Monday, May 17, 2010

Side-lock of Youth

While the ancient Egyptian side-lock is a familiar sight, it is also a somewhat understudied feature—that appears on mainly adolescent figures of wall murals. Perhaps the curious feature about this cultural expression, is that the youth side-lock is strictly an African custom, and the fact that the ancient Egyptians shared [with Africans south of the Sahara] this custom, is significant to this end. Like the practice of circumcision was at one point in antiquity, the youth side-lock was foreign to Europeans, as well as to populations in the Levant. Interestingly enough, with regards to the latter, a question has in fact come up about a possible remote link between the "Jewish side-locks" and the subject of this topic—the Kemetic side-lock.

It must be pointed out that the so-called "Jewish" side-lock is a different entity altogether, which constitutes twirled up pieces of hair [that is allowed to grow long enough to make the locks possible] running down via the temples on either side of the head as opposed to just one side—as in the case of the side-lock of youth, that is simply flung to one side of the head. The keyword here is "twirled up" hair, in contrast to the braided hair of the side-lock of youth. Furthermore, the "Jewish" locks are worn by both Jewish adult and adolescent males all the same, whereas the Kemetic side-lock of youth was restricted to the adolescent. To give visual aids to the distinctions being made here, consider the following:

Image captions: Kemetic royalty adolescent and a Himba boy, from south of the Sahara, each sporting a singular side-lock of youth. Click on all images for higher resolution. Below is a young Jewish boy sporting side-locks of twirled up hair rather than braided hair:

The hair texture of the ancient Egyptian adolescent figure above has been described before as being suggestive of long strands of "straight" hair that form the braid. This is predicated on the idea that the hair is not textured with multiple small "circular" or "rounded" figures representing "coiled" up strands of tightly "curled" hair, particularly like the examples found in many "sub-Saharan" African populations. The comical nature of this idea becomes apparent, once it is understood—as any individual with minimal artistic skills understands—that circular or rounded "markers" [presumably as strands of curled up hair] do not effectively serve as medium which with the artist can elicit hair that is braided. Rather, braided hair is more effectively elicited through crisscrossing "straight" lines that lend hand to the illusion of intertwining bands of hair strands that would have been pulled up to form braids. Even in the practical world, curled up hair strands are in fact pulled up so as to effect braiding. Therefore, the "straight" line textures should not be mistaken for an unequivocal evidence of "straight hair"; they are merely there to emphasize the braided physical attribute of the lock. Perhaps a better marker of the basic texture of the hair—i.e. were it not braided—in art renditions lies in where the braid terminates on the lock, assuming that the hair strands in the terminal end of the lock are not tightly held together with a string but left loose thereof. On the terminal portion of the lock, loose "straight" hair is unlikely to curl up in the manner as that seen on the adolescent Kemetic boy above [and also a rendition of Rameses as an adolescent below]. Therefore caution is warranted when interpretations of artistic renditions are being undertaken.

Above is a rendition of Rameses as an adolescent youth, with the familiar youth side-lock. Unlike the previous cases seen above [the Kemetic royalty boy and the Himba kid], his figure does not sport that shaved off hair all around the head save for a patch of hair from which the side-lock of youth extends; rather, the youthful Rameses retains what appears to be hair [or less probable, synthetic hair like a wig, though it is hard to imagine how an actual natural-hair youth side-lock of Rameses' very own would have been enabled to extend out through such a wig, unless of course the wig were a purely symbolic regalia] underneath the side-lock. Whatever the case may be, it is of note that the texture of the underlying hair structure is distinct from that given to the braided lock, wherein the lock itself features a series of bi-directional bands of "straight" lines that overlap as texture, thereby giving the impressing of intertwining bands of hair strands. Whereas the underlying hair structure is given somewhat notch-like feels to the pattern of segmentation [for lack of a better term] across the structure, signaling again, the need to read artwork with caution. If one were to casually interpret the "straight" lines featured on the braided lock as suggestive of "straight" hair, then what is to casually be said of the underlying mass of hair? That it is reflective of thick "kinky" hair or highly curled up hair, or that it is suggestive of synthetic hair [like a royal wig] somehow neatly placed underneath a side-lock made from natural hair? The answers to these questions emphasize the need for caution, when interpreting artwork, especially those of antiquity in areas wherein the artists do not brief us on specifics directly with words. Also take note of that curl, once again, at the terminal portion of the lock. How does that condition stack up against the manifestations of the terminal portions of the following braided hairdos?...

