This poem was written in response to a discussion about the care of natural hairstyles.
I was fascinated to learn of other peoples experiences.
The opportunity arose to share my own approach to the care of black hair as it had developed due to the care and attention given to me as I grew up. This care came naturally to my sisters and to my Mama but I am sure that my daughter would attest to the fact that the aptitude for care for natural hair is not a general characteristic inherent in all of us as black women. I had absolutely no patience .
I was from the school that pledged :”It has to hurt to be beautiful” (brainwashed by my sisters who probably had as much empathy in equal shares to the amount that they had been given !)
Thankfully her caucasian Papa became skilled and was always more caring and patient in the care of her hair when she was small.
I publicly offer my apologies to my daughter and thank her for later in life leading the way by taking me to her hairdresser who catered for all hairstyles including natural hair .
(I had remained stuck in the past in the days when we just had petroleum jelly.)
Recently I have discovered the remarkable achievement of the founder of World Afro Day -Michelle De Leon.
The celebration of this day on 15 th September since 2017 is one that I was not aware of, however I am catching up.
The unity of children from all backgrounds and cultures; the discussion that is raised in the assembly presentations of lessons in hair care; the positive approach to natural hairstyles in both celebrating the history (did you know that braids often carried messages when worn in Africa?) and linking this with positive identity and uniqueness of each growing individual by a world classroom event ,is awesome.
The World Afro Day website should be one that if you have not already encountered ,then we can all look to- in an attempt to enrich our knowledge and understanding,during black history month.
Here is my poem
When I was small
My Mama would
Adorm my plaits with ribbons
She taught my sisters to do it in her stead
But they never caught the flair
Of Mama’s choice or of the fashion
In which she dressed my hair
I liked it best
When Mama cared to match the ribbon
With my dress
And pull the plaits tighter
Which hurt at first
But it was worth it
As neither the plait nor the ribbon fell out before bedtime
If the plait unfurled and the ribbon was loose while at school
I had to search for my sisters in the playground
No one else could make it right
No matter how hard teachers or the classroom assistant would try
And the rest of the day
I was embarrassed to just look a mess
A little like my white girlfriends whose ribbons slid from their silky hair
My Mama’s knots could be relied upon to not fall out
Sometimes when the ribbons dangled
My white girlfriends and l
would all as one flick our necks
Adorning our backs with long streaming ribbons
pretended that they were our own tresses of fairy tale damsel long hair
I had many colours of ribbons
Always plain but silk
The expensive ones had a ribbed texture
Rarely Mama had allowed my sister and l to choose
Spotted ones from the haberdashery
That we visited, at the Saturday market
Never had stripes
The spots washed off
And Mama was not pleased
She kissed her teeth disdainfully at the market lady
When she tried to tell Mama that they were not meant to be constantly cleaned and ironed
Mama liked us to be smart
And l would try to sit still
As My Mama combed scrapped parted and oiled my hair
On special Sundays, the hot iron comb was brushed through
Carefully with vaseline
She then matched a ribbon to my dress
Plaited and twisted and coiled my thick strong bush of tight curls
Into an orderly neat coiffure
I sat up straight with my hands demurely in my lap
And my Mama warned me to stay sat still and not to spoil or to mess up the perfection by playing out
Because this was special
I was a young lady
Waiting for the right moment to display
All of her hard work
And l sat up straighter
And l knew that
Like Mama said
I was pretty
2 thoughts on “Ribbons”
This is really interesting Erica, thank you for sharing. 😊
Thanks, Ingrid. I have spent ages being entertained by the worldafroday recordings, I just thought that it was wonderful how everyone came together and that it was of interest to so many people.’ Ribbons’ was originally published in medium.com and the editor wrote to me of her experience. Our hair really does affect our early childhood and the development of our identity. I WAS shocked at the incidences described in schools, happening today???