Black Culture: The Nigerian Children With Mystical Identity Of Dreadlocks That Must Never Be Shaved Off

by Duke Magazine

They are believed to be special and have unique and spiritual capabilities like the gift of healing, extreme intelligence and physical strength.

Popularly known as “Dada” from Yoruba culture in Nigeria, these children are born with naturally matted or locked hair.

The hair is similar to dreadlocks and is difficult to comb but the difference here is that Dada is more predestined (from birth) and not by choice.

Local people believe that their strength and overall good health are tied to their hair and it must therefore not be tampered with or groomed.

The Igbo people of Nigeria call them “Elena” translated to mean “Child King”, a name given to them largely due to the nature of their hair which is likened to a crown and also because of the belief of toughness such children possess.

These children are known to be very fragile and must be taken good care of especially in their formative years.

The Igbos observe many traditional rules when dealing with a dada. For instance, it is believed that when the hair of a dada child is combed or cut, the child would fall very sick and could even die.

Apart from the mother of a dada, no other person must touch the hair of these children.

If any other person mistakenly touches the hair, he or she must give money to the child or tie a cowry to their locks to prevent them from falling ill.

On the traditional space, Nigerian families further believe that their dada children are gods and offer them to the shrine.

The chief priest now decides their fate. Some do not touch their hair and serve in the shrine for the rest of their lives and even take over from the chief priest when he dies.

Others have their hair shaved off. Most of them have their hair shaved off before puberty or adulthood.

Shaving a dada’s hair must, however, be accompanied with a special ritual which is usually performed by the chief priest presiding over the child.

After the ritual is performed, the hair of the dada is collected into a pot of water containing special herbs and kept by the parents of the child.

The portion can be used as medicine in case the child falls ill. It is believed that a child who doesn’t go through this ritual would die within three days after the shaving.

In recent times, Christian parents would rather have a Catholic priest do the shaving in that stead.

It is believed, particularly, among Igbo communities that dada children are the reincarnations of deities and other great men and women, hence, such children often lived in isolation.

With a paradigm shift from illicit traditional beliefs and embracing the advent of modernization, many of them are now being largely accepted into mainstream societies.

Locking of hair is today a style of beauty which is becoming alluring to people, thereby, masking it generally difficult to differentiate a natural born dada from a fanciful one. 

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