The above are examples of "straight" hair that have been braided. Note the ends of the locks, starting from where the braids end; no curled up ends of the locks. Here is another hairdo involving braided hair:

Given the resolution of the image above, it is not entirely clear if the hair was thinly braided all the way and then the individual thin strands of braided-locks held together, to form a "ponytail"-like residual mass of braided locks, or if only a portion, starting from the anterior hair lines, were braided and then left unbraided somewhat halfway through, whereby the unbraided portions were then brought together and held by a band, leaving behind a ponytail-like finish. Whatever the case may be, the terminal portion of lock is what's of significance here; if the curled up end of the "ponytail" were made entirely up of fully braided hair, i.e. the former scenario, then it is questionable if the terminal hair would curl up together in a single direction—as shown in the image—without being held together at their tips by some fastener, but if it were the latter scenario—which is looking to be the more likely situation of the two mentioned scenarios, then from what can be made out of the image resolution at hand, it is conceivable that the ovular cross-section of individual strands of otherwise "curly" hair [possibly conditioned to straighten out a bit], albeit allowed to grow long, give it a tendency to curl up in a clustered mass in almost one direction. Either way, the end result seen above is a curled up finish for the terminal portion of the hanging hair.

The Kemetic side-lock of youth has also been connected to those seen in Tamahou figures and other so-called "Libyan" groups. Following, are repros of Kemetic wall murals consisting of "Libyan" or "Tamahou" figures:

Here again, the glaring fact that Kemetic side-locks—like that on the Himba boy—are traditions largely relegated to the adolescent youth, as opposed to adults, is omitted or disregarded out of favor for fanciful theorizing. It is out of this faulty thinking, i.e. the disconnect between the sociological premises of the Kemetic youth side-lock and "Libyan" side-lock(s), that the so-called "lock of Horus/Heru" is confused as being of a totally different entity from the side-lock of youth, when in fact, they are the very same thing. The "side-lock of youth" is the more terminologically correct of the two terms, since the side-lock of youth was in fact not traditionally relegated to the royalty, according to Kemetic wall renditions. At any rate, this false dichotomy between the "lock of Heru" and the "youth side-lock" has been used as a means to bolster the notion that the Tamahou and/or "Libyan" figures' tradition of wearing side-locks ultimately comes from Heru (Horus) having worn the side-lock, which is treated as something culturally different from the youth side-lock, and so thereof, to explain off why Tamahou or "Libyan" figures regularly sport side-locks well into adulthood, as seen on Kemetic wall murals. That argument effortlessly falls apart since there is obviously no such distinction; Heru's/Horus' side-lock is just among the many examples of the youth side-lock, wherein Heru's person is only seen with one when Heru is being personified as an adolescent youth, just as seen above, in the case of Rameses.

Image caption: Heru/Horus as a youth, and made apparent by the youth side-lock flung down one side of the head. Pay attention to what appears to be a royal cap or crown on little Heru, while still managing to have a side-lock hanging from one side of the head. It just goes to show the symbolic nature of some of these artistic renditions, which carry definite socio-cultural meanings to them; in this case, the side-lock is serving as the adolescent personification of Heru. Similarily...

Image caption: Note the youth side-lock sticking out from one side of the head, while the crown is still on the child's head. Conversely, the divine goatee, usually associated with male ruling figures, is noticeably absent here, as is the case in the image immediately above this one. What is not symbolic however, is that actual youth side-locks had been grown by adolescent youths of Kemet of all sections of the society, and in this cultural trait, the people of Kemet hold this distinction only with other Africans, mainly south of the Sahara. This element in turn recalls the fact that the core ancient Egyptian culture was quite typically and unmistakably African in every sense of the word; it is the sort of thing that advocates of some "foreign Dynastic race" fail to relate to, because in many cases they are willfully ignorant of African cultures, as well as unread about ancient Egyptian socio-cultural complex.

