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When An African Mum Chops Off Her Baby’s Hair…

By Chinelo Eze 21 February 2021   |   7:00 am

A baby’s growing hair. | Image: FirstCry Parenting

Is the decision of shaving off a baby’s hair for the first time an attempt to end babyhood? Well, unlike the times when the Anita Bakers’ ruled the world, having full, woolly and luscious hair has become a trend for some years now and has therefore facilitated the natural hair movement as we have it. It has enhanced the availability of suiting and appropriate hair care products which encourage self-love and self-care of the blacknificent kinky curls.

But amid these thick afros, are baby’s hair. We reflect on babies’ hair and the cultural sentiments behind the need to shave off baby’s hair instead of allowing it to bloom and grow.

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In some cultures, it is a big moment deciding on when to cut a baby’s hair. During these moments, parents have to deal with deciding when the right moment is. Historians say that the first instance of shaved hair was discovered in ancient Egypt where men and women stayed bald to deal with heat as well as stay clean. The extent to the perception of cleanliness attributed to shaved hair is viewed in the razors, tweezers and knives found in their tombs.

Cut low, this baby’s hair is appealing. | Image: Pinterest

In Europe, an old wives’ English tale, which has many believing that something is wrong with a baby’s natural hair from birth hence the need to cut it off, has been unwittingly passed on from one generation to another for the purpose of preservation of culture and family heritage and dynamics of a family.

Arguably, cutting off a baby’s hair in Africa might just be a borrowed custom that has lingered long enough to gain authority on the grounds of the lack of traditional African documentation. In many parts of Africa, the most significant culture of head shaving is usually attributed to bereavement; where shaving becomes a mourning ritual primarily done by women and their daughters as an act of respect to the dead.

Though a dying tradition, some still practice it not even fully understanding the symbolic act but because it is what they have observed happening or having grandmas also as relics of tradition around the home who probe and cajole the act to take place without possibly detailed explanation of the representational act. This notion consequently tosses aside the decision and role of genetics to determine a child’s hair quality in texture and growth rate.

In Asian culture, this act is primarily based on the need for the child to have thicker and fuller hair. In China, the act represents good luck, and having the colour red is meaningfully featured in the ceremony.

Toddler. | Image: Novocom

As a form of religious obligation, the symbolic representations of the first-ever shave of a baby’s hair or little children are a rite of passage. Muslims practice this and have to shave the child’s hair within 7 days. When this is done the hair is weighed and the worth is given to charity, and if the hair weighs nothing worth monetary value, the parents still have to give to “charity”.

For the Hindus, this practice is called Mundan and is done between 4 months to 3 years of age. This practice is revered and celebrated as it represents the child leaving behind the misfortunes of the previous life.

Another school of thought believes that the mother’s womb is dirty, thus the cleansing process by a shave off. It begets to ask why the previous life is always perceived as one of misfortune and doom?

As the symbolic rite stands glaring, for others, this is a practice they never knew of. So simple reasons like the uneven growth gifted to most children suffices to shaving off the child’s hair in the hope that it encourages new sprout. Again, whatever happens to the children that never had their hair shaved off? We are indeed witnessing the side effects of not getting that first baby hair off their head.

In this article:
baby’s hairChinelo Eze
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