Yesterday I was walking home from the grocery store when I passed a brother who made eye contact with me and said, “I’ll be glad when my locks come back.”
“Trust me I understand, I understand, I understand” was my simple reply. I really could sympathize with the man. My locks are just beginning to get back to some kind of length.
Two and a half years ago I sacrificed my dreadlocks in order to be initiated as a student of Ifa. I didn’t hesitate. It was standard procedure in the initiation ritual. It was my opinion that no one should allow their vanity to get in their way of their spirituality. My hair was a small sacrifice to pay for the chance to be a lot closer to Orisas and ancestors; my hair and a good chunk of change. At least that was my thinking at the time. I must confess to a little embarrassment now. But I am happy to say that I did not make my sacrifice in vain. Hopefully, others can learn from my experience.
As a brand new iyawo I continued down a path that required me to make a lot of sacrifices in my life. I spent the majority of my time alone and deep in thought. But all the time in solitude with minimal external stimulation I began to formulate a series of opinions and ideas that began to run contrary to what I was being taught as the traditional processes in this African spirituality. I began to ask myself questions about the entire process. One of the questions that I began to ponder was what exactly did my haircut have to do with the initiation process.
Nothing should keep a person from their spirituality. Growing up a young Christian I learned the story of Abraham and Isaac in Genesis 22:1-19 where the Christian god wanted to test Abraham’s devotion by asking him to sacrifice his only son. I must admit that I always wondered why the Christian god saw a need to test Abraham since he is supposed to already know everything. And the test sounds so cruel to any parent’s emotions. But regardless, I internalized the story when I was a Christian and I wanted to prove to my Ifa community that I wouldn’t hesitate to do what is necessary to be a good student of Ifa.
But I soon found out that the problem with being a good student of Ifa is that you would not necessarily be an obedient student. An initiation ceremony doesn’t necessarily imbue someone with wisdom or knowledge. What it might do is give someone a sense of confidence that they may not have had before. So I guess that with my new confidence in myself I began to see the illogic of doing things because they’re tradition especially when they run contradictory to what would honestly be best for the community. Tradition says initiates that have more seniority have more authority in community issues no matter how irresponsible the seniors may be. Traditionally, it is how the African community keeps order. This is not to say that a healthy adherence to traditions is inherently wrong. But a single minded focus on the traditional way of doing things above all else is also a good way for a community to become stagnant.
One of the things I was told during my initiation ceremony is that a good student of Ifa would always stand tall for what was right even if he or she must stand alone. I learned very quickly that I would be spending a lot of time alone or at least away from my original ile. But freed of the interference of elders and seniors I was able to develop a new appreciation for the way Ifa truly works and what is truly required. The integrity of the people who lead in the community is far more important than their seniority. People who suffer from integrity issues may be tempted to put their personal welfare before the welfare of the community. That’s only human nature. But it is an irresponsible community that allows itself to be led by an irresponsible leader.
The haircut of the initiate has an effect on the person. It is a physical manifestation of submission not to spirituality but to the social rules of the ile. Neither ancestors, Orisas, nor Olodumare require people to shave their heads, dance a jig, go deep into debt, or anything else that has become standard practice in most initiation processes. The initiation ritual is little more than a confirmation of a special relationship between the devotee and their spirituality. It is a personal thing that doesn’t require outward manifestations or proof of the change to the crowd or audience.
So to anyone who is told to shave their head or take out a bank loan to get their initiation I strongly suggest that they take the time to think heavily about what they are being told and what they are about to do. Sacrificing your hair isn’t going to make you any more of a devotee and keeping your hair will not make you any less a devotee. I hope this message saves a lot of dreadlocks. In my humble opinion the black community simply looks so much better with as many locks as possible on people’s heads.