Yoruba believe that the head “ori” holds ones destiny.

“Ori is not a divinity. The Ori is what holds an individual destiny. The Ori is in control of one’s daily ups and downs. Ori could be considered as personal god or guardian angel who will accompany each of us for life. Even the gods have their Ori which directs their personal lives. Ori is human consciousness.”- Iyalorisa Omitonade Ifawemimo

In the days before human hair weaves and  hair straightening chemicals ,  all that was needed to care for the hair were  natural soaps, natural hair oils or  butters, interesting wooden carved combs like the ones below, and a pair of carefully vetted hands –  traditional Yoruba science believes that your hair and nails hold the essence of your being and can be used to direct unfriendly supernatural forces to you.

In the 70s it was still common to own a carved Yoruba wooden comb aside from the humble ilarun ( cutting comb) , but now the best samples are in museums and auction houses far away from Yoruba land.

 

Yoruba hair comb depicting a chief, with headdress, on a horse.
Yoruba hair comb depicting a chief, with headdress, on a horse.

 

Bronze Yoruba Comb - Photo Credit : www.wolfzanart.com
Bronze Yoruba Comb – Photo Credit : www.wolfzafricanart.com

 

 

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Bronze Comb depicting Sango staff

 

 

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Yoruba wooden comb credit : www.artenegro.com

 

 

Ivory Comb from Owo
Ivory Comb from Owo, a Yoruba realm on the border of Benin

 

 

ilarun
The humble ilarun, used for parting hair into sections for braiding

 

 

HAIRSTYLES OF OLD

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The regal Suku hair style

 

 

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I don’t know what this hair style is called but it is often depicted on Agere Ifa carved figurines , like the one a couple of photos below

 

 

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The caption reads: “One of the many elaborate forms of hair dressing adopted by young Yoruba women in Ado Ekiti district of Ondo Province. Red jasper beads and gold ear-rings form a most pleasing combination.”

 

 

 

Olumeye
Agere Ifa

 

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Suku, embellished with cowrie shells

 

 

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Kings’s messenger, “are”. Shaki. Photo by William Fagg, 1959. Ilari wore a special hairstyle with most or half of the hair shaved off . William Fagg captured this image
Kings’s messenger, “are”. Shaki. Photo by William Fagg, 1959.
Ilari  wore a special hairstyle with most or half of the hair shaved off . William Fagg captured this image

 

Young Ilari boy
A young Ilari boy with the half shaved head hair style. He is a king’s attendant

 

Comments

comments

4 thoughts on “A Visual Tale of Yoruba Combs & Hair

  1. I’ve seen the hairstyle depicted on Agere Ifa carved figurines often. I initially thought it was called agogo”because I came across a website that had suggested it but considering how the agogo instrument looks (the style is likely named after the instrument), I doubt it (plus this carving apparently depicts irun agogo). Then I came across another article that associated the hairstyle with Sango and this Wikimedia page seems to support that. According to the page, the style is called Akuko gagara and it “reflects the hair styles of one of the wives of Sango”.

    What I’d like to know is if the women in the past used their own hair or if they relied on extensions, I’m leaning towards the former.

    1. always feels like an honour when The Cosmic alights on my blog 🙂 . Thanks for this info. yes following this post i saw a Sango carving with the same hairstyle and did wonder, and as this hairstyle kind of resembles an upright cockerel’s ( akuko) crest i think you’re right. “Akuko Gagara, the hairstyle of one of the wives of Sango” it is!
      As to whether the women used extensions, i’ve never considered that but it would be interesting to ask around and see what we dig up regarding that.
      Thanks for stopping by!

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