I have always had a certain trepidation whenever I come across men with dreadlocks. It is, like most fears, irrational, childish even. If I could trace it back, I would say: one day when I was about six years old, I watched the video for Lucky Dube’s song Prisoner. In it, the gangsters, Lucky being the main character and the one who ultimately ends up in jail, are played by dreadlocked men. It is only now, years later when I am learning to trace the motivations and reasons for my beliefs, that this is occurring to me. The darkest aspect of all this is that the perceptions surrounding guys with dreadlocks are seldom positive. It is a sentiment shared by even supposedly well-educated people.
One of my cousins had dreadlocks: thick, black, shiny, and long full ones that hung well beyond his neck. It was whispered part of the reason he cut them off was because it was sometimes asked who the woman in his relationships was, and this by people who have gone to school and “eaten books”. It makes you wonder what education is for. Of course, were I to ask him, he would say it was his choice to cut them, and I would not blame him.However liberal both of us may be, we come from a relatively staunch Christian and conservative background. Picking up a pair of scissors or walking into a barbershop is simpler than living with the intimations that you are effeminate. When John Michuki was the Minister for Internal Security, rumour has it that during the purge of Mungiki in Central Kenya, and elsewhere, having dreadlocks as a man automatically made you a target for summary execution. The situation was compounded if you were a Kikuyu. Add to this all the horror stories we had heard about Mungiki and my own unfounded beliefs were further validated.
It was not until I travelled to Mombasa once and met a person I thought was dead that this belief started to be slowly shattered. He used to call himself “Nyunyu” when he was a manamba (coxswain) for our route. When my father and I bumped into him in Mikindani he was going by the moniker “Mambicha”, and he had completely assimilated into what could be stereotypically described as Coasterian culture – loud, brash, often flowered with choice expletives, and all done with the most laid-back and sensual Swahili. We learned that he was a member of Mungiki and he had moved there to avoid being killed. He changed his name and became one of them. He never had dreadlocks, just a boyish and charmingly untidy haircut, framing his deep sunken eyes and cheeks. That sickly demeanour was what had prompted our initial thoughts that he was dead, taken by AIDS or drugs or whatever it is that kills uneducated and disenfranchised young men.
About two weeks ago, I was mugged by, you guessed it, a man with dreadlocks. I vividly remember his facial features: the two tear-drop tattoos just below his left eye, his slightly misaligned and stained teeth, and his red eyes. And his surprisingly kempt dreadlocks. I often wonder whether he saw a newbie and played on my fears. I did not actually see the knife he said he had, the one he said he would stick in me and after he was done I would need surgery, or the backup he claimed would catch me if I tried to run or scream. Nothing else mattered to me in that moment but self-preservation. I was even too timid to go to the police who can be usually found near bus termini. He kept repeating that it would be of no use anyway because “huwa tunanakula na serikali” (we eat/ share our booty, with the government, police in this case.)
We all have a tendency to attach meaning to events that occur in our lives. It is understandable why we do this: we have an innate unvoiced knowledge of our infinitely short time alive, and all on a planet where there is no life around for literally millions of miles. We are pretty much on a speck of dust in an infinite universe. The least we can do is try and make sense of it all, however fumbling a manner we go about that. I have nothing against dreadlocks and I am aware of how easily it is to be biased against something, even a thing as inconsequential as choice of hairstyle, regardless of the symbolism behind it, and to end up seeing things that do not exist.
I saw a bad man and he had dreadlocks. Therefore, all men who have dreadlocks are bad men.
This kind of reasoning is called syllogism and it is often observed in children, and sadly, some adults. It must have quite the impact if after all this time bumping into dreadlocked men still makes me a bit jittery. Being a child is sometimes a horrible experience – the naivete, the growing pains, the seemingly unquenchable desires. You wake up one day and realize your heroes are not so heroic and, most painfully, realize the things you held as true are nothing more than myths, that your own beliefs are misleading and that you are not as often in control as you think. Cheers to waking up.