African Rapunzel

black hair as a veil into the African women’s soul

“I have an audition tomorrow, ” Wanda said to Wode,” they asked me to send a picture. I did, but… I haven’t told them I no longer have the hairstyle I had on the picture.

I don’t know, aarph.

I should have just kept it for one more day. You know?

I just don’t think..” *shrugs*

“I just don’t think they’ll think I’m as beautiful with my natural hair.”

Almost to highlight that they wouldn’t think so, but perhaps she might dare to. You know? She might take the risk and think of herself as beautiful.

In the distant future when she believed-it-believed-it she had a list of things she would do with it on. She’d travel to another province or another country with her natural hair. Go to a friends wedding with her natural hair. To her graduation with her natural hair. In the distant future, she might take the risk and walk down the aisle, to the altar to say “I do”  with her natural hair.

“Well that’s bullshit if they don’t think you’re beautiful with your natural hair” Wode responded to Wanda’s passing concern.

His short response lit candles in her little soul, little-little magical candles crackled. His words felt like protection. They fell from his chest and graced over her like peeled rose petals. Soft. tender. loving. A warm feeling of beauty kindled inside of her. Perhaps that feeling and the feeling of liking her kinks had been cramped in, shut up in her bones.

She hadn’t been searching for an answer like that from him. You know?

She had never been the kind of girl who needed a boys compliment to find pains in herself. Nor the kind of girl who would take from a lovers balm of tender words to heal herself. It scared her to think there may be more places like this in her, “places (she’d) entered as a young girl, from which (she’d) never return(ed).”

The mop.

The mop was Wanda’s favorite thing growing up. She envied its many many strands, full, thick, moppy strands. The clean-clean mops deserved to rest on her head from time to time. She’d playfully make-do a fringe, white strands flopping over her forehead or an array of other styles, straight back, flipped to the side then the other side. She liked that she could still tie a full round bun after holding the mop’s hair. That’s the look she was going for.

Girls with pony’s had a way you know. They were neater and parents referenced their cleanliness. They looked more organized.

At school, their socks never rolled down, they were stolid, high up by the knees. With their silky black hair, they seemed to have sharper brains beneath. They could become the next African Rapunzel. You know?  And you know, If they became anything close to Rapunzel there was a higher chance of becoming the next head girl. If not, at least, prefect.

The rebels, though. You just knew the rumbustious rebels. Their frenzy hair was left in the open symbolizing an unruliness. A fearlessness. That kaffir har’er, a clear sign.

Wanda though, she was in between. She tried-but. You know? But one couldn’t always be sure with her. She had potential. But, you know? Perhaps, she’d easily be swayed by her ‘other’ peers. It was obvious. You could tell from her hair.

Wanda knew this too.

So on the days when her dark and lovely relaxed hair was wearing off, recoiling back to its natural coarseness she would stand in front of the mirror and flatten her fingers into her kinks. Starting from the hairline she’d gently press all ten finger to help push her hair back.

Oh, how beautiful she could be. How badly she wished.

Growing up, braiding was an occasion for her as it was for most black girls. At school, in the street where she lived, on communal transport, long before the school holiday the conversations would begin, “uzakwenza’ntoni enthloko ngehol’day wena?/ “What hairstyle are you getting this holiday?” Then a hot exchange of ideas would stir, “perhaps have it short this time. You know la’hairstyle ka Brandy, like that shoulder length, have it like that?!” It didn’t matter that she would feel the strain on her scalp later, It would be for a few nights anyway.

At a tender age, like most black girls she had long learned that “ubuhle buyasetyenzewla.” She understood that you toil for beauty. There was a price to pay for it. It was not freely given.

Beauty. Beautiful. She could not remember when it became important to her to be beautiful. Nonetheless, it was a word that pleased her so. To be called beautiful.

When she became more conscious, though, she became slightly mad-mad that her beauty was tied to a multi-billion industry. White men who knew nothing of the years spent wanting. Men who knew nothing of her invisible self-rejection had built an empire, weaved (once-again) on the existence of black bodies. The demands of capitalism had thrust demands upon her soul, her desires. Absurd demands, demands so normal,
demands so beautiful.

As if growing up in South Africa was not enough, her senses grew sharper to how capitalism had found another way to engulf blackness. The labor of black men at low cost. The labor of black women at low cost. Her aspirations too, her beliefs, even these were tangled.

On the days when she thought of chopping her hair off, she chuckled remembering conversations about short hair which she had with friends. They had all concluded, if you are going to keep short hair, you must at all times carry a color lipstick. Also, before cutting your hair short, you ought to become a runner, a rigorous runner just to shed off. You know?

It’s funny right?! But It’s true, it seems.

