stripping them of their power. As time passed in France, the popularity of large heads of hair grew, ushering in the era of powdered wigs, a sign of legitimacy, wisdom and power in the 17th century, throughout France and Britain.
Throughout Africa, many cultures assigned great spiritual significance to hair, as it protected the head and thus, the mind. Often times, hair was not trimmed, as the exposed head was considered a playground for evil spirits. Even when the hair was eventually cut, great care was taken in the decision and not just anyone could cut the hair; it was necessary for the hairdresser to be a significant spiritual leader. To care for their hair, ancient Africans would use castor oil, olive oil, avocado oil and shea butter to enrich their hair, prevent dryness and protect from the sun’s harsh rays.
India was and remains a country where hair care, especially feminine hair care, is a societal priority. Women in India have worn long, thick, black hair as a sign of beauty for centuries, and in fact, the word “shampoo” comes from the Hindi word “cāṃpo!” which is the imperative form of the word meaning to knead or massage. Indian women also often adorn their hair in flowers or jewels, especially in times of celebration, giving further emphasis to the beauty and grace hair provides. To care for their hair, powders and tonics from Fenugreek seeds have been used as hair conditioners, and oil made from Indian gooseberries was used as a growth stimulant.
Hair is an important cultural symbol across the globe, and it always has been. Though times have changed, hair continues to express the cultural differences that are apparent in society, and especially here in America, we can learn a lot about other cultures by talking with our friends and family about our cultural differences.