Hair today, gone tomorrow…by Peju Akande

Hair today, gone tomorrow…by Peju Akande

Festive seasons are made for nostalgia, bringing childhood memories of days when we ran wild and free; days when mothers would send us daughters to the local hairdresser, otherwise called Iya onidiri while the sons would head to the barber’s.

iya onidiri

Now, you’ve got to understand that by ‘local’, I mean a spot under a tree where the only items suggestive of a salon would usually be: a display board of caricature hair styles; a low stool, where the Iya onidiri perches with her legs parted and a mat, where we the victims,  sorry customers are condemned to sit with our heads buried deep between the putrid and hot Iya Onidiri’s thighs. Some women can smell, sha. I’m guessing hygiene wasn’t priority to them.


Iya onidiri would keep our heads buried there just so she could achieve a particular hair style. God help you if what you desired was shuku, kolese, koroba or patewo; your head had to stay between those thighs for a long while. Many times I would struggle to come up for air only for her to give me a knock and push back my head back to the heart of darkness. I shudder now to think our mothers never thought it odd.

My daughter, (bless the lil loud mouth) when she was some 3 or 4 years old came home one day with half of her hair done. I asked why, she said, ‘Mummy her (pointing) was smelling and she put my head there. I couldn’t breathe, so I cried and ran away.’

My daughter upped and left!   My mother would have killed me if I dared to, back in the day.

Boys weren’’t spared this brutality; theirs was on a different level. Barbers were usually itinerant barbers with battered suitcases that held their tools of trade; a hand mirror, clippers, wide toothed combs that came in bright colours, dirty towels and white powder or better still, they could be found at their ‘shop’ under the tree, like the Iya onidiri.

Now, the Onidiris and barbers were usually no-nonsense elderly women and men;(I never met a kind one), with fingers made of steel such that when they dug into your tender scalp, you would weep throughout the hair plaiting/ barbing ordeal.

I know. I saw my brother cry many tears while the barber held his nape in a vice as he shaved off his hair leaving the boy with a white skull that made the neighborhood boys laugh and call him gorimapa with furrows that looked like peeled orange. As for me, I cried like a banshee every time I was condemned to visit Iya Onidiri.


Thankfully, these days, we rely on real salons for hair dos, that’s not to say there aren’t a sprinkling of Iya onidiris still lurking in the shadows of modernity.

I love going to the salons; what with their huge mirrors, swivel chairs, apron-wearing-gum-chewing-giggly and gossipy girls and guys.

The guys are my concern these days. Back in the day, men were only seen at the barber’s shop and women at… well, women’s salon, now it’s all so mixed up and confusing. These days, boys don’t like haircuts. They prefer to keep full hair, the type my mother used to call, ‘the Nebuchadnezzar look,’ as if she would recognize the Persian if he stood before her.

The other day, one of my young male friends sported a new hairdo and posted it proudly on Facebook. He reminded me of Sango the Yoruba god of thunder with his, ‘corn rows’. As