Hair History

Hair History

Anthony Browder, founder of IKG Cultural Resources, is an author, publisher, cultural historian, and artist. Browder has devoted 33 years to researching ancient Egyptian culture and has traveled to Egypt 49 times. In 2008, Browder became the director of the ASA Restoration Project, the first African-American-funded excavation and restoration project in Egypt. Browder leads annual study tours to Egypt and excavation missions to Luxor, Egypt to catalog, excavate, and restore a 25th dynasty tomb of a priest named Karakhamun.

Browder is the author of From the Browder Files: 22 Essays on the African-American Experience, From the Browder Files Vol 2: Survival Strategies for Africans in America: 13 Steps to Freedom, Nile Valley Contributions to Civilization, Egypt on the Potomac, and Finding Karakhamun. Also, he has been featured in two documentary films entitled Hidden Colors 2: The Triumph of Melanin and Nubian Spirit: The African Legacy of the Nile Valley. Three decades of research has led Browder to conclude that ancient Africans (in Egypt and other African empires) were the architects of civilization and developed the rudiments of what has become the scientific, religious, and philosophical backbone of mankind. Below my in depth interview with Anthony Browder about the relationship between ancient Egyptians and their hair.

Phillips: How did ancient Egyptians think and feel about their hair?

Anthony Browder discusses Hair History

Author, publisher, cultural historian, and artist, Anthony Browder

Browder: The ancient Egyptians had a totally different view of hair. The average ancient Egyptian didn’t spend lots of time or money on his hair because hair was an indicator of a person’s standing in society. The average person either shaved his hair or didn’t bother with managing it. Egyptian royalty and the upper class had the resources to afford personal hair and beauty attendants. I strongly encourage your readers to travel to Egypt to learn more about the importance of hair in Ancient Egyptian culture.

If they visit the Cairo Museum, in room 13, they will see a variety of wigs which were worn for ritual and ceremonial purposes. The wigs are made of thick, kinky, and curly hair that we would now classify as dreadlocks. When you travel to Egypt, visit the museums and temples for yourself. You will find lots of things that aren’t shown on television. When I’ve taken groups to visit the Cairo Museum, they see the wigs with hair that looks like it belongs to black folks. After my tour groups saw the wigs and the dark skinned Egyptian kings (which are often hidden in the back of the museum), that would pretty much clear up all uncertainly about the Ancient Egyptians being Black Africans.

Beyond Egypt and throughout sub-Saharan Africa, you will find that hair is viewed as an extension of the people’s relationship with God. The reason why black people have dark skin and curly hair is because of their proximity to the Sun and Africa’s unique position on the equator. Ancient Africans acknowledged the Sun as a source of life. The ancient Egyptians referred to the Sun as Ra and the setting Sun as Amen. These two African words have been a part of our consciousness for over 6,000 years.

Since we lived near the equator, we needed short and curly hair to keep cool so that our brain would not overheat. We needed dark skin to filter excessive sunlight. When Africans moved farther away from the equator towards Asia and Europe, they lost their melanin (skin color or pigmentation). In colder climates, the Europeans and Asians grew longer, straighter hair to insulate their body and retain more heat in colder climates. Thus, skin color and hair type aren’t signs of beauty, they are signs that the human body has adapted to different environmental conditions.

Phillips: In ancient times, what type of relationship did the barber/stylist have with their client?

Browder: In ancient Egypt, the royal barbers or hair stylists had to possess a high spiritual consciousness because their job was to lay hands on the nobles whose hair they groomed, styled, and cut. When barbers or hair stylists service clients today, they should be aware that they are transferring energy to their clients. In ancient times, wise people would not allow someone who was out of spiritual balance to perform any kind of personal service such as barbering or hairstyling on them.

In the Tomb of Niankhkhnum and Khnumhotep at Saqqara, you will find images of a barber and a manicurist who were the personal attendants of a 5th dynasty king. In ancient Egypt, the king was God’s representative on Earth and a reflection of the people’s connection with God. The king’s groomers’ job was to assist the king on Earth and help prepare him for the after-life. So the groomers would have also been responsible for preparing ceremonial wigs worn by the king’s assistants in the after-life.

Phillips: Did hair have a religious or spiritual purpose in Ancient Egypt?

Browder: Yes. In ancient times, hair was viewed as a spiritual antenna that connected one with God and his ancestors. The symbol of the sun, represented by the circle with a dot in the center, was referred to as Ra by the ancient Egyptians. Thus, this image of a circle within a circle is the oldest symbol ever recorded.

When you look at the sky you see that the Sun, Moon, stars, and galaxies are all round. I’m saying this to communicate that our curly African hair is circular like all of the divine symbols in nature, and this is why the ancient Egyptians viewed hair as having special spiritual powers. Your hair in its natural state has the ability to connect with and tap into your God consciousness.

Many ancient and biblical stories reference the power of curly hair. The statues of the Buddha show him with curly hair which helped him to reach a state of Nirvana or God consciousness. In the Bible, the Sampson story is a metaphor about the physical and spiritual strength of hair.

From my studies and experiences in ancient Egyptian history and culture, I’m certain that the Egyptians understood the power of their hair. I ask my African-American sisters who use harsh chemicals to straighten their hair: “Do you know the power of your hair? Are you losing your spiritual power with each perm and/or relaxer? Do you know that the toxic chemicals in hair products are absorbed into your skin and transported throughout your blood system?”

In a recent report, a brain surgeon noted that when he operates on the brains of black women with perms, their gray matter was coated with a toxic blue residue that was believed to be a by-product of chemicals used in hair relaxers. And, it’s quite possible that this is a major contributor to specific brain diseases in black women. This startling revelation should prompt every woman to consider the impact of a hairstyle on her health and how chemical relaxers interfere with her relationship with God.

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