Grim hairy tale
Regardless of how poor we were in rural Trinidad in the aftermath of the Second World War, life was never too grim for Grimm, the fairy-tale world peopled by courageous princes and beautiful princesses, horrible witches who eventually got their comeuppance and endings in which the protagonists, having triumphed over evil, lived happily ever after.
I liked the valiant little tailor who swatted a bunch of flies and then went around boasting that he had killed “seven at one blow”. However, the one that truly fascinated me was the story of Rapunzel, the beautiful blonde locked in the tower.
At the same time, as I read the fairy tales, I was also part of a world in which “rationing” was real – rice, flour and sugar were scarce commodities. Language was interesting. There was the itinerant bay-rum drinker “Sweetie Jack”, whose eyes had a manic spark.
It was well known that Sweetie Jack ate “dead fowl”, our word for chickens that had died from unknown causes and left to rot at the side of the road or in the rubbish bin.
We used the term “dead fowl” to catch our friends “offside”. The first time, as a seven-year-old, I was asked: “You does eat dead fowl?” I quickly replied: “No.” The barb then went in, “So on Sunday all you doh kill the chicken before you eat it?”
Everyone laughed at me and I was so angry with myself and my classmates that I wished that, like Rumpelstiltskin, the ground would open up and swallow me.
I realize now that in those days I was multilingual and did not know it. True, I spoke Trini and understood a little Hindi from my grandmother’s fairy tales about “rajahs” and “ranees” (kings and queens) and found out that the Rapunzel story had an Indian version. I could say “No” in Spanish (and English) but I did not realize I knew a Yoruba word.
There were people in the village like Sweetie Jack and an Indian sadhu whose hair was long, matted and uncombed, who we said had “dada” hair. A Nigerian explanation for the use of “dada” is “a child born with naturally matted or locked hair that cannot be combed. The natural hair texture is similar to dreadlocks and is not in that state by choice.
The word “dada”, a word of Yoruba origin, has entered the widely spoken Nigerian English and can be used both as an adjective and a noun. For example, one can say, John’s friend is dada or John’s friend has dada hair.
This brings us to the black Rapunzel from Trinidad. The Huffpost Weird News recently featured 50-year-old Asha Mandela, who “has a lock on a world record that others might dread: the world’s longest dreadlocks”.
According to Huffpost, the Atlanta resident from Trinidad has earned the name “the black Rapunzel” because she holds the Guinness World Record for the World’s Longest Dreadlocks, which she has owned since 2008. Her dreads were officially measured to be 19 feet, six inches long, but an unofficial measurement found one of the strands measured a whopping 55 feet, seven inches.
Asha, who lives with her husband and son in Atlanta, stopped cutting her hair in her 20s.
“I started growing my hair 25 years ago, when I started having certain dreams and visions,” she said.
For her, growing dreadlocks was part of a spiritual journey to completely remake her life. She believes that it helped her to survive two heart attacks, cancer and two strokes.
“Cutting it would be equivalent to suicide. It would be like being a zombie,” she revealed.
However, life for Asha is not that easy. While she believes that her locks add “spice” to her love life, she has to use up to six bottles of shampoo for her weekly wash and then it takes two days for the locks to dry. She has to carry her hair, which weighs 39 pounds, in a cloth baby sling when she goes out and her doctors believe that the additional weight has caused her to have a curvature of the spine.
Her husband and son might have no problem but Asha’s Trini mother is aghast.
“My mum told me to remove the mop from my head before I am welcomed in her home again,” she recounted in an interview. “She said to me, ‘Imagine, I put nice Vaseline and lard in your hair and groom it so nicely . . . now look what you did to it’.”
Now that the dada hair has grown to 55 feet, I figure that her mother’s reaction when they meet again will probably be: “Oh Lard!”
• Tony Deyal was last seen saying that Asha, who let her hair down in a recent interview, is reputedly a practising Hindu. While she did not say what sect she follows, it has to be the Hairy Krishnas.