We stand tall wearing our crown

By Elvira Bonafacio

October 12, 2023



I remember this like it was yesterday; for hours sitting on a thick cushion between my mom’s legs, with bent knees and my legs forming a pillar that carried my arm as high as possible, so a transparent bottle of Dax Pomade could rest peacefully on my hand. All this so my mom could tame the wild springy curls’ on my head. During this process, my eyes regularly expressed the pain with wet testimonies on the cushion. Oh Lord, this was my ‘weekly three-hour Saturday afternoon movie’, which involved a beauty treatment with the sacrifice of pain as payment for wearing my crown. But this payment was quickly forgotten once the final result was revealed as a piece of art.

I can’t imagine talking about cultural similarities and historical connections without addressing a woman’s pride, which is all in her hairdo. For an African woman or a woman of African descent, like me, it’s difficult to think about hair and childhood without thinking of a metal rat tail comb, beads, rubber bands, oil, and pomade, THE ingredients for hair care and beauty.  I have always been proud of my mom, the designer, who was able to create all kinds of hairstyles. It has made me proud and confident from a young age, not only for the impact of admiration but also because this was me. My mom, my artist, was the one who gave me that confidence, but unfortunately, she was also the one who debilitated my standing tall. The latter happened the moment I reached the final year of primary education, and she decided it was time to change my kinky, hair type 4C, tangled hair into something completely different: hair type 3B, 2, or 1.

I wasn’t thrilled with my mom’s decision, but she was convinced that this change would only affect the appearance of my crown, not my essence as a princess. So now the new ingredients were perm, hair dryer, and hair iron, which became indispensable instruments for hairstyling and hair protection during my teenage years. Less time was spent in the detangling process, and I had more styles to choose from because I could switch between straight or curly hair. However, I still had to deal with spending a couple of hours in the beauty parlor with chemicals burning my scalp and the heat of the hair dryer making a BBQ of my hair and scalp. But it was all for the sake of beauty, standing tall while wearing my adapted crown.

My mom was convinced that the adapted crown wouldn’t change the essence of the princess. But I noticed that, in the long term, this beauty treatment not only affected the endurance of our adapted crown but also our essence. We don’t want people to see the kinkiness of our grown hair, which affects the crown. Therefore, we tend to add more chemicals to avoid having our natural hair shown. Over the years, this reduces the thickness and resistance of our hair, resulting in us becoming insecure. We subconsciously allow the adapted crown to influence how we deal with certain things like water. For example, we may love jokes and pranks, but we won’t stand for anyone making silly jokes using water, especially if our hair was done a few days before. And if we talk about the weather, please don’t mention the rain. We might get irritated at the simple thought of being outdoors and our beautiful hair flattening and sticking to our faces and shoulders. By the way, just for fun, can you count how many women of African descent you know who live on an island, have kinky hair and go to the beach, get into the water, but also place their heads underwater? And if this happens, will it be done weekly, daily, or occasionally?

The examples mentioned above might be hilarious, but the truth is that we are often so concerned about the appearance of “our crown” that over the years, our lives revolved around this adapted crown; we slowly but surely lose our essence and the love for our original crown. Unfortunately, like my mom, most of us become aware of this when we reach a riper age, when we feel that we can’t stand tall anymore with the adapted crown we have worn for much of our lives. So, how should we deal with this change now?

Fortunately, time has changed; we have role models who were considered rebels in their time, who chose never to change the aspect of their original crown. They opted for locks, braids, or simply their natural hair in an afro as a change in the look of their crown instead of a transformed, hair type 1 crown based on chemical products. The price for this choice was very high: stereotyping, limitations, and discrimination. Let’s take, for example, the dress and hair code policy in workplaces or expressions like “Now he is a Rasta. Do you think he’s using drugs?” Fortunately, these rebel role models caused all kinds of discussions regarding respect, diversity, and freedom of expression. They also caused awareness regarding how we see ourselves as African women or women of African descent. All this has changed the world’s perspective and is increasingly helping us embrace our identity, nature, and common history.

“Black is Beautiful” and “Let’s go natural” are mindsets helping us deal differently with our hair. Now, we can embrace our afro and kinky hair in a way that allows us to stand taller than before. And this includes having different hairstyles without needing to change our crown’s appearance. The beauty pageants over the last few years are an excellent example of this change, as now the African descent women are prouder and more confident of how they are, and they show this to the world. That’s why I am very thankful for those role models, as their persistence and resilience made way for us to be less dependent on the approval of others. They are helping us become more in tune with our roots and true beauty and allowing us to see natural hair, afro, braids, and locks as part of our identity and authenticity. So finally, there is less need to suffer so much pain to wear an adapted crown. Instead, we can wear our natural crown, which embraces our essence and appearance.

I can’t imagine talking about cultural similarities and historical connections without addressing the pride of a woman which is all in her hairdo.

-Elvira Bonafacio

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About the author

Elvira Bonafacio

Elvira Bonafacio is a Curaçao native and a teacher. She holds a master's degree in education of Papiamentu – the Creole language unique to the ABC islands. As the general coordinator of Arte di Palabra, an annual Papiamentu literary festival, she inspires high school students in Curaçao to proudly express themselves in their own language. In 2018, she won an 8-week writer residency in Ireland offered by " Beste Hitzak/Other Words" for the project of EU for the promotion of minority languages. This young writer is one of the winners of the Transatlantic Relatives Writers contest for the residency in Ghana. Besides pursuing her passion for writing, teaching, and culture, she also guides young talents in achieving their writing goals.