It's been said that hair left to its own devices coils in the direction of the earth's rotation like tides follow the moon. Since the dawn of civilization, cultures worldwide have given way to this natural order, wearing locked tresses as a sign of spiritual devotion or political resistance, or as a rite of passage. They are called jatta in India, ndiagne in Senegal, palu in Sri Lanka. But Jamaican Rastafarians--influenced by black nationalist Marcus Garvey, the Nazarites of the Bible, and freedom movements in Ethiopia and Kenya--popularized dreadlocks through reggae music and its ambassador, the natty Bob Marley.
That this homage to African heritage is now a badge of world citizenship shows how far the "happy to be nappy" movement--phase two of Black Is Beautiful--has marched. Dreads (Artisan Books), a new coffee-table collection of photographs with an introduction by Alice Walker musing lyrically on the decision to let her own mane mat, captures locks in all their diversified glory--from New Zealand to Ghana to Arizona.
For some, locks are more fashion than politics. Tokyo trendsetters pay yen into the thousands to have their bone-straight hair drilled into "instalocs," imitating what was once a statement against vanity and artificiality. And many African Americans, freed by their hair-itage to express their individuality, bleach their dreads blonde. Yet the ascendancy of style doesn't mean the end of spirit, for who knows whether you grow locks or they grow you. --Angela Ards