American musician India Arie once sang confidently the epic lines “I am not my hair…” Whatever her context, the question is was she really right about that?
And so, on a cool winter day, it is the subject as I sit with famed eye doctor, Solomon Guramatunhu in his beautiful residential establishment in Borrowdale, Harare overlooking the Borrowdale Brooke estate and lush rolling gardens that are expertly manicured.
A lover of beautiful aesthetics, Dr Solly as his friends call him, has been known to be very particular about hair. In fact, in his honour, one could safely coin a term to describe him as a ‘hairctivist’, a person who is an activist on all things hair. And to him, a person, unlike the assertions of musician Arie, is in fact their hair!
“You see, the hair is a quick CV as to the thinking and mindset of a person, of a woman. I can tell a lot about a woman owing to their hair,” he says.
Hanging above us, haunting us with their beauty are pieces of art that adorn his house walls. A house blessed with architecture that makes it a citadel of the arts, if ever any residential home could claim to be such. And he is mad about how some women wear “their” hair.
For many women of African origin, the struggle to make sure they have a “mane” that makes them attractive is often times a daily struggle, or pleasure depending on their state of preparedness. After all, we have all had a bad hair day.
Hell. Sometimes, we have a bad hair lifetime! Think of the poor men even who have to live the rest of their lives without a strand of hair on their head due to balding. Not an attractive thought. Think even more-so of young single men who are yet to get their ultimate catch of a better half having to get onto the “market” as it were, with less hair on their temple than a newborn baby’s bottom.
Yet the struggle seems to be more pronounced for the African woman.
Many people have found that the best way to look good with hair is to conform to the Eurocentric norms of beauty under a mane and buy synthetic hair to sport a long flowing mane like the women they see on television from the western world as well as models.
Others have gone one better; buy human hair from especially the West and Asia shaved off the heads of Caucasian and other women. Hence Brazilian, Peruvian, Indian and other ‘hairs’ have safely and comfortably found their way onto the African and Zimbabwean market.
Each year, black women are estimated to spend billions of United States dollars as they invest in the beauty industry by way of buying hair shaved off the scalps of strangers; living, dead or undead! This is what irks Dr Guramatunhu.
In this his mansion which by day embraces the hill on which it is perched and captures the light of day owing to its glass adorned\breast that is its front elevation, the nights usually bring with them great get together. Parties and social gatherings that bring together the beauty of society. The who’s who and the arts lovers. And also very, very beautiful women.
After all, the house was shaped as an amphitheatre to harness the love the Dr has for hosting friends and therefore is in itself, a place to worship arts and culture. Like the Great Gatsby, everyone wants to be invited to Dr Solly’s parties. But no matter how high up the social ladder you are, there is one person who shall never enter the home of Dr Guramatunhu much like Lucifer will never find his way back into the gates of heaven; a woman with weave or human hair!
“It is despicable,” says Dr Solly, his cheeks gleaming from a fresh clean shave.
“The African woman is blessed with arguably the most beautiful hair ever known to any living creature yet you see many wearing the hair of other people. It shows a lack of self-appreciation or self-respect.
“I see the wives of many prominent people, politicians and influencers even, educated women even with human hair and immediately I lose respect for them,” he seethes.
Hair, by nature of it being predominantly ‘dead’ cells, save for the follicle, therefore is widely regarded as ‘dirt’ upon being shaved off. That is an object of anger for Dr Guramatunhu when it is in fact picked up by the African woman and worn on the head.
“You see them patting their heads vigorously because of itching. That is because they are carrying dirt on their heads. Other people’s discard. Why would one think they are inferior to white and Western women to the extent of taking their dirt and discard and putting it on their heads while parting with lots of money while they are at it?” he asks.
But there is a sucker punch. From the wives of kings and vagabonds, high society and the ordinary men who wear weaves, he makes it abundantly clear in one poignant statement what his attitude is about hosting them at his celebrated social events.
“I never want to see those women in my house, no matter how important they are. My house is not a mortuary where you enter carrying the hair of dead people. When I pick up that strand, who is to know what killed the person who had that hair? What diseases they suffered from?” he seethes.
He is right. Many cases have been reported where people have gotten bad headaches, some even fatal, terrible scalp diseases as well as terrible worms on and in their scalps after having bought and weaved on diseased human hair all in the pursuit of beauty.
In fact, the African woman, as far as Dr Guramatunhu is concerned, was tricked into believing she had inferior hair when in fact, she had the best deal on the table by the man in the sky.
“The African woman can braid her hair, she can relax her hair and straighten it, she can weave it into dreadlocks, the Caucasian woman cannot. She can shave it off and reveal a beautiful facial profile. She can comb it into a thick standing mane and make it look like a crown.
“The African woman’s hair is her crown. Caucasian women love dreadlocks and standing manes but they cannot achieve them as well as an African woman can in the absence of gels; and African woman can even leave it unkempt and it will look exotic and attractive,” he says.
Many woman have faced Dr Guramatunhu’s frank side as he has walked up to many to commend them for their beautiful natural hair even at public gatherings and places like airports. Likewise, he has approached strangers and expressed his disgust at their carrying human hair on their heads; something that has made him infamous and feared and disliked in equal measure by some who feel their decision to wear what he terms ‘morgue hair’ is their prerogative.
The celebrated hair doctor doesn’t mind the infamy. But he has an exception though for wearing a wig albeit one without human hair but rather synthetic hair; if you have gone through cancer treatment chemotherapy and lost you’re your hair. Everyone else has to ditch the ‘corpse hair’. And for as long as black woman ditch their ‘crown’ for human hair, Dr Guramatunhu will remain a serious ‘hairctivist’!