Our Hair Stories: Takeinivula Jewel
Today I came across a really eye opening documentary about the significance of hair in the Pacific community. It focused on the relationship between Pacific women and their hair and also how this relationship has changed from generation to generation. The documentary spoke about the struggles of having nesian hair so today I just wanted to continue that conversation by sharing my story.
For me, my hair has become such an important aspect of myself to the point that I’ve even named my blog after it. "That Curly Islander" My hair and my roots (pun intended), these are what make me, me.
It’s crazy to think that the ringlets that now adorn my head actually started out pin-straight. As I grew older, my hair gradually become wavier. But because no one else on the Fijian side of my family had similar hair to mine, I never knew and no one else for that matter, knew what to do with it. There was too much hair and it was far too slippery so braiding it was a chore. But my Pu (grandma) loved my hair for how long, black and silky it was so I tried to love it as much as she did too. She’d make up bedtime stories where I was Rapunzel and my best friend (Haifa) was the prince. My stomach would ache from all the laughter. To this day I still haven’t dyed my hair partly because I know how much she loved it black.
Pu always took great pride in her hair. It was always neatly cut into a buiniga (traditional Fijian afro) and any sign of sikoa (greying) was quickly dyed away. It was beautiful. As a child, it always reminded me of a crown.
After she passed, my hair was always kept short to keep it manageable. In school, having long hair was for some reason seen as lazy so to avoid the painful struggle of braiding my hair every morning, I was quite glad when my Aunty shaved it all off. I loved the feeling of being able to feel the breeze on my head.
My hair was thick and wavy by the time I came to England. Attending a boarding school where I was the only Pacific Islander, I began to feel like I needed to straighten my hair to look pretty. I felt like I needed to tame my hair in order to be seen. When we’d give eachother makeovers, the first thing my palagi friends would suggest was “why don’t we straighten your hair?”. It reminded me of that scene in The Princess Diaries where the stylist straightens Mia’s (Anne Hathaway) hair in order to transform her from an ugly duckling into a beautiful swan.
When I moved houses and therefore moved schools, my mum made sure that my hair was always kept in a tight military-style bun for my new school (the joys of being an army brat). She’d drag the hairbrush through my hair from front to back and lather it with Blue Magic Hair Food. It was meant to keep my hair in place and control the frizz but since it wasn’t meant for my hair type, it just made my hair look greasier than a frying pan.
My curls kicked in when I hit puberty. My hair went from subtle waves to tight springs. I was absolutely clueless on how to take care of it. By the time I was 15, I was sick of my hair. I was sick of how unruly it was. Sick of how big it was. Why couldn’t I just have straight and blonde hair like the people around me? I was straightening it everyday unaware of the damage it was causing to my hair and my self esteem. My internet search history was full of questions on how to permanently straighten hair. The more I straightened it, the more I needed to always have it straight since my curls now had random straight bits in them. It was a vicious cycle and I knew the only way to get out of it was by going cold turkey. No more heat styling.
The first day I let my curls out, some kid in my year called me Michael Jackson. Some of my friends didn’t even recognize me. I didn’t let it bother me because I finally felt like my true self. After spending so much time being told how my hair should be, I can’t describe how amazing it felt to take that power back and be in control of my own hair.
I binned my hair straightener and any other ‘friends’ who thought my straight hair looked better. I started researching ways to take care of and style curly hair. YouTube was a great help and it was amazing seeing how many girls (and guys!) had hair exactly like mine.
These days, the bigger and bouncier my hair is, the bouncier I am. My curly hair is the first thing people notice about me. It’s my favourite feature about myself and I love how I can just hop into the shower and go without having to spend at least half an hour styling it. If it doesn’t turn out right then I’ll just hop in the shower again. I never know how it’s going to turn out, I sort of just hope for the best.
Wearing my hair curly makes me feel powerful and beautiful. On the rare occasion that I do straighten my hair, I always feel uncomfortable as if I’m hiding a core part of my identity. I almost feel naked without my curls.
I hope all my nesian girls feel as empowered watching the 'Adorn' documentary as I did. Nesian hair is beautiful however you choose to wear it, as long as you love it.
Our Hair Stories: Melarnie Manuel