Two sadhus (holy hermits) with their hair in jata style dreadlocks.[1]

Dreadlocks, also locs, dreads, or in Sanskrit, Jata,[1] are ropelike strands of hair formed by matting or braiding hair.[2] While leaving hair to its own devices – foregoing brushing, combing or cutting the hair – will generally result in tangles and mats, the formation of evenly sized dreadlocks often takes planning and maintenance.

Various methods are used to encourage the formation of locks such as backcombing, braiding, rolling and the crochet hook method. All of these methods require ongoing work to be applied to the dread before it becomes neat and tight or mature. However, if the crochet hook method is applied by a skilled hand throughout the length of the dread, then the resulting dreadlocks are instantly tight and will not need any rolling.[3]

A common misconception is that those who have consciously formed dreadlocks do not wash their hair, but this is usually not the case; in fact many dreadlock care regimens require the wearer to wash their hair as regularly as non-locked hair.[4]


Young boxers with long dreadlocks depicted on a fresco from Akrotiri, (modern Santorini, Greece.) 1600-1500 BCE[5][6][7]
Ancient Egyptian human hair extension, ca. 2114-1502 B.C.E. Brooklyn Museum

Some of the earliest depictions of dreadlocks date back as far as 3600 years to the Minoan civilization, one of Europe's earliest civilizations centred in Crete (modern Greece).[6] Frescoes discovered on the Aegean island of Thera (modern Santorini, Greece), depict individuals with braided hair styled in long dreadlocks.[5][6] In ancient Egypt examples of Egyptians wearing locked hairstyles and wigs have appeared on bas-reliefs, statuary and other artifacts.[8] Mummified remains of ancient Egyptians with locked wigs, have also been recovered from archaeological sites.[9]


Over half of surviving Ancient Greek kouros sculptures (from c. 615 – 485 BC) are found wearing dreadlocks.[10]
A Spartan officer depicted with locked hair.

In Ancient Greece, kouros sculptures from the Archaic period depict men wearing dreadlocks[10][11] while Spartan hoplites (generally described as fair-haired)[12] wore formal locks as part of their battle dress.[13] Spartan magistrates known as Ephors also wore their hair braided in long locks, an Archaic Greek tradition that was steadily abandoned in other Greek kingdoms.[14] The style was worn by Ancient Christian Ascetics, and the Dervishes of Islam, among others.[15] Some of the very earliest Christians also may have worn this hairstyle; there are descriptions of James the Just, first Bishop of Jerusalem, who is said to have worn them to his ankles.[16]

Pre-Columbian Aztec priests were described in Aztec codices (including the Durán Codex, the Codex Tudela and the Codex Mendoza) as wearing their hair untouched, allowing it to grow long and matted.[17]

In Senegal, the Baye Fall, followers of the Mouride movement, a Sufi movement of Islam founded in 1887 by Shaykh Aamadu Bàmba Mbàkke, are famous for growing locks and wearing multi-colored gowns.[18] Cheikh Ibra Fall, founder of the Baye Fall school of the Mouride Brotherhood, popularized the style by adding a mystic touch to it. Warriors among the Fulani, Wolof and Serer in Mauritania, and Mandinka in Mali and Niger were known for centuries to have worn cornrows when young and dreadlocks when old.

By culture

Locks have been worn for various reasons in each culture: as an expression of deep religious or spiritual convictions, ethnic pride, as a political statement and in more modern times, as a representation of a free, alternative or natural spirit.[19] Another name for the style is locks (sometimes spelled "locs").


Within Tibetan Buddhism and other more esoteric forms of Buddhism, dreadlocks have occasionally been substituted for the more traditional shaved head. The most recognizable of these groups are known as the Ngagpas of Tibet. For many practicing Buddhists, dreadlocks are a way to let go of material vanity and excessive attachments.[20] Dreadlocks were required for many esoteric Buddhist rituals in medieval South Asia performed by Buddhist yogis (Buddhist counterparts to contemporary Hindu sadhus). For instance, 1.4.15 of the Hevajratantra states that the practitioner "should arrange his piled up hair".[21] In contemporary Tibetan practice matted hair is replaced by crowns with matted hair attached to them.

Judaism and Christianity

Pictish carved stone from medieval Scotland, depicting a Biblical scene of Samson with locked hair. In the Book of Judges 16:19 of the Old Testament, Samson loses his strength when his seven dreadlocks are cut from his head.

Several figures important in the Abrahamic religions potentially wore dreadlocks.