Black hair till now hasn’t existed single-handedly. It’s always required a handmaiden. Color lip-gloss. Hoop earrings. And before lipsticks, it needed relaxing, after relaxing it needed rules accompanied by a school governing body (SGB).


For the first time after her conversation with Wode, Wanda wished she had a name for her hair, like Natasha or Lolly or another endearing name like Panini or Nana. But she didn’t. She’d never spent an afternoon with Panini.

Even with her hair tightly knitted through her skin, strand by strand into her scalp, she had never thought of it as hers. It had always been a carrier. A carrier to hold braids or plaits. She had always put her hair on a mission to search, to search to find a beauty outside of her.

For the first time, she wished she fully knew that it genuinely belonged to her. You know? She wished she could feel a slight ache from having coily strands sewn in her scalp. Just to be sure. You know?

Almost like the surety of knowing you have a soul. To really know. To know-know, the same way she knew her moods, her sweat, her fingers. The same way she knew how it feels like to have a heat current running through her chest when racing to catch a flight or a bus. She wished she knew.

Perhaps, if she started by knowing her hair, she could move past the scalp. She could soon find a veil to peep through, into her soul. She could search incessantly and start to find the many things she had lost without knowing.

15 thoughts on “African Rapunzel

  1. Sharon

    This was beautifully written. The beauty of African hair is that it has the most power to transform! If our European counterparts decide to “Chop it all of” well that’s it folks whereas I can braid it! Twist it, weave it if I feel like it. For the past year I have been pondering in weather it is “that deep”. I certainly believed that hair is not just hair. It is so deeply meshed with our thoughts of beauty that on its own complexities. But is MY hair “that deep” ? Aside from me wanting to look good, wanting to look slightly different, understanding that if I have my hair relaxed I can do that straight blowout I love or if I keep my hair unrelaxed I can have a bit of an afro and when that because too laborious I can then have braids in. Not a political statement, not a call for all ladies to drop the forsaken creamy crack or me wanting to be Kim Kardashian. Maybe, a big maybe but maybe nonetheless, I am not my hair. Then again I think of Mrs Obama… Why has she never had braids? Does she not like braids or is it because there is an unspoken rule of the way the first lady of The United States of America should look? Would it be more acceptable if she was an african first lady? Is she trying to look more European as not to stir the prodigal pot some more. I mean heck maybe USA only wants a black family leading if they still have a touch of white in them. She had an afro in the past why doesn’t she don one now? Or perhaps I should care more. Look to be more intentional about my hair. What message am I sending by donning a weave vs braids vs my natural hair? Is it irresponsible of me not to care?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sharon, I know what you mean when you say “is it that deep?” Not a political statement, not a call for all ladies to drop the forsaken creamy crack or me wanting to be Kim Kardashian.” It’s very interesting that you bring up Michele Obama’s case, come to think of it, her hair is always straightened. I have never seen her with a twist *might I add, she’d look lovely in it*, the two sides of the hair coin hang in the air again, is it just her style/choice, or is it a maintenance of power and order, maintaining the “touch of white” as you put it?

      I wonder..would it matter to black girls if a role model like Michelle had braids, at least once. Would it affirm something? If so, what? With the rise of the natural hair movement, women find themselves having to explain weaves (there ‘s a rise of hair police). As though by not joining the movement they were also making a political statement.

      I move from lets grow that afro, do dreadlocks to heck I actually just look great with a weave on too? To, I’m in china there’s a large market to sell hair, to it would be betraying the consciousness revolution to do so. Hair and its place in society (displaced from women’s heads) is tangled up in politics, in symbolism. The question is whether individuals can decide what the symbolism means for themselves?


  2. X

    Finally I managed to read this piece of art. Damn you great firewall! I can relate to this story on so many levels.

    I did not know what the texture of my natural hair was until the age of 22. I was so shocked to feel how soft it actually was. I always thought it would feel like steelwool. AT THE AGE OF 22! There are so many young black girls out there who hate their natural hair even though they have never really seen it.

    That being said,I think it is incorrect to assume that anyone who does not wish to keep their hair in its natural state is ashamed of it. I just wish we lived in a world where, ‘having’ an afro was not seen as a “thing”…oh shucks gotta go,forgot I had to be somewhere. Great comments Shasha and Hlehle. You two are wise beyong your years!


    1. Haha! That firewall hey.. I am simply happy you have become a VPN holder. Finally!

      Its crazy right X?! Even today the 4C’s message skips right through most heads. It seems irrelevant. I mean how do you make a majority of black girls believe they have a hair type, that requires special attention..? When we were younger, the most we knew was that you relax at the end of the month and for those who really got it, you relaxed and treated. The latter always seeming like an unnecessary cost.

      I definitely agree with you on the second point. At all times the choice of ones hairstyle ought to be a personal decision that needs no external commentary.

