I T ’ S F I N E T O B E W E I R D .
Fred squared. They like to share vegetarian recipes and gossip.
In February, #blackinasia wrote an essay, “Ancient Egyptian “Blackness” in the Graeco-Roman Imagination”, based on the ancient Egyptian race “controversy”, a long held debate that takes root from anti-black racism (Martin 300-306), that rejects any possibility of seeing ancient Egypt within an African context. This “controversy” has led ancient Egypt to be grouped under a near Eastern context, a European context in popular culture or a group of its own, entirely separate from the rest of African cultures (Martin 296). However, what usually goes largely ignored is the Afrocentric elements ancient Egyptians used in portraying themselves.
[image description: A model of a funerary boat from a tomb at Beni Hasan. 11th-12th Dynasty with figurines wearing Afro-like styles]
In #blackinasia’s essay on “blackness” in ancient Egyptian, he explains that the ancient Egyptians would more likely see themselves more as an African people than anything else through their cultural, linguistic, and biological background. #blackinasia starts off with explaining their ancestral homeland, the Land of Punt, which is located in modern-day Ethiopia and Eritrea. He then goes on to the biological similarities between the ancient Egyptians and Nubians (who are accepted as black Africans). Then onto how in ancient Egyptian art, Egyptians are depicted in brown and black hues. He later ends the essay with what is considered “blackness” through Graeco-Roman perceptions, listing more examples where Greek scholars imagined Egyptians within an African context.
[image description: a map of the continent of African with Egypt highlighted and label revealing it’s location]
I first would like to paraphrase Eglash and Odumosu (102) when I say that Africa does not have a homogenous culture in anyway, that is not to say that there a singular African identity, so instead I use the term “African context”. When I speak about an “African hair culture” it is to simplify a complex phenomena describing a family resemblance across multiple cultural streams.
As #blackinsasia mentions there are some cultural roots of ancient Egypt that better portrays them as an African people than ancient near eastern or European people. I believe there are actually multiple examples of how this is culturally true. However, for the sake of the theme for this blog, in this essay I argue that through close examination of the history of hair and hairstyles in ancient Egypt a pattern of similarities can be seen with African cultures and in fact that such cultural hair practices can only be indigenous to an African context.
[image description: a side-by-side comparison between a Himba child and Ramesses II as a child to show a cultural resemblance in which it is quite common for various African peoples to shave their infants’ head, sometimes leaving a tuft of hair. (Seiber and Herreman 56).]
The Hair Texture of Ancient Egyptians
[image description: an artistic depiction of Herodotus, known as the “father of history and travel writing.” Photo via The Telegraph)
The ancient Greek historian, Herodotus, describes the hair of the ancient Egyptians as woolly using the term (οὐλότριχες), ulotrichous which means woolly or crisp hair. The root word, οὐλό, also has been used by Greeks to also describe the hair of Ethiopians, or black Africans (Snowden 6). There is also Cleopatra’s attendant, Iras, who is described as being dark-skinned with woolly hair (Snowden 15).
[image description: A Fresco Scene of two grape farmers, two of which had thread-like lines for hair which possibly represents straight hair and the figure to the far right seems to be wearing afro-textured hair.]
Though enough mummies have been discovered to infer that some ancient Egyptians had straight hair, this piece of fact is usually used as an end-all debate by anti-black racists that deem it impossible for ancient Egyptians to be seen in an African context. What usually happens is that anti-black racists show that Egyptian mummies had straight hair and that supposedly that proves ancient Egyptians were closer to Arabs, Europeans, or any other people other than Africans. However, many of these denialists fail to explain why straight hair is apparently lacking in ancient Egyptian hairstyles. In fact, if we examine the history of ancient Egypt a trend of the indigenous people being woolly-haired becomes more evident especially in the Predynastic periods.
[image description: A scene from the Narmer Palette from the Naqada III period of two afro-haired men.]
Throughout ancient Egyptian history, including the Predynastic periods, there have been sufficient discoveries of combs with long teeth resembling African combs, suited for combing through and detangling coarse hair.
[image description: Ivory combs and hair pins from the Naqada period before the rise of Pharaohonic Egypt.]
There have even been a discovery of a toupee being made out of sheep’s or goat’s wool (Tassie 1066).
With the examples given through literary and art representations, and the use of particular materials and tools such as wool wigs and “Afro-combs”, it is safe to assume that the ancient Egyptians did have a consistent history of having “woolly”, or οὐλό type of hair. Although some ancient Egyptians did indeed seem to had straight hair, the absence of straight hair in the majority of art seem to suggest it was either not standard and/or did not fit within ideal image of their culture.
The Dominant Culture of Hair in Ancient Egypt
“There are five main operations that can be performed on hair:
It can be curled or left curly;
It can be straightened or left straight;
It can be plaited, twisted, or teased;
Hair can be added; and
Hair can be taken away.” (Tassie 1064)
Although there have been Egyptians with straight hair, we normally don’t see any incorporation of leaving the hair straight in their various hairstyles especially among the upper class.This tells us the kind of dominant culture present within ancient Egypt society that led to a suppression toward otherness, such as balding (not the same as baldness), any hair color that wasn’t black, and as I argue in this paper, straight hair as well. (Tassie 1063).
