An Essay about Indigenous Hair-Dos and Don’ts
In the beginning
The earliest memory to survive the red fog of infancy reveals your great-grandmother on her bed, cutting the thick peppery plait falling down her back with a blunt pair of orange-handled kitchen scissors. Remember the resistance. Imagine if the ropes of Maui had snapped and the world had been plunged back into the womb of darkness. After she died, you found it again, coiled and paled like the skin of an ancient snake. You held it to your throat, between her unwanted fur coats and felt like Cleopatra deciding not to wait for the Romans.
How to Not be Dead in a Year of Snakes
According to Greek Mythology, according to Wikipedia, Medusa was a ‘monster’ generally described as a winged human female with venomous snakes in place of her hair. Gazers upon her ‘hideous’ face would turn into stone. However it is less known that Medusa was a master carver, engraving her existence in bone forever. Anything else said about her is a rumour and a violent appropriation. In fact, it must be difficult not to sprout a head of snakes in a society constantly hissing at you.
Samson and Delilah
When I was thirteen I straightened my hair in secret with my nana’s iron in an attic. From then on, I crushed myself skinny between hot metal plates every morning. The smell of dead ends burning, was the scent of prayer candles. Ake Ake Ake, Amene.
Starry Nights in Nelson
My nana is a wallflower, but a flower nonetheless. This means she is always being looked at and looked at—at her expense. When she was born, she was born with a new kind of beauty. The type that truly ached in the fifties. Brown skin stretched over white stock bones. She had her father’s height and his perfect featureless features set alight by the warmth of her mother’s black sand eyes and hair but hers was so long and so straight that it was dizzying to look at—like looking at the stars in a place where there is only sky, and feeling absolutely in awe, but terrified by the great burning darkness. It’s the kind of beauty that makes men crash cars, abandon wives and launch ships. Unfortunately for her, all this is very loud and my nana is a wallflower, but a flower nonetheless.
The Waikato Wars
When I lie in the bath, I fill up the tub with blue-black hair, bruised and swampy. I imagine that I am a 19th-century body of a mother in the Waikato, forced from my pa, fleeing in the forest. I am found swollen in a watery grave.
A Step by Step Guide to Dying
Relax. Wash hair with tears. Condition with kumarika oil, coconut oil, olive oil of the ancient Greek kind. Relax. Egg whites for a hot glossy shine. Gasoline for hot glossy shine. Light a match for an edgy new cut. Distressed is in. Relax. Buy a box of Nordic blonde every full moon but never use it. This is imperative. Rinse thoroughly with intergenerational trauma and pink water. Blow dry straight with a 1950s gold soft-paddle brush pulled only from the finest palomino ponies. Now take a step back and relax. Admire your silky manageable mane.
In 1995 I was born and Walt Disney’s Animated Classic Pocahontas was released. Have you ever heard a wolf cry to the blue corn moon? Mum has. I howled when my mother told me Pocahontas was real but she went with John Smith to England and got a disease and died. Representation is important.
Nicole Scherzinger was born in Honolulu, Hawai’i. Nicole Scherzinger was born into a Catholic family. Nicole Scherzinger’s parents separated when she was just a baby. Nicole Scherzinger moved with her mother to Louisville, Kentucky. Nicole Scherzinger admits that while growing up, her family did not have a lot of money. Nicole Scherzinger thanks her mother for all the support she gave her to become what she is today. Nicole Scherzinger was the only Pacific Island Princess I ever saw in the centre of a TV screen so in maths class, we practice swinging our chairs out from behind us, while grinding our hips and untying our hair. We loosen up the buttons of our school shirts, accordingly. I dead-eye the teacher. Don’t you wish your girlfriend was hot like me and Nicole Scherzinger?
Starless Nights in Wellington
In a hotel room, a man runs his hands through your hair like a surveyor. He is surprised when he asks you if it’s dyed. Groans when he tells you that he has never seen hair that black before. But what he really means is skin, what he really means is you’ve been a bad bad girl what he really means is I don’t typically fuck with minority races but I still want to fuck you. He touches you in a place that makes you wish your hair was a crown of snakes, but it’s not enough to make you leave. Your mouth is a perpetual O that looks like a yes please, and never a no. Representation is important.
Science and Religion
Hair colour is the pigmentation of hair follicles due to two types of melanin: eumelanin and pheomelanin. If more eumelanin is present, the hair is darker; if less eumelanin is present, the hair is lighter. The darker a person’s natural hair colour is, the more individual hair follicles they have on their scalp. When a person’s natural hair colour is darker, the eyes tend to match so if the eyes are the window to the soul, then we are soulless, plunged back into darkness and floating between worlds.
Politics and Activism
I have decided to tactically develop a crush on Hone Harawira. This is for my sanity and protection. In order to achieve this I am rebranding as a black panther. Turtle necks, aviators and Ranginui Walker. Ka Whaiwhai Tonu Matou are the only Māori words I know. I know it’s not enough. But damn it’s a good few words to start with!
We Will Fight!
Everyone talks about my seventeen-year-old sister’s hair to the point that it causes her anxiety. She wants to get a trim, but she has to negotiate her colonial guilt with our ancestors first. Personally, as the oldest, I inherit the most mana. I will do us both a favour and cut it while she is sleeping.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Tayi Tibble recently completed her Masters degree in Creative Writing from The Institute of Modern Letters. Her work has appeared in Starling, Sweet Mammalian and Landfall amongst others.