During the 1800s, the product junkies that we have today would have been unheard of, as the slave trade meant that hair maintenance was left down to items that were readily available.
Bombarded with the mindset that straighter, longer hair was ‘good’ hair (otherwise known as the European look), many slaves took it upon themselves to experiment with goods that could be used for the same affect that relaxers gives us today. Some concoctions consisted of Lye mixed with potatoes, which often left the scalp burnt is not applied properly. Other methods of hair straightening, included oiling the hair and wrapping sections using pieces of material, not to dissimilar to the method ‘Banding’ that we use today. Many men also straightened their hair using a mixture of eggs, potatoes and Lye, which was known as a Conk. Conks were used up until the 1960s and could be done in the home or by a professional Barber.
The 1800s was a time when not as many ships carrying slaves were sent to America. This meant that slaves could not be worked as hard and came at a much higher price. Because of the hard hours enforced each week, slaves kept their hair wrapped up from Monday to Saturday in a rag, scarf or handkerchief. Sunday was the only day when slaves paid close attention to hair maintenance, as laws were introduced that allowed this day to be given as time off.
Hair was moisturised using the likes of butter, goose fat and other oils that could be located in the kitchen. To clean the hair, kerosene and cornmeal could be used, whilst coffee could be use to dye the hair naturally.
Contrary to belief, ‘wool’ hair as it was referred to by non African-Americans of this time, was was very soft and grew fairly long. This was due to the fact that the hair didn’t experience much manipulation and was kept covered for the majority of the time. Practices like low manipulation hairstyles can definitely be applied to lifestyles of today if we aim to promote healthy growing hair and with the use of the right products (natural or otherwise), our beautiful ‘good’ hair will definitely shine through.