Takers of the Nazirite oath in the Book of Numbers display their devotion to their religion by not cutting their hair, and possibly letting it grow into dreadlocks. This vow required the man or woman to:

The vows described in this part of the bible has a significant impact on the Rastafari movement of the 20th century, and is the source of the Rastafari affection for dreadlocks.

Samson was a judge of the ancient Israelites mentioned in the Book of Judges in the Hebrew Bible and is usually depicted wearing dreadlocks. According to the biblical account, Samson was given supernatural strength by God in order to combat his enemies and perform heroic feats[27] such as killing a lion, slaying an entire army with only the jawbone of an ass, and destroying a pagan temple. Samson's one weakness were his seven locks, which led to his death when they were cut off.


Reggae musician Omar Perry

Members of various African ethnic groups wear locks and the styles and significance may differ from one group to another.

Maasai warriors are famous for their long, thin, red locks. Many people dye their hair red with root extracts or red ochre. In various cultures what are known as shamans, spiritual men or women who serve and speak to spirits or deities, often wear locks. In Nigeria,[28] some children are born with naturally locked hair and are given a special name: "Dada". Yoruba priests of Olokun, the Orisha of the deep ocean, wear locks. Another group is the Turkana people of Kenya. In Ghana, the Akan refer to dreadlocks as Mpɛsɛ, which is the hairstyle of Akomfoɔ or priests and even common people. Along with the Asante-Akan drums known as Kete drums, this hairstyle was later adopted by Rastafarians, with its roots in Jamaica from the slave trade era.


Rastafari movement locks are symbolic of the Lion of Judah which is sometimes centered on the Ethiopian flag. Rastafari hold that Haile Selassie is a direct descendant of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, through their son Menelik I. Their dreadlocks were inspired by the Nazarites of the Bible.

When reggae music gained popularity and mainstream acceptance in the 1970s thanks to Bob Marley's music and cultural influence, the locks (often called "dreads") became a notable fashion statement; they were worn by prominent authors, actors, athletes and rappers, and were even portrayed as part of gang culture in such movies as Marked for Death.

With dreadlocks style in vogue, the fashion and beauty industries capitalized on the trend. A completely new line of hair care products and services in salons catered to a white clientele, offering all sorts of dreadlocks hair care items such as wax (considered unnecessary and even harmful by many),[29] shampoo, and jewelry. Hairstylists created a wide variety of modified locks, including multi-colored synthetic lock hair extensions and "dread perms", where chemicals are used to treat the hair.

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

Dreadlocks of a person of Métis ancestry, decorated with beads

In the West, since the gathering of Hippies and shaivite Sadhus at the Hippietrail of the 1970s, dreadlocks have gained particular popularity among counterculture adherents such as hippies, crust punks, New Age travellers, goths and many members of the Rainbow Family. Many people from these cultures wear dreadlocks for similar reasons: symbolizing a rejection of government-controlled, mass-merchandising culture or to fit in with the people and crowd they want to be a part of (such as those who are fans of reggae music). Members of the cybergoth subculture also often wear blatantly artificial synthetic dreads or "dreadfalls" made of synthetic hair, fabric or plastic tubing.

Since the rise of the popularity of dreadlocks, African Americans have developed a large variety of ways to wear dreadlocked hair. Most of the African Americans in the United States with dreadlocks were people that live in Miami and New Orleans, with Louisiana having a Creole and Native American background and Florida with Jamaican Roots. Specific elements of these styles include the flat-twist, in which a section of locks are rolled together flat against the scalp to create an effect similar to the cornrows, and braided dreadlocks. Examples include flat-twisted half-back styles, flat-twisted mohawk styles, braided buns and braid-outs (or lock crinkles). Social networking websites, web forums, web-logs and especially online video-logs like YouTube have become popular methods for people with dreadlocks to transmit ideas, pictures and tutorials for innovative styles.

In sports

Dreadlocks have become a popular hairstyle among professional athletes, ranging from Larry Fitzgerald's dreads down to his back to Drew Gooden's facial dreadlocks.

In professional American football, the number of players with dreadlocks has increased ever since Al Harris and Ricky Williams first wore the style during the 1990s. In 2012, about 180 National Football League players wore dreadlocks. A significant number of these players are defensive backs, who are less likely to be tackled than offensive players. Players with very long dreadlocks have been tackled by their hair, which is legal according to NFL rules.

