“…it wasn’t just a scorn for the dreadlocks they assumed was underneath my wrap, but a rejection of me for rejecting their social ‘norm’ by covering what other women considered a major feature of their ‘beauty’.” ~ Barbara Makeda Blake Hannah
It’s with great pride and endless admiration that I present this week’s WrapStar feature Ms. Barbara Makeda Blake Hannah! She is a Jamaican author, journalist, film-maker and commentator on culture and entertainment and the Executive Director of the Jamaica Film Academy. Ms. Hannah has lectured at Universities throughout the world including the West Indies, the University of Vienna, Austria; New York University; Florida International University; the University of Guyana; and the University of the Virgin Islands. She was a delegate to the UN World Conference Against Racism in 2001. Her many accolades and achievements are easy to find by conducting a little research. But I wanted to know what would such a remarkable woman have to say about herself, so I asked; what would you like the world to know about you? And she replied: “First of all I am a Rastawoman, which is foremost in everything else I can say about myself. Started on that journey in 1972 and still trotting. I have worked in Jamaica and England as a journalist and commentator on culture and entertainment, developing into a filmmaker (6 documentaries and 2 children’s TV features) and author of 4 books. For the past 4 years I have organized an annual film festival of films that celebrate reggae culture. I home-schooled my son and at age 13 he made world news when he was appointed technology consultant to the Jamaican government. I call him ‘my greatest achievement’.” She smiles at that comment and I am sure she illuminated the room.
I would love to list her many accolades and achievements, but it is important that we remain focused on the subject of this piece; Ms. Hannah’s beautiful head wraps. She began wearing head wraps in 1972 and continued off and on until 1980; she has consistently covered her hair since. When I see Ms. Hannah’s head wraps and garments, I immediately make a correlation with her lifestyle, her experiences, her culture, her “religion” and her womanhood. Surely, I am not the only person that notices a beautiful or elaborate head wrap and immediately start to imagine what the wearer must be like. Sometimes creating my own story of each head wrap and why the wearer chose to adorn his/herself in that particular fabric on that particular day. (Smiling) So eager to hear the story I asked Ms. Hannah why she wraps her hair. She refers to a bible verse which notes that a woman’s hair is her glory and should remain covered when she prays. Ms. Hannah says; “I overstand (understand in Rastafari culture) the modesty and humility in that, casting aside the vanity that we women usually attach to our hair and its styles, and instead covering that ‘glory’ just as modestly as we cover our bodies. Rasta calls head wraps ‘crowns’, so we Rastawomen feel we earn the title of ‘Queen’ or ‘Empress’ that we are called when we wear our crowns. I would not be seen outside my house without my crown, I would not be properly dressed. It’s only in the Western culture that women go bareheaded and even so, up till the 1960’s a woman wasn’t considered properly dressed without a hat. Look at the world and you will see women in African, Asian, Indian cultures wearing head-coverings when a girl becomes a woman. By the way, you notice that the Queen of England doesn’t go out without a head-covering? If she doesn’t wear a hat or scarf, she wears a real crown!!”
Honored by her presence in Headwraps & WrapStars, I asked: why did you join the group? To which she replied: “I joined because as a Rastawoman, it was such a pleasant surprise to find a group devoted to what I consider a very special dress style especially in these modern times; sisters who have learned the beauty, grace and dignity of wearing a ‘crown.”
As you know by now, I always ask about the challenges faced by our features. Understanding the nature of the challenges faced by WrapStars is an important part of this artform. Here’s Ms. Hannah’s response to the question regarding her head wrapping challenges:
“When I started to live according to Rastafari principles, I stopped wearing trousers and makeup and started covering my head. This was the most obvious signal to Jamaican society that I was living Rastfari, which did not go down well at all. Family and ‘leaders’ expressed disapproval. This was during the early days of Bob Marley and remember he was rejected; so imagine what it was like for someone expected to become a ‘respectable’ member of the upper-middle class.
Even though I covered, I didn’t locks until my son was born in 1985, so there were times when I tried to conform to the ‘norm’ and uncover my head to work. But I preferred the response I got when my head was covered and men in the street called out “Blessings Empress” to when it was uncovered and they called out “Hi Sexy”. So I chose to cover and dress according to Rasta standards, not the world’s.
Ann-Marie: So, how did you handle all these experiences?
Ms. Hannah:” … just accept their attitudes and then ignore them. It didn’t affect me at all, but instead made me see them as simple-minded. These same people happily accepted Catholic nuns covering their heads! The way I saw their attitude is that it wasn’t just a scorn for the dreadlocks they assumed was underneath my wrap, but a rejection of me for rejecting their social ‘norm’ by covering what other women considered a major feature of their ‘beauty’. But to me, there’s nothing as beautiful as a woman wearing a beautiful crown, as this page shows. Which is why I am so pleased to be a member of this group!!!
I invite you to comment at the bottom of this article and join the group if you are interested.
Wrap on WrapStars!
To find out more about Ms. Hannah’s projects;
Facebook: there are several FB pages;
GROWING OUT: BLACK HAIR AND BLACK PRIDE, a biography about growing out her natural hair and “Black self”; https://www.facebook.com/pages/Growing-OUT-Black-Hair-Black-Pride/110201792373602
“HOME – THE FIRST SCHOOL” which is about homeschooling; https://www.facebook.com/pages/HOME-THE-FIRST-SCHOOL-A-HomeSchooling-Guide-to-Early-Childhood-Education/239609221088?ref=ts
The film festival website is: http://www.jamaicafilmacademy.org and this year’s event takes place April 17-21, 2012 in Kingston.