Dreadlocks are an iconic hairstyle, having been imprinted in the cultural consciousness by pop culture figures from Bob Marley to Whoopi Goldberg. But as dreadlocks have gained popularity, there has been increased interest in exploring their complex history.
If you’ve ever thought to yourself, “where did dreadlocks originate,” this guide is for you. We’ll show you who created them, their original purpose, and more in our guide.
The Origins of Dreadlocks
Long story short, dreadlocks have appeared in a variety of human civilizations throughout history. Most notably, dreadlocks have been traced to cultures in Greece, Eastern Africa, Egypt, Mesoamerica, and northwest Europe.
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Where Did Dreadlocks Originate?
Since dreadlocks don’t have one factual point of origin, we’re highlighting six of the touchstones for the hairstyle’s origins. Read on to learn more!
1. Ancient Egypt
While many cultures developed dreadlocks, Ancient Egypt remains one of the most influential, because it remains an iconic reminder of the cultural and technological heritage of people from Africa.
Like other cultures on this list, there is no confirmed date at which dreadlocks were born, nor is there a single person said to have invented them.
This is because of the nature of historical evidence: people in ancient societies did not often preserve things that were commonplace, much fewer things that were rare but unremarkable, and so the task of archaeology and history is to deduce details about the past from whatever traces remain.
In the case of Egypt, these traces take the form of mummified remains. Most famous is Maiherpi, an Egyptian noble whose mummified remains were discovered in the early 20th century — complete with a head of tightly-curled locs glued to his scalp.
Beyond the historical evidence, images of Egyptians with dreadlocks and braided hair have spread far and wide as testimonies to the enduring historical importance of the hairstyle.
Besides Ancient Egypt, one of the oldest cultures to innovate locked hair was Ancient Greece. The research into this topic is challenging because few Ancient Greek cultures directly reported using dreadlocks.
That said, historians and archaeologists have uncovered traces that certain Bronze Age civilizations found locked hair meaningful enough to record. In particular, historians have identified dreadlocks in two extremely old Greek cultures.
The first is that of the Minoans, who lived on the island of Crete around 3500 years ago and painted images of children wearing dreadlocks.
Similarly, historians have uncovered images from Thera, now recognized as the idyllic Greek island of Santorini, that depict young boys in tightly braided hair that closely resembles dreadlocks. Like the Minoan images, these frescoes date to around 1500 B.C.E.
An important qualifier is that historians have not necessarily found the origin of dreadlocks per se in Ancient Greece. Instead, they’ve found extremely old depictions of braided hair.
This doesn’t mean that all dreadlock wearers in history were taking cues from Ancient Greece — it just means that tightly braiding hair is a common human innovation that emerges in many different cultural contexts.
3. Hindu Cultures
Another culture to co-originate dreadlocks is that of northern India. In the contemporary era, it is common to see Hindu Indians wear dreadlocks, called Jaṭā in the Hindu language.
The hairstyle is most often worn by ascetics and yogis who practice devotion to Shiva, one of the principal gods of Hinduism and considered the Supreme God in major Hindu traditions. As in Greece and Egypt, there is ample evidence that Jaṭā has existed in India for millennia.
For instance, historians have uncovered that a culture of dreadlock hairstyles has existed around the area of modern-day Delhi for nearly 1500 years.
As a testament to the style’s lasting importance, historical and contemporary art depicts Shiva as wearing dreadlocks, suggesting an extremely deep-seated origin to the practice of wearing Jaṭā.
As in the case of Greece and Ancient Egypt, the dreadlocks of Hindu cultures are not necessarily identical to those of other cultures, such as Rastafarianism and Black American culture.
Many hair textures are conducive to wearing locked hair, and it may well be an independent innovation — distinct but no less original — for Hindu ascetics to wear locs.
Rastafarianism is perhaps the most influential source of dreadlock imagery in the modern world. Although people wore dreadlocks in Mediterranean cultures as early as 1500 B.C.E., the image of the devout Rasta took locs mainstream.
The Rastafari movement developed as a popular religious counterculture in 1930s Jamaica, emerging against the backdrop of repressive British colonialism.
In line with its emphasis on the dignity of Blackness and the connection of Black people to King Solomon, Rastafarianism saw an immense interest in dreadlocks — a hairstyle which, many rastas believe, represents a covenant with Jah (the Rastafari term for God) in the style of Samson, a figure in the Hebrew Bible.
In keeping with the religion’s syncretic practices, Rastafarians have eclectic and diverse opinions on dreadlocks. Some believe that the biblical Book of Numbers instructs believers to cultivate dreadlocks, while others believe the style is optional.
Regardless, it is a simple fact that Rastafarians, such as pop culture icon Bob Marley, are responsible for the hairstyle’s exposure to global audiences.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some of the most frequently asked questions regarding the origins of dreadlocks.
Who first wore dreadlocks?
There is no clear-cut originator of dreadlocks. That said, historical evidence suggests that Minoan Greeks, who lived around 3500 years ago, first wore braided hair.
Ancient Egyptians and north Indian Hindus have also worn dreadlocks for millennia, and Rastafarians were arguably the most influential in popularizing the haircut.
Did dreadlocks originate in Africa?
Dreadlocks do not have a clear origin since they are, in the broadest sense, a technology for braiding thick hair. Some of the oldest cultures to develop dreadlocks, namely that of Ancient Egypt, were in Africa. Additionally, the movement that popularized locs, Rastafarianism, began in Jamaica and was inspired by East African culture.
Did dreadlocks come from vikings?
In short, no. Many cultures developed dreadlocks as independent innovations at different points in history. As a result, while some Northern European seafarers might have braided their hair as a habit, they did not invent them.
Additionally, it is clear that no matter who first created locked hair, the contemporary practice of wearing dreadlocks comes from East African and Jamaican cultures.
What does the Bible say about dreadlocks?
The books of the Bible are eclectic documents gathered from various periods in history and collected together in one compilation, not straightforward texts.
For that reason, some Biblical texts contradict one another on the subject of long hair. For instance, Samson, who appears in the Book of Judges, has long hair that symbolizes God’s favor.
Similarly, the Book of Numbers alludes to the holiness of wearing long locks of hair. On the other hand, Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, written in a vastly different place in time, suggests that men should not cultivate long hair.
Do dreads smell?
Dreadlocks are a hairstyle like any other, which means, if the wearer does not give them proper care, they can become dirty and develop an unpleasant smell. That said, proper hair care can protect dreads and keep them clean.
So, Where Did Dreadlocks Originate?
Dreadlocks are one of the most complex and interesting hairstyles in human culture. Besides their obvious beauty, they have a rich history that cannot be pinned down to one location or another.
So, if you’re up late at night wondering where do dreadlocks originate? The answer is — well, lots of places! We hope you’re learned a little about dreads and why they matter in the guide above.