According to the Dictionary of Sociology, dominant culture can be defined as the established cultural traits that would be considered as the norm for a society as a whole. Regarding to hair, the ancient Egyptians would usually either curl (even tightly), twist, and plait their hair, or hair pieces.
[image description: (from left to right) lady Istemkhebs’ short curly wig , duplex wig, Ahmose-Hentempet’s short curly wig. Located in the Cairo Musuem]
These alterations to the hair actually bear more resemblance to afro-textured hair and aesthetics found in African cultures. We can even see many of these similar alterations and styles in modern-day black Africans (the well ignored) that inhabit Northeast Africa, such the Afar people.
[image description: Ancient Egyptian depiction of Nubians wearing traditional hairstyles of status, bringing tribute on the tomb of Huy. Note the Nubian servant with straight-ish hair]
It cannot be left unsaid that ancient Egyptians also enjoyed other styling methods that other Africans did to their hair, such as tinting and particular braiding pattern even to the point of emulating Nubian hairstyles, as stated above the two are closely related biologically.
[image description: Canopic Jar Lid in the Shape of a Royal Woman’s Head wearing a hairstyle much similar to Nubians]
I like to further my point on the dominant culture of hair in ancient Egypt. During wig constructions, the type of hair they used for the wigs in every case was straight hair rather than afro-textured hair except that of Maiherpri’s (Fletcher 495). The hair would be gathered from either the wearers’ own heads, foreign captives, or from trading(Tassie 1066). However, the use and handling of straight hair did not prompt ancient Egyptians to seek out Eurocentric aesthetics, but rather they consistently altered the texture to appear more like Afro-textured hair or other African styles.
Curating Kemet: Fear of a Black Land? by Sally-Ann Ashton
Egyptian hair combs in the Fitzwilliam Museum by Sally-Ann Ashton
Hair and the Construction of Identity in Ancient Egypt by Gay Robins
#Blackinasia. “Ancient Egyptian ‘Blackness’ in the Graeco-Roman Imagination”. Tumblr. 18 Feb. 2014. Web. 24 Feb. 2014
Bridge, Sarah. “The Ethiopian Tribes Who Use BUTTER to Style Their Hair: Incredible Photos Reveal the Elaborate Curled Creations of the Afar People, and the Hamer Who Mix Ghee with Red Ochre to Spectacular Effect.” Mail Online. Associated Newspapers, 13 Feb. 2014. Web. 24 Feb. 2014.
"Dominant Culture." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 22 Jan. 2014. Web. 24 Feb. 2014.
Eglash R. and Odumosu T. “Fractals, Complexity, and Connectivity in Africa.” What Mathematics from Africa? ed. G. Sica. Italy: Polimetrica International Scientific Publisher, 2005. 101-109. PDF File.
Fletcher, Joann. “Hair.” Ancient Egyptian Materials and Technology. By Ian Shaw. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2000. 495-96. Print.
"GEICO Ancient Pyramids Were A Mistake Commercial." MarketMeNot. n.d. Web. 24 Feb. 2014.
GORDON MARSHALL. “dominant culture.” A Dictionary of Sociology. 1998. Encyclopedia.com. 24 Feb. 2014
knowledgeequalsblackpower.”Maiherpri, Buried at Thebes, Valley of the Kings, New Kingdom 18th Dynasty, 1427-1392 BC” Tumblr. 10 Jan. 2012. Web. 24 Feb. 2014.
Martin, F. “The Egyptian Ethnicity Controversy and the Sociology of Knowledge”.Journal of Black Studies 14.3 (1984) 296+300-306. Print.
Seiber R. and Herreman F. “Hair in African Art and Culture”. African Arts. 33.3. 2000. 54-69+96. PDF File.
Snowden, Frank M. Blacks in Antiquity; Ethiopians in the Greco-Roman Experience. Cambridge, MA: Belknap of Harvard UP, 1970. Print.
Tassie, G. J. “Hair in Egypt.”, “Hair in Egypt: People and Technology Used in Creating Egyptian Hairstyles and Wigs”,”Hairstyling Technology and Techniques Used in Ancient Egypt”. Encyclopaedia of the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine in Non-western Cultures: With 107 Tables. ed. Helaine Selin. Berlin: Springer, 2008. 1060-1076. Print.
TRUTHTEACHER2007. Ancient Egyptian Afro Wigs. Youtube. 22 Apr. 2010. Web. 24 Feb. 2014.
The research here is amazing.
This is awesome.
THIS IS REALLY IMPORTANT
This is going to be a thing, isn’t it?
Each season Chilton has some horrific thing done to him which almost could have killed him, but he survives and just keeps coming back for more!
OMG they killed