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Uncovering the Story Behind Dreadlocks

Uncovering the Story Behind Dreadlocks

Uncovering the Story Behind Dreadlocks

When most people think of dreadlocks, they envision long ropes of matted hair atop a man or woman’s head, an organic hairstyle involving little maintenance or upkeep. Throughout mainstream media, harsh critiques are made about dreadlocks as a hairstyle, calling the look “dirty”, “lazy” or even “gang-related”. But behind these mangled misconceptions lies the rich culture of the Rasta people and the ethnic symbolism behind dreadlocks. Thanks to Linda Ainouche, the director of Dreadlocks Story, the spiritual history of the Rastafari movement and dreadlock culture can begin to be appreciated by the public.

The Rasta way of life is often misunderstood, as few people take the time to explore the history behind the movement. Dreadlocks Story seeks to educate people about the origins of the Rasta people in Jamaica and explain the Indian cultural influences on the Rastafari movement. Jamaica was under colonial rule until 1962, but for the previous one hundred years or so, Afro-Jamaicans and Indian workers were persecuted under white European dominance. The descendants of African slaves who had been brought to Jamaica in the 18th and 19th centuries vowed to one day recover their culture, which had been squashed by the white colonists during the slave trade era. After slavery was eliminated on the island, Indian workers were often kidnapped and brought to Jamaica to tend to the banana and sugar plantations alongside the existing Afro-Jamaicans. The two groups of people were able to bond over the struggles they faced under such oppression. The cross-cultural mixing between the descendants of African slaves and Indian forced workers laid the foundation for the Rastafari movement to blossom.

The documentary contains interviews from Monty Howell and Blade Howell, two sons of the “The First Rasta”, Leonard Percival Howell. Howell promoted the belief that everyone is equal and divine and he developed many followers including Hindus and minority groups in Jamaica. He sought to show the connect of the lifestyles of the Rastas of Jamaica and the Sadhus of India . Unfortunately, the Jamaican government was unsupportive of the movement and sought to erase Howell and the community of followers he had gained from history. In the face of such persecution, Rastas wore dreadlocks as an act of defiance against the Establishment and as a symbol of pride and dignity in their history and culture.

The authenticity of this documentary is captured in the raw interviews with notable figures in the Rasta community and with scholars and historians in Rasta studies. The essence of Rasta culture is truly captured both in the background music chosen for the film and in the visual representation of both Afro-Jamaican and Indian interviewees alike. Ainouche successfully shines a light on the age-old discrimination against a minority group that has been fighting to protect its culture and its right to exist.


Prior to being exposed to this film, I was among those people who were uninformed about the significance behind dreadlocks and the purpose of wearing one’s hair in such a way. To the Rasta people, dreadlocks are a symbol of determination and strength, an unwillingness to abandon their misunderstood movement. The Rastas are a proud people, people who remain true to their roots and heritage and for this, I applaud them. I also commend Linda Ainouche for calling attention to such an overlooked issue. Dreadlocks Story is a must see film that will open the eyes of the ignorant and enrich the minds of the informed. Everyone’s story deserves to be heard. Dreadlocks Story is now an official selection of the Taiwan International Ethnographic Film Fest and LA CineFest.

Hear the story of the Rasta people in Dreadlocks Story.


Shaye is a passionate teen from the Jersey Shore area who hopes to impact as any lives as possible every day. She founded a chapter of Girl Up at her high school and leads other teens in advocacy and awareness campaigns to aid girls around the world. As the NJ Girl Up Coalition Outreach Coordinator, Shaye mentors and networks with new chapters in her community.


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