Methods of making dreadlocks

Salon dreadlocks created with two-strand twists.
Newly twisted dreadlocks immediately after being unwound from Bantu knots; the locks later uncoiled and thickened as matting progressed

Traditionally, it was believed that in order to create dreadlocks, an individual had to refrain from brushing, combing or cutting. This lack of hair grooming results in what is called "free form" or "neglect" dreads, where the hair matts together slowly of its own accord. Such dreads tend to vary greatly in size, width, shape, length, and texture. If the wearer is interested in any uniformity of their dreads, they must pull the matted strands of hair apart to ensure large clumps don't form. In addition, if the wearer wishes for their dreads to be neat and tight, they must continue to separate the matted sections of hair and palm roll them regularly for a period of between 6 to 12 months before their hair is well locked. Generally with this free form dread style, the dreads will remain loose and fluffy until the process of long term rolling has tightened them and they have reached a mature status. Until they reach this mature status, they are at risk of coming open especially with lots of water immersion (showers, swimming or washing). Many people use products such as lock peppa or wax to assist in the locking process.

A variety of other starter methods have been developed to offer greater control over the general appearance of dreadlocks. Together, these alternative techniques are more commonly referred to as "salon" or "manicured" dreadlocks.[30]

Using beeswax to make dreads can cause problems because it does not wash out, due to the high melting point of natural wax. Because wax is a hydrocarbon, water alone, no matter how hot, will not be able to remove wax.[31]

As with the organic and freeform method, the salon methods rely on hair naturally matting over a period of months to gradually form dreadlocks. The difference is in the initial technique by which loose hair is encouraged to form a rope-like shape. Whereas freeform dreadlocks can be created by simply refraining from combing or brushing hair and occasionally separating matted sections, salon dreadlocks use tool techniques to form the basis of the starter, immature set of dreadlocks. A "matured" set of salon dreadlocks won't look the same as a set of dreadlocks that have been started with neglect or freeform.

For African hair types, salon dreadlocks can be formed by evenly sectioning and styling the loose hair into braids, coils, twists, or using a procedure called dread perming specifically used for straight hair. For European, Hispanic, Asian, and Indian hair types, Backcombing and Twist and Rip are some of the more popular methods of achieving starter dreadlocks.

Regardless of hair type or texture and starter method used, dreadlocks require time before they are fully matured. The process hair goes through as it develops into matured dreadlocks is continuous.

There is also the ability to adopt different types of fake dreadlocks that may make the hair look as real as possible. This process is called synthetic dreadlocks. There are two different types of synthetic dreadlocks. The first is dread extensions, in which other hair can be infused with the wearer's own hair. The second is dreadfalls, in which one dread is tied into another with either elastic or lace. Both of these methods are used to make dreads look better and more appealing, and to achieve the desired effect of longer hair.

Guinness Book of World Records

On December 10, 2010, the Guinness Book of World Records rested its "longest dreadlocks" category after investigation of its first and only female title holder, Asha Mandela, with this official statement:

"Following a review of our guidelines for the longest dreadlock, we have taken expert advice and made the decision to rest this category. The reason for this is that it is difficult, and in many cases impossible, to measure the authenticity of the locks due to expert methods employed in the attachment of hair extensions/re-attachment of broken off dreadlocks. Effectively the dreadlock can become an extension and therefore impossible to adjudicate accurately. It is for this reason Guinness World Records has decided to rest the category and will no longer be monitoring the category for longest dreadlock."[32]

