In Abidjan, hair can be a contentious topic. Many Ivorians are persuaded to eschew their natural hair in favor of chemical straighteners, wigs and extensions. Afros and dreadlocks are rarely depicted on local television, and those that wear their hair naturally can be shunned from their offices. The tide is slowly starting to turn, however, thanks in part to the efforts of a community movement, Nappys de Babi. “Nappy” stands for a mash-up of “natural” and “happy”, while Babi is shorthand for Abidjan.
The group, which facilitates an exchange among people who wear their hair natural, was founded by Mariam Diaby.
“My hair was breaking and one day I just decided to clip it. It was something I just did for myself with no motivation to start a movement. When I started the group, I just started with three or five friends who were wearing their hair natural. We added another friend, and another, and in three months we were about 200. Today we are a group of 8,500.”
The group hosts bi-monthly meet-ups where participants exchange stories and tips on how best to care for natural hair.
Another advocat for natural hair is Bibi Gnagno who writes a blog on the subject and has launched a natural hair consultancy and product line in Abidjan. American-born, the Ivory Coast transplant was fascinated with local perceptions of natural hair so much that she’s in the process of filming a documentary, titled “Is that (all) your hair?”
Gnagno has interviewed dozens of women about their attitudes regarding their hair. She says many women get comments such as:
‘What’s wrong with you? Do you not have enough money to go to a salon? Did your husband leave you? Go get a perm,’
Azi Oyourou, founder of Re-Zen Up, one of the few salons in the capital that specializes in natural hair styles notes that, although Africans are supposed to their own hair, many – in fact – don’t. This, according to her, is due to the fact that girls, as young as three-years old, start using relaxers.
Gnagno says reasons for this could be myriad and points to the colonial legacy as one:
“Under colonization a lot of things happen. You want to get closer to the colonizer because that’s the person that holds the power, so you let go of a lot of things that resemble your culture,”
As to why the time is suddenly ripe for a natural hair movement, Oyourou ties it to a larger trend of national pride.hg
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