      Lastly, I hope your trip to somewhere was fruitful 🙂


  3. Nothando Khumalo

    So while I was reading this piece of art I was already formulating the comments I was going to leave here; “such beautiful writing” was already in there, but I see that Sharon beat me to it. Nevertheless, I’m not short. I am in awe my dear, this is such a beautiful piece, I enjoyed every bit of it. I truly believe every black girl out there can relate to what you wrote here. It is poetic!


    1. Thank you Nothando for finding this zesty crunch, a representation of our realities. We know far too much about this subject, the words stemmed from the many conversations we all continue to have about the politics of black hair, and the more personal conversations like “don’t throw the sister-lock strand away, keep it. I’ll sew it on when you come back.” Conversations that can only be heard among us. No doubt they would seem curious to an outsider.


  4. My heart is right here on this page with you.
    I had flash backs to my growing-up years when I read “The mop”`.
    Thank you for sharing and for contributing to the voices that need to be heard.


    1. Samri!
      So lovely to hear from you. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. They add a great deal of value to this conversation. Realizing that across the world, black girls somehow had similar aspirations in the hope of becoming “beautiful” is an enlightening lesson.

      Hahah! The mop Samri, thee most envied household item in the ’90’s.
      And the mop was just chilling there (in all its glorious stench) not even knowing we were reaching. (I stretched that mop moment there-haha, I had to take it home.)



  5. Yho Sihle, where to begin? So this hair conversation is mad political for me. I wish (as Sharon so eloquently put it) that we could go, “screw it, I am not my damn hair ” but we can’t. A lot has happened since you wrote this (read:Pretoria girls high, Solange)that I think has made this discussion all the more interesting. I am not my hair can’t be an option when afros seem political. Like, walking around in the Czech republic (as one of the few black people if I might add ) and getting stares not just for being black but also for your strange hair has reaffirmed the hair politics for me. Like those who came before us, who had to put aside their own desires for the general liberation, this is unfortunately a fight we have to take on. When the way my hair literally grows out of my scalp is called a “hairstyle”,then we know we’re on dangerous territory. Maybe our children can rock whatever the hell they want but for us, whether we like it or not, our hair is politics and there’s no running from that.
    Siwe 🙂


    1. Dearest Siwe, thank you so much for writing back to me. To quote you “screw it, I am not my damn hair ” but we can’t.” That stays being interesting to me. How securely our hair coils back to it’s natural kink despite straightening and heating. Almost like it’s the only thing on our bodies that remember’s it’s natural state, refusing to be bent and reshaped. No’wonder, it’s such a splendid crown. Perhaps a conduit to the heavenlies, a whisper from God that “I know you, i know every hair on your head…” I have read and thought quite deeply about the case of Pretoria Girls high (wrote a response post here, titled Model C schools, assemblies of assimilation), Bee’eeen listening to Solange and in her track 5 words, we have ‘alot to be mad about’. It’s incredible to hear about your new life, in the Czech Republic, such an interesting place to be in, I never thought people choose it as a destination place. Please share more about your experience living there & how you decided to make the move. I thought it being in Europe that maybe the stares wouldn’t be as glaring. I’m sorry that it continues. Yet I know that it is also rebuilding and affirming your sense of identity and place in the world. It’s a time of restoration. Secondly, I am thoroughly appreciating your blog. Your poetry, those beautiful love letters that you write to God. “Keeping writing writer.” ❤ Sending you all the love and strength, please do share more about your travels. xx


  6. Hi there

    What an insightful hair post, thanks for posting this on your blog
    What I enjoyed reading and will remember is this “On the days when she thought of chopping her hair off, she chuckled remembering conversations about short hair which she had with friends. They had all concluded, if you are going to keep short hair, you must at all times carry color lipstick. Also, before cutting your hair short, you ought to become a runner, a rigorous runner just to shed off. You know?

    It’s funny right?! But It’s true, it seems.

    Black hair till now hasn’t existed single-handedly. It’s always required a handmaiden. Color lip-gloss. Hoop earrings. And before lipsticks, it needed relaxing, after relaxing it needed rules accompanied by a school governing body (SGB).”


  7. Dearest Greta

    Thank you so much for taking the time to read and leave a message here on, you pointing out what resonated most helps me appreciate the story in a new way and offers me valuable insight. Thank you for that.

    I got to check out your site. You’re are doing such vibrant, life-giving work. I’m looking forward to delving deeper and reading more on healthy-living, also looking forward to reading your book, will send feedback once I do. Take care & Merry Christmas today.


  8. Sibahle

    You have an amazing way of relaying what so many women are thinking and feeling – vulnerability expressed with strength. Upwards and onwards roomie!


  9. Pingback: Book Giveway: WANDA by Sihle Nontsokweni & Mathabo Tlali | Writing and Illustrating

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