[LISTEN] The history behind the headwrap

Eusebius McKaiser talks to Hlonipha Mokoena, an associate professor at Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research, about the history of the headwrap or 'doek'.

While it is now very much part of African culture, the headwrap was originally forced upon women, suggests Eusebius.

This is more especially in slave societies.

Hlonipha Mokoena, Associate professor at Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research

Mokoena says historically it was not the slave masters who insisted on black women covering their hair - but rather the slave mistresses.

Because they said black women's hair confuses white men - so you have to keep it under wraps.

Hlonipha Mokoena, Associate professor at Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research

She explains that in slave societies, female slaves were 'all shades of brown with many different hair textures'. And white women felt that when they walked with their slave, men could become confused as to who was the salve and who was the mistress, hence forcing these women to cover their hair.

In other words, white women at that time were concerned about their men being attracted to these slaves.

So the regulators, in that case, were white women.

Hlonipha Mokoena, Associate professor at Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research

Does this mean that the headwrap may be viewed as a symbol of oppression?

Mokoena says not, as later the headwrap was appropriated by black women to mean something else.

She also explains that the cloth used for warps was bartered for slaves from India and other countries. And, in America itself, slaves were the producers of the cotton that was used to make cloth.

Take a listen to this fascinating discussion about headwraps and how this is also found in other cultures such as religious groups:


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