Welcome to It’s A Wrap – UK

| October 15, 2012

Lena Pamphile – UK Wrap Guru

CaribDirect hereby presents another fragment in the Caribbean compass, ‘It’s A Wrap – UK’, a showcase of hairdressing, fun, creativity, fashion, culture and identity.

October in the UK is designated to the celebration of Black heritage likewise in the Caribbean it is International Creole month with activities culminating on ‘Jouynen Kweyol’.(Creole day)

The paradox here is that there are political and social arguments which go on around the question of why just one month for recognition and not the all inclusiveness? This takes place both in UK as well as in the Caribbean.

As with all celebrations come the fete and the dress up, what better way to display the heritage, but by donning fabulous clothes and costumes. The headdress is an essential part of the national wear.

Surely, lots come to mind when we think of heritage – the collective past which helped shaped my future. Well, what holds true in our heritage is that, we identify that we enjoy the dress up to fete, to give respect to elders and greet the great creator, all encompassed in recognizing the social value.

Appropriately coiffed hairstyles and head pieces are the epitome of our glamour. To add, most times they are won simply to go to church. In the Kweyol (creole)context, the wob dwiyet  sété abiman! (traditional / national dress , spelt sophistication ).

True of the information stated on a piece on display at the Wellcome Trust; the headwear back then and even presently, displays personal taste. It goes on to state that African coiffures can serve to identify ethnic origin, marital status, social status and place in life cycle.

This bit of Wellcome Trust treasure entitled, ‘Female head with elaborate coiffure…’ is a ‘wooden headdress covered with skin and has eyes of zinc; teeth of bone and an elaborate coiffure. (pictured) Oils such as camwood are used to dress the hair or shape the coiffure.’

I don’t know about you, however this piece takes me back to late 70s being a little flower girl participating in my Aunt’s wedding, the hairstyle was similar except it was not necessary for me to have extensions- no boast, but I did have the hair for it. The technique was wrapping the hair in such creative artistry.

Every time I tie a head piece, I am engulfed by a huge sense of pride; it causes me to smile – am taken straight back to giggling at my mother’s dance to a Beguine Siwo (form of music & dance – Siwo= sweetness). Do you know that the head pieces tell the story of mating or in today’s terms match making? Yes! It all depended on the number of petals or peaks on the headwrap.

Imagine at a Ball Gwan Moun (grown up (big people) dance), how do the couples make their moves? Ah ha! It was based on the display from the head wraps. I would have thought that the saying ‘a smile is the shortest distance between two people’ was the winning formula for the courtship of our elders, but it was the coiffure and wrap.

Today some of us are too embarrassed to wear our head wraps even when requested to do so for special occasions, but ladies and gentlemen, there are benefits. There is a certain level of respect or reverence paid to one wearing a headwrap; especially from the brothers, they make eye contact, smile from the eyes and nod -the unspoken signs of acknowledgement and praise.

For some of us bothered by frizzy hair at the time when you are really stressed and pressed for time, what better than being able to wear a head wrap? This becomes equivalent to the little black dress which is always advised to be kept in a corner of the closet.

You’ll be instantly transformed into the High Priestess – representing the guardian of deepest knowledge. This you will notice will transform your whole being. Please note that, this is not only addressed to women, the brothers with lots of long ‘fros or dreads, this too is for you. This simple action make you stand erect wrapped in dignity, moving in proud strides.

There is a deeper aspect to who we are, where we are, identifiable headwraps and all. Our consciousness of the powers of the interlinking histories has immense potential to support the structure of contemporary society, development of cultural awareness and understanding. We recognize that these will results in strengthened empathy, tolerance and shared sense of place.

In ‘Creole Canticles’ a brilliant poem by John Robert Lee describes the setting of the aforementioned ‘Ball Gwan Mouns’. From Spanish to French to Dutch to Portuguese to English Caribbean – The funeral, the belé, tamboo mele, salsa, mambo, Gwo Ka, bolero, Son, rumba, compas, Beguine, etcetera, all come alive in an impressive array of dance styles including ancient African rituals. Some of the dances even caused scandals. To think that it all stemmed from match making based on headwraps.

The mark of identity which was exchanged through social interaction  was the national or creole dress which has origins in pre-emancipation days when on feast days and holidays African women would depart from donning the dreary uniform or livre that slaves were provided, and would adorn themselves in bright finery purchased from the proceeds of their small garden allotments.

The headpiece (tèt anlè, mawé, marré (– head ties; anle=above) is designed out of a square or rectangular piece cut for this purpose.  Worn over the forehead, it is creatively folded with a peak(s) extending from the base.

The head piece may be tied with up to four peaks, with the number of peaks signifying the availability of the woman for courtship: one peak – I am single, two peaks – I am married, three peaks- I am widowed or divorced, four peaks – I accept everyone who tries. An tan lontan sé madanm-lan té ka abiyé an dwiyèt pou dansé (long ago the ladies wore the traditional dress to the dance).

There may be something there. Even when you see another sister wearing her head wrap and has dropped one or two curls just out of the wrap to fall on the forehead or behind the ear like a naughty little piece – how playful – well guys I’m not sure that that works for you, but I’ll keep my eyes open – and be sure to comment when I see one.

The last time I wore my head wrap, I received two compliments from the same individual. It could have been that he forgot that he’d said it before or he just wished to mark territory because the second time there was another man present. That is something worth investigating.

He also went on to ask whether it was head wear worn because of the rain, we laughed together. Anyway, I should have just responded by saying ‘thank you’ – but I stated with such honesty that I needed to get my hair coiffed, that’s why I was wearing a wrap. While that may have been true then, I realised one thing, the other man stated that I looked like an empress. Most off all, I should learn to accept all compliments and that I was talented in executing the wrap and that there was such majesty behind it.

In all, the concept of time and creativity have remained central to heritage, it is a view from the present, either backward to a past or forward to a future. The value of heritage experiences is complex, however, it relates quite distinctly to the individual.

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Category: Culture & Society, It's A Wrap UK, Lifestyle

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