Cameroon - African hair

Women in Cameroon go back to their roots with natural Afro hairstyles

A hairdresser in Douala, Cameroon, working on a natural hair treatment.
A hairdresser in Douala, Cameroon, working on a natural hair treatment. © RFI/Cynthia Ngwemoh

An African adage maintains that a woman’s hair is like a crown: it stands high, carrying the history and identity of a whole race. And more women in Cameroon are proudly wearing it today as a fashionable look.

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Curled, thick and puffed, short and long and in every style possible—this is visible on the streets of Douala, Cameroon's economic capital.

Many no longer find it necessary to spend huge amounts of money to relax their hair or to hide it with artificial hair to feel beautiful and attractive.

Wearing African hair is today a trend, and even more in vogue in Cameroon’s Anglophone city, Buea, in the South West region, according to Meforo Isdname, a hairdresser and African hair specialist.

“In the English zone, we have more naturals than the relaxed and those who keep extensions on their hair,” he told Africa Calling podcast.

More Francophones relax their hair than Anglophones, according to Isdame, claiming that in cities like bustling Francophone Douala, it is too time-consuming to care for natural hair, compared to those living in English-dominated zones.

Mary Jane Chin Yaya, a young Cameroonian humanitarian worker and blogger based in Buea, is living proof of Isdname’s theory.

Natural is nicer

Keeping her hair in its natural state was a decision Yaya took years ago after she noticed her formerly relaxed hair and scalp had suffered damage from chemicals.

Yaya said she began her natural hair journey when she realized that her scalp was hurting too much from the array of products she put on her hair to make it soft.

Today she proudly wears an Afro and believes it brings out her true allure.

“Wearing your natural hair is one of the best things that any woman of color can do. It brings out your beauty in a different way,” said Yaya.

While touching her hair, she beamed: “It’s like you’re wearing a crown.” 

Men also seem to notice.

“When I see a woman with her natural hair, she looks beautiful and I would like my woman to be like that," said Yeeh Clifford. "I see them naturally beautiful with their hair as it should be."

Clifford adds that he is not a fan of women wearing weaves and wigs, which is still quite common.

The import and sales of these products cost South Africa, Nigeria and Cameroon more than 7 billion dollars, according to 2016 research.

African identity

African women wearing imported hair, or relaxing their hair is a denial of their identity, said Murielle Ndje Ndje, psychology lecturer at Yaoundé University 1.

“In changing your hair, you will not become a white woman and you will no longer be a black woman. So you are in the middle - you don’t have any identity,” she said.

From a psychological point of view, choosing the natural hair journey is already a big step towards embracing some lost African values and a return to one’s true likeness.

“I think women are conscious that they have to come back to their real identity, and then we think that we have to conserve our hair as we come to the world with,” she said.

In his 12 years of experience in natural hair styling and treatment, Isdame, nicknamed the “Hair Maestro”, attests that healthy natural hair is still a far-fetched concept for many Cameroonian women, despite them embracing natural hair.

Nurturing African hair to become beautiful and healthy takes time, patience and above all, professional treatment, which is largely unavailable in Cameroon.

“We have few professionals who manage hair, and it’s difficult to have healthy hair,” said Isdname, who is also the Cameroonian brand ambassador of Biotipo – a Brazilian brand of natural hair products.

“When you go to salons, it’s the professionals who advise you to relax your hair, that your hair is too strong,” he said.

Treat your hair with care

The professional method is perhaps too costly for the average Cameroonian woman.

At Isdname’s salon in the Deido neighborhood in Douala, natural hair treatment and styling costs six to 15 thousand FCFA, or €9 to €22. That’s why many of the women who have chosen the natural hair path like Yaya find comfort in natural home remedies.

“Natural hair is very expensive to maintain, keep soft, beautiful, shiny and moisturized.

"But at the same time, there are very local products that you can use that are also very healthy,” Yaya added.

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