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November 04, 2013

Back to Their Roots: Afro's Popularity Grows in Senegal's Capital

by Ricci Shryock

It's the first Afro Dakar meeting of the year, and a couple of dozen women have gathered next door to a hair salon in Senegal’s capital.

These business entrepreneurs, Internet bloggers and feminists are members of a club called N'happy Galsen, a group of women who encourage and celebrate natural hair styles, especially the Afro.
 
One of the meeting's organizers, Agnus Diof, said their group name is a play on the traditional word ‘nappy’ – a word that means tightly curled and can sometimes be racially offensive – and gives it a positive meaning.
 
“It's natural and happy,”  said Diouf. “It's the mix of the two. It's to say that natural hair's not a disaster.”
 
Natural hair is not a disaster

Teclaire Wilson runs an online vintage clothing store and is a 'N'happy' member.  She said the movement is growing in Dakar, but it is still hard to find salons in the city that can style natural hair.
 
That's why these Afro Dakar meetings, – where they discuss the care and treatment of natural hair – are important.
 
“We have to have solidarity, especially here in Senegal, (where) the movement is new,” Wilson said.
 
The women talk about thre proper care of frizzy hair and "to know how to take care of it, and to not get discouraged.” Wilson said a lot of women who started to grow their hair frizzy decided to go back to straight hair because they didn't know how to take care of it.”
 
'I liked that Maguette...'

A self-described 'feminist,' Maguette Gueye said she sees a link between a woman's pride and wearing natural hair. When she stopped straightening her hair and let it grow naturally.
 
“I saw another 'me,' another Maguette," she said. I discovered another Maguette, and I liked that Maguette, and I let my natural hair grow.”
 
Marie Grace Agboton doles out advice on her blog, “The Simple Life of MG,”
to the growing number of women choosing to wear their hair naturally. She also gives product advice that helps new N'happys learn how to style their hair.
 
“It is becoming a return of honor to the African woman,” said Agboton. “There are some who are saying, 'We are no longer obligated to have smooth hair to feel beautiful. We can have our hair, and walk proudly down the street.'”
 
At “Les Hairoines” in Dakar's Point E neighborhood, salesperson Fatou Ndeye said their products are selling quicker as more people turn to natural hair styles.
 
While straightened hair is still the most common way to wear women's hair in Senegal, women like Agboton hope that with a little encouragement and advice, more women will choose to go natural.

Listen to Dakar women talk about the Afro