A lot of Gambians who wear their hair differently often face discrimination and dehumanizing treatment just because of it. MARIAM SANKANU talks to a few of them, and records narrations of discrimination, abuse, and rights violations against their people just because they wear the dreadlocks hairstyle.
On 23rd of May, between the hours 11 pm and 12 am, Famara Jawara was arrested after he and a friend visited a bar. After they left the bar and were preparing to hit the road back home, they spotted the police patrolling in that vicinity.
Famara had even suggested to his friend that they leave the area, but his friend who also wears the dreadlocks hairstyle, advised they stay so they will not attract any suspicion because of their hair.
Soon after, the police approached the vehicle they were seated in – a vehicle belonging to the friend he was onboard the vehicle with. When they were asked to step down, they obeyed. As Famara stood outside the vehicle and was being searched, he claims to have received two slaps from a police officer at that spot, when all he was saying to that officer was “I am a citizen. You are doing your work.”
He was later “picked up” and “thrown” onboard the police pickup. He was then taken to a police station in Brikama and subsequently transferred to another police station in that area at around 2 am to 3 am.
He spent the night in jail, though he was found with nothing that suggested he was a criminal. All efforts made to secure his bail failed. It was not until a friend of his contacted a lady working in the force, whose intervention led to him being granted bail on Sunday at around 5 pm. Giving reasons that made him attribute this event to his hair, he said: “Because I know how I am treated in the community.
I relate it to my hair because I can be in a van, we see a checkpoint, and maybe I will be the only person to come down from the car to search me. So why will I not relate it to my hair when I have been victimized over and over?”
Famara is a painter and owns a school called Gambrits where he also works as a welfare manager. But it is hard for him to convince people that he is a responsible and hardworking person because society has already given him an identity because of his hair.
when Killa Ace, a rapper and an activist, was arrested in 2019 after being accused of participating in setting the house of a former head of Anti-Crime Unit on fire, he had to give something up – his hair.
According to prison policies, one is not allowed to have long hair in prison, which meant his hair had to be cut off at Mile 2 Prisons. Describing how he felt at that moment, he said: “I felt pissed off, defeated somehow knowing that somebody is taking advantage of you and you can’t do nothing – taking something from you that you love a lot.”
He admits that these are prison policies, but he however sees this as a major violation of his rights, especially considering that he was detained for two weeks over a crime he says he did not commit and to top it all, he had to lose his hair of almost three years – which he is now growing again.
Being a woman who had decided 14 years ago to wear her natural hair unapologetically, Queenie B, a radio presenter, event promoter, artist promoter and a mother, deals with negative comments such as “you are not African enough,” “you are not going to get married,” and she can rarely enjoy a full compliment without a “but” because of her hair.
She admits that the negativity sometimes gets to her, but her hair has made her more accepting of her entire African-ness. Keeping her dreadlocks comes with consequences though. Giving an example,
she recounted: “I have been in positions where friends and sometimes close partners that we probably would have been doing work together, few have mentioned that meetings have been called where someone with my expertise is needed but I’m always turned down.”
She describes her own struggles as having to deal with “two negatives” because she is dark-skinned and wears dreadlocks. Despite the struggles she faces because of her hair, the mother of a 6- year old is considering growing dreads on her daughter’s hair at the age of 10, provided her daughter wants it.
BANKOLE YAO JOJO AHADZIE (BANKY)
Bankole Yao Jojo Ahadzie known as Banky is an individual most Gambians started knowing recently after billboards carrying his photo revealed his intention to compete in the presidential elections slated for December 2021.
However, even before Banky says a word, people tend to hear the things they believe his hair says for him. On social media, people use different terms to describe the type of government he would be leading if he comes into power; and statements such as “Rasta government,” “Cannabis government,” and a host of other negative connotations associated with dreadlocks seem to be some of the loudest.
He became a well-known aspiring Presidential candidate because of his dreadlocks, which eventually led to questions about the legalization of cannabis. Banky holds the belief that if blades and combs were not invented, everyone would have been Rasta.
Banky, who is a PhD. candidate who works with a reputable research organisation, says people using his hair as a basis to determine his capabilities only display serious manifestations of ignorance on their part.
He also sees the rejection of his hair as indicative of Gambians holding on to beliefs passed on to them by colonizers, and he is challenging people to ask “why” questions instead of always conforming to everything society terms as acceptable.
“I see a lot of ignorance but I see a lot of hope for converting people. For telling people that what you believe may not always be the truth.”
Published on July 2, 2021