Did you know that Haiti, like other spots of the African Dyaspora, has its own natural hair movement going on? Kreyolicious reached out to several active members of this movement to get a full picture of what the movement is like on the island motherland. Annie-Christine Emilcar, who founded and edits the blog Afro Alice, joins me on the subject, as does Princess Eud, a rapper based in Port-au-Prince, and Christina “BèlNègès” Julme, a digital entrepreneur who runs Bèl Nègès, a website that focuses on natural hair, wellness and self-esteem.
Above: Chrissy Julme (second from left), poses with other members of the natural hair and wellness community BèlNègès in Port-au-Prince. Photo Credit: BèlNègès/Georges Harry Rouzier
In reaching out to these three ladies, these five things about the natural hair movement in Haiti were prominent…
1. Natural hair has always been a way of life for some in Haiti. It’s the new consciousness that it comes with that’s new.
Rapper Princess Eud states, “Natural hair was never a stylish trend for women in Haiti. Ever since I was little, I have known women who never had a perm…and even today when you’re in the smaller cities, the majority of women wear their hair naturally, and their hair is always wrapped under a scarf. It’s not until they undo the scarf that you’ll be able see the abundance of beautiful, natural hair.”
“Now, we can say more women in influential roles in Haiti are wearing their hair naturally. And more people on the Internet are making it into a movement, because it was never those type of women who wore their hair naturally. But natural hair is nothing new for women in Haiti.”
Like Princess Eud, Annie-Christine “Afro Alice” Emilcar says she’s pleased with seeing so many embrace natural hair. “I am even seeing women working at the bank rocking their natural hair—something truly spectacular given that natural hair was [always] seen as being unprofessional [in that sector].”
2. Growing up, natural hair wasn’t exactly a welcomed notion, says some.
“They always made me believe that natural hair is worn by people who don’t have the means to [get it permed’] or for girls who aren’t sophisticated enough, or for young girls who haven’t hit adolescence,” recalls Princess Eud of her early years. “To me, getting a perm was a rite of passage that showed that you were really grown up, and it also meant that your economic situation was on a decent level, because you could afford a perm. And I was made to believe to that it made you more beautiful because the hair isn’t so nappy, and it’s not so hard to comb anymore.”
Annie-Christine “Afro Alice” Emilcar remembers all the messages about natural hair that infiltrated her psyche as a kid. “Growing up, my dream was to perm my hair as early as possible,” she recalls. “Having long straight hair was a real fantasy to me. At home, It was a tradition to get a perm during the last year of high school, but I couldn’t wait. I bargained with my mom and relaxed my hair three years earlier. I liked natural hair on rare people but would never imagine I would embrace my natural hair someday. Perm was freedom to me.”
3. Early adopters had a hard time.
Rapper Princess Eud says that she’s been wearing her hair naturally for eleven years now. But the road to naturalhairdom was not exactly paved with diamonds and silver. “At the beginning, it was a bit difficult, even within my own family,” she recalls. “No one else had gone dread in my family before me. They thought it was strange that I had chosen to [go that route with] my hair. Some people thought my head wasn’t on straight, but I didn’t care. Now, everybody’s thinking it’s great. Even my father, who didn’t like the idea of dreads [thinks differently now]. [Now] if someone were to object to my hair, he’s the first one to step in and say, “Why should she have to cut them? Don’t you see how long this girl’s natural hair is. It’s not a weave. It’s her own natural hair.”
Above: Annie-Christine Emilcar, the founder of Afro Alice—the online community for naturals in Haiti—wears her natural curls. Courtesy of Afro Alice.
4.The media plays a role..boy does the media play a role.
The media is a powerful medium in Haiti, as with any other place. Princess Eud contends: “What the media shows the most is what the majority of folks are going to pick up on and follow. [Depending on what they see, they’ll say], ” ‘Don’t you see, it’s what’s in style now. I’m going to cut my hair. I’m going to perm my hair’ or ‘I’m going to wear an afro’.”
So what do young Haitian girls and young women in Haiti see on television, on billboards and on commercials in Haiti? Not themselves, for sure, says Annie-Christine “Afro Alice” Emilcar. “I think TV and ads in magazines have a big impact on the image of young women in Haiti,” Emilcar observes. “So many women feel they are not beautiful because their nose is flat, their lips thick and full, their hair kinky and their skin dark. The media depicts the European ideal of beauty and that severely influences women. A lot of women bleach their skin and sacrifices their hair in favor of long straight or wavy wigs or weaves.” This is why in part, the blogger’s website features women of all colors sporting natural hairstyles. “Everything starts or ends with the mind. Your mind is highly influenced by what you read and see,” Emilcar concludes.
Above: Haiti rapper Princess Eud sports natural hairstyles and gets pretty creative about it. Photo Credit: Samuel Dameus
5. The natural hair movement is more on fire in the USA, Canada, the other islands than it is in Haiti.
Annie-Christine “Afro Alice” Elmicar thinks that the natural hair movement in Haiti hasn’t reached the heights of the ones in other communities. “From what I see in Haiti, there is a “trend” for natural hair,” she observes. “They embrace it less than black women from the U.S. or Canada because they are less educated about haircare. Adding to that, the movement recently started in Haiti—between 2009 and 2010 versus the USA and Canada where it started earlier.”
Princess Eud agrees to some extent. “I can say [women in other countries like the USA, Canada, and other countries] have embraced it more.”
Above: Chrissy Julme, the founder of BèlNègès—a website that gives tips on maintaining and caring for natural hair—strikes a pose. Photo Credit: Pierre Moise.
Whether some like it or not, says the ladies, natural hair is catching on. Says Princess Eud, “I think a lot of people do it, just because they see how cute it is on someone else’s head, and they say to themselves: ‘Why don’t I try that style too?’ I think there are others who are influenced by this beautiful movement, by what they see on the internet. Blogger Afro Alice, for instance, has loads of photos to inspire natural hair wearers.
Julme says, “It’s true that there’s a lot of focus on natural hair right now. But [on the BèlNègès website], I always take the time to remind everyone that hair is only just part of it. We have to be in love with, and take care of every aspect of what makes us.”
Adds Princess Eud, “They [hair enthusiasts] see a lot of beautiful ladies with their beautiful natural hair, and they find it tempting. And I think there are others who do it for an even more meaningful cause…like those who think perms are damaging their hair, that their scalp is getting burned, and so on. In any case, I think it makes a great impact when I’m watching all these beautiful ladies with their natural hair on their head. This shows that we are proud, and we respect ourselves as we are. By the way, I don’t have a problem with those who have permed hair, but I think everyone should wear their hair, however they feel comfortable.”
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