Bob Marley with his dreadlocks hairstyle
As a hairstyle, the history of dreadlocks is long and significant. Most commonly associated with the Rastafarian culture in modern times, dreadlocks have been worn dating all the way back to ancient Egypt.
Oddly enough, the historical significance of dreadlocks is basically a religious one that spans many different cultures. The name, dreadlocks, has two possible etymologies. In one possibility, the word is inspired by the dread this hairstyle inspires in those who see warriors wearing such locks. The other option is related to the Rastafarian word for “fears the Lord.”
According to Hindu scriptures, the god, Shiva, and his followers wore a hairstyle called “jaTaa” which means twisted locks of hair. Early Greeks, several Pacific Ocean civilizations, and some monastic groups of various religions have worn hairstyles that formed locks and could be termed dreadlocks.
Some of these groups include monks of the Ethiopian Coptic Church, Judaist Nazarites, Hindu Sadhus, etc. Even early Christians have worn dreadlocks. The first Bishop of Jerusalem, James the Just has been described as wearing them long enough to reach his ankles.
The use of the term dreadlocks to describe this hairstyle is easily traceable back to Jamaica in the 1950s. At that time, the style was adopted by members of the “Young Black Faith”, an early beginning of the Rastafarian movement. Their adoption of the hairstyle was chosen based on Biblical faith and can be traced back to a passage from the book of Numbers.
Dreadlocks may seem to be fairly recent development in terms of hairstyles. The fact is that that could not be further from the truth. Dreadlocks have been worn, though called by different names, since ancient times. Religious ascetics are the most common class of people to wear them as a part of their religious practices. Today, dreads are worn for a variety of reasons. Some are religious. Others are to make a political statement, and still others are simply because the wearer believes that this style looks good on him/her.