See also


  1. 1 2 Hair: Styling, Culture and Fashion. University of Michigan [Michigan]: Bloomsbury Academic. 2009. ISBN 9781845207922. His jata (dreadlocks) are elegantly styled, and the source of the Ganges issues from his topknot. In the background are the Himalayas where Shiva performs his austerities.
  2. Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster (2004). Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary: Eleventh Edition. [ ]: Merriam-Webster. p. 380. ISBN 9780877798095. dread-lock \'dred-,lak\ n (I960) 1 : a narrow ropelike strand of hair formed by matting or braiding 2 pi : a hairstyle consisting of dreadlocks — dread-locked \-,lakt\ adj
  3. "Learn the best way to make dreads, 100% naturally - Divine Dreadlocks". www.divinedreadlocks.com. Retrieved 2016-08-25.
  4. "making, growing, maintaining, and understanding dreadlocks. they used for ceremonial purposes in Jamaica.". Retrieved 16 July 2012.
  5. 1 2 Poliakoff, Michael B. (1987). Combat Sports in the Ancient World: Competition, Violence, and Culture. Yale University Press. p. 172. ISBN 9780300063127. The boxing boys on a fresco from Thera (now the Greek island of Santorini), also 1500 B.C.E., are less martial with their jewelry and long braids, and it is hard to imagine that they are engaged in a hazardous
  6. 1 2 3 BLENCOWE, CHRIS (2013). YRIA: The Guiding Shadow. Sidewalk Editions. p. 36. ISBN 9780992676100. Archaeologist Christos Doumas, discoverer of Akrotiri, wrote: "Even though the character of the wall-paintings from Thera is Minoan, ... the boxing children with dreadlocks, and ochre-coloured naked fishermen proudly displaying their abundant hauls of blue and yellow fish."
  7. Bloomer, W. Martin (2015). A Companion to Ancient Education. John Wiley & Sons. p. 31. ISBN 9781119023890. Figure 2.1b Two Minoan boys with distinctive hairstyles, boxing. Fresco from West House, Thera (Santorini), ca. 1600–1500 bce (now in the National Museum, Athens).
  8. Image of Egyptian with locks.
  9. Egyptian Museum -"Return of the Mummy. Toronto Life - 2002." Retrieved 01-26-2007.
  10. 1 2 Steves, Rick (2014). Athens and the Peloponnese. Avalon Travel. p. 165. ISBN 1-61238-060-3.
  11. Jenkins, Ian. Archaic Kouroi in Naucratis: The Case for Cypriot Origin. [JSTOR Arts & Sciences II Collection]: American Journal of Archaeology, v105 n2 (20010401):. pp. 168–175. ISSN 0002-9114. The hair in both is filleted into a series of fine dreadlocks, tucked behind the ears and falling on each shoulder and down the back. A narrow fillet passes around the forehead and disappears behind the ears. … Two are in the British Museum (fig. 17) and another in Boston (fig. 18). These three could have been carved by the same hand. Distinctive points of comparison include the dreadlocks; high, prominent chest without division; sloping shoulders; manner of showing the arms by the side…the torso of a kouros, again in Boston (fig. 19), should probably also be assigned to this group.
  12. Linton Myres, Sir John. Who Were the Greeks?. University of California Press. p. 195. ISSN 0080-6684.
  13. Hook, Richard (1998). The Spartan Army. Osprey Publishing. p. 24. ISBN 1-85532-659-0.
  14. Sekunda, Nick (2002). Marathon 490 BC: The First Persian Invasion of Greece. Osprey Publishing. p. 40. ISBN 978-1-84176-000-1. The ephors were members of the 'Spartiate' class who were noted for the uniformity of their dress, and their archaic hairstyles. They continued to wear long hair, a fashion long dead elsewhere among Greek aristocrats. The hair was braided into long locks all gathered together at the back, sometimes with a couple of locks allowed to fall lose.
  15. Thompson, John; Patrick, Bethanne (2015). An Uncommon History of Common Things. National Geographic Books. p. 165. ISBN 1-4262-1227-5.
  16. Glazier, Stephen D., Encyclopedia of African and African-American Religions, Taylor & Francis, 2001, ISBN 0-415-92245-3, ISBN 978-0-415-92245-6, p. 279.
  17. Berdán, Frances F. and Rieff Anawalt, Patricia (1997). The Essential Codex Mendoza. London, England: University of California Press. pp 149.
  18. "The diverse cultural & personal meanings dreads have for their owners...". 2016-04-04. Retrieved 2016-09-07.
  19. The Dreadlocks Treatise: On Tantric Hairstyles in Tibetan Buddhism.
  20. Snellgrove, David. The Hevajra Tantra: A Critical Study. vol 1. Oxford University Press. 1959.
  21. The New JPS translation is: "wine and any other intoxicant". Classical Rabbinical interpretation permits non-grape alcohols.
  22. Numbers 6:3. The Bible, King James Version
  23. Numbers 6:3-4
  24. Numbers 6:5
  25. Numbers 6:6-7
  26. Comay, Joan; Brownrigg, Ronald (1993). Who's Who in the Bible: The Old Testament and the Apocrypha, The New Testament. New York: Wing Books. pp. Old Testament, 316–317. ISBN 0-517-32170-X.
  27. "Dada or dreds – Neologisms".
  28. Beeswax Dreadlocks Controversy
  29. Ways to Make Dreadlocks
  30. http://www.dreadlockssite.com/forum/topics/dread-wax-why-ya-dont-want-it
  31. "Longest Dreadlock Record – Rested".


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