In Jamaica where the black/white racial mixture goes back many generations, it isn’t unusual for natural-born siblings to look very light skinned and very dark skinned and everything in between. And in many of those families the kid with the straightest hair knows they “lucked out” and got the “good hair.”
Having good hair meant you were set for life. You could wash and wear your hair. You could toss your hair over your shoulders with ease. And you didn’t have to panic on a humid, or God forbid, rainy day.
If you weren’t blessed with good hair, you would become intimately familiar with the hot comb, lots of heavy grease, and – the worst – Jaffrey’s hair straightening cream! Weather could be your friend or foe but could not be ignored.
Thankfully, the standard of what good hair looks like has changed and so many women of color are embracing their curls. Today Gunga Peas Books is celebrating deliciously bouncy, curly, and kinky good hair!
I grew up on a sugar plantation in Jamaica very close to the Cockpit Country – a region we learned about in school, but which I had never actually visited. We learned the stories of the strong black leaders who faced down British soldiers and defended their independence. One of the most popular heroes I loved to hear stories about was a woman. Her name was Nanny and she was the quintessential strong black woman. Here is a snippet from my short fictionalized early-reader ebook called Nanny and the Boiling Pot.
“The hills made a perfect hiding place for the Maroons. And they found other escaped slaves hiding there too. Some had lived in the dense forests for years without ever being caught. Their numbers grew strong. They learned how to send messages to each other from great distances by blowing air through a horn called an abeng. And they could “talk” to each other with their drums.
“What should we do?” the Maroons asked each other one-day. “The British will not give up.”
Nanny spoke, “I have magic,” she said. Her bravery and her trickery had made her their leader. “I will defeat the British soldiers.”
“But they are coming closer. I can hear them,” said a small boy.
“Do not be afraid. I have magic,” Nanny rose. She ducked into a thick patch of bushes and then she reappeared with a big black pot. “It is a magic pot,” she said to the boy. Nanny heaved it onto her head. Then she turned and moved up the mountain, pushing tangles of branches and vines out of her way. Her bare feet left no prints on the dampened leaves rotting in the muggy Jamaican heat. Though her body swayed as she walked, the pot sat firmly on the thick mass of hair on top of her head.”
Continuing the tradition of cultural expression through dance, Jamaica’s National Dance Theatre Company (NDTC) was formed in 1962 and continues to thrill islanders across the Caribbean with soul-touching performances. The following excerpt captures a bit of the magic of attending an NDTC performance.
“Sitting in the back of a darkened theater, a little girl holds her breath as her wide eyes follow gyrating dancers across the stage. The drums’ pulsing rhythms rise to a crescendo, she leans forward, gripping her program, until suddenly she is on her feet clapping and screaming, bursting with excitement.” (taken from the April 2001 issue of FACES magazine published by the Cobblestone Publishing Company)
The girl was watching the Company’s iconic piece called Kumina.