It is not even clear whether the Tamahou side-lock(s) constituted a single lock hung down one side of the head, like with the youth side-lock, or side-locks hanging down both sides of the head, like with the locks on the aforementioned Jewish kid. Perhaps subtle clues lie in the way the side-locks are drawn on these personalities, be it the Kemetic side-lock of youth or the Tamahou-style lock(s):

If one attentively looks at wall mural images of figures sporting the youth side-lock, one will notice that such two-dimensional views usually have the lock obscuring the ear on the side of the head where the lock is supposed to hang down. It is done that way because the artists want to project that feel of the lock simply flung sideways [as the image of the Himba boy effectively exemplifies] and not necessarily down the length of the head so closely to—and possibly touching—the side of the face [see for example, image of the Jewish kid] like a slender strand of hair, via the temple region and thereof, ahead of the ear. Furthermore, they—the youth side-lock—are shown that way, noticeably with such massive width in contrast to the slender examples of the Tamahou and/or "Libyan" figures, to tacitly convey the feel of a single lump of braided hair that is flung out from just one side of the head, rather than twin locks respectively hanging from both sides of the head. Conversely, though not necessarily conclusive, the slender locks of Tamahou figures that generally appear right ahead of their ears, and rarely covering the ear, may be suggestive of a tradition of growing locks that hung from both sides of the face, possibly in the same fashion that the Jewish kid was wearing the locks, as opposed to the one-sided orientation of the youth side-lock.

To visually demonstrate the above-mentioned, let's take an exceptional case, wherein an adult figure sports a youth side-lock of the adolescent in ancient Egyptian art—the figure in question here, is the so-called moon god "Khonsu"...

Image caption: Note here that youth side-lock on the moon god Khonsu (the figure on the right) is obscuring the ear, and also pay attention to the relatively massive width characterizing the lock. Then, compare this rendition to the image that follows shortly.

Image caption: Here, the ear is not hidden from view, but note the thick lump of braided hair tucked behind the ear; indeed, the difference between the top image of the moon god and this one, is that in the former, the braided youth side-lock is simply flung to the side, while in the latter, not only is it flung to the side, but the moon god's ear pinna (cartilage muscle) is partly holding the braided lock to the back of the ear, and hence leaning on or touching the skin of that side of the head. This is even more apparent in the following three-dimensional representations of the moon god:

Image captions: Again, note that in each case the side-lock only runs down to one side of the head, and notably sticking out from a crown. As an adult figure bearing a youth side lock, it should be pointed that Khonsu's situation presents a rare case because of his reported personification as the "divine child of Amun and Mut". In direct contrast to the two sculptures of adolescent youth of royalty shown earlier, one of which has been identified as Heru (Horus) elsewhere, and the other is possibly of the same person (Heru) as well, Khosu apparently bears the divine pseudo-goatee, generally associated with the neteru and rulers (pharaohs) of the land. So, while the youth side-lock underlies his aforementioned personification as the child of Amun and Mut, the fake goatee not only underlies his personification as an adult figure, but also visually identifies his status as a figure of divinity—a neter.

These clues and observations notwithstanding, some sources speak of a "Libyan" tradition of peculiarly bearing a singular slender lock that hangs from just one side of the head, as noticed in the case of the youth side-lock, and one such source that has been cited with regards to this, is Herodotus! The following piece from an unidentified work, for example, references quotes that have been attributed to him:

" They let their hair grow long on the right side of their heads, and shave it close on the left; they besmear their bodies with red paint; and they say that they are descended from the men of Troy. Their country and the remainder of Libya towards the west is far fuller of wild beasts and of wood than the country of the wandering people.” Herodotus goes on to specify which wild beasts : huge serpents, lions, elephants, bears, aspics, horned asses. “Here too are the dog-faced creatures, and the creatures without heads, whom the Libyans declare to have their eyes in their breasts; and also the wild men, and wild women, and many other far less fabulous beasts.” (Hist. IV.188ff.) "

In the above, Herodotus is cited making a definite claim about which side of the "Libyan's" face was supposed to have the slender lock, and which side was supposed to be devoid of a lock. Should this have been the case at the time of Herodotus, then this peculiarity had not been made apparent in ancient Egyptian wall murals. For example, take the renditions below:

In these images, the Tamahou figures noticeably bear the lock even when they are facing the viewer on their left hand side. Earlier we had seen other images of Tamahou figures, and therein as well, the figures are shown facing either direction, and yet consistently bearing the side-lock either way. Is it possible that the ancient Egyptian artists at hand had overlooked the hair-style peculiarity described within the quote attributed to Herodotus? One answer given to this question, is the insinuation that the direction in which the figures were facing was a factor that didn't weigh in much on the artist's mind; the tacit implication must therefore be that the artists were more concerned about those cultural physical attributes that were considered as "standing out" about their subjects/personalities in question; in the case of the "Libyan" or Tamahou figures, that trait was presumably not the whole picture about their peculiar hair style, but rather, the lock they were supposed to have bore on one side of their head. In relation to this, we have come across renditions of the moon god "Khonsu" bearing the youth side-lock both in cases wherein he was facing the viewer on his right hand side and wherein he was facing the viewer on his left hand side—yet it is well understood that there is only one side-lock (youth side-lock) at hand, as accentuated by the sculptures, whereby the youth side-lock is flung to just one side of the head [usually the right hand side]; this example makes it quite plausible that the ancient Egyptian artist(s) may very well have placed very little significance on the direction in which the subjects were facing, and instead, made more emphasis on cultural physical attributes deemed to be the subjects' "most personifying" feature to the artist(s) at hand. Should this have been this case, as it so appears to be, then in any event, ancient Egyptian wall murals do not particularly relate the hair style pattern described by Herodotus, and hence, offer no proof of a tradition of wearing a single lock by the so-called "Libyans". Furthermore, even if it were demonstrated that the so-called "Libyans" did in fact bear a singular lock on just one of the sides of their head, this does not serve as proof that the said tradition derives from the Kemetic youth side-lock, which in contrast to the noticeably more slender "Libyan" lock, is generally relegated only to the adolescent.

To point out other aspects of those citations attributed to Herodotus, let's for starters consider the fairly questionable mention of "the creatures without heads"; should one take it at face value, that Herodotus himself had an eye-witness encounter with these creatures? As a matter of fact, should one accept at face value, that Herodotus personally had first-hand encounter with the Tamahou, the most familiar group when it comes to "Libyans" bearing a slender lock on the side of the face, and not going by what he may have heard or extrapolated from secondary sources? To the present author's awareness, no other primary record or text contemporary with Herodotus makes note of the Tamahou—as a cultural group—being still around as late as Herodotus' time other than Herodotus himself. As it pertains to narratives of ordinary circumstances wherein Herodotus professes to be describing his first-hand encounters, perhaps he may be given some benefit of doubt, but in other cases wherein there is reason or cause to deduce that he may be relying on secondary-source accounts rather than his very own, or that the account is far too fantastic to be taken at face value as that of a first-hand eye witness encounter, reader caution to approaching the material at hand is warranted.

So what can be said about the question of whether the side-lock of "Libyan" and/or Tamahou figures ultimately derives from the African tradition of the youth side-lock? A compelling case has yet to be made in that regard, considering that "Libyan" and/or "Tamahou" figures bear the lock well into their entire adult life, but even if it were not the case that the "Libyan" lock derives from the youth side-lock, and if one were to take Herodotus at his concise description of the "Libyan" hair-style, then it can be safely said that the "Libyan" lock was just as strictly African as was and is the youth side-lock, whether they emanate from independent or interdependent socio-cultural backdrops.

When all is said and done, the overriding matter is that the youth side-lock is strictly an African tradition that is relegated to the adolescent, and therefore, the fact that the ancient Egyptians had this tradition too, should say something about the character of core ancient Egyptian culture—its unmistakable African heritage, whereby the term "African" is used in the most typical sense of the word in "Western" media circles—meaning "Black African", "Inner Africa", "Sub-Saharan Africa", etc; you name it!

*Keep an eye on possible future updates.

—Courtesy of, for images on the Moon god "Khonsu" and heads up on this deity as the child of Amun and Mut.

—Personal notes, 2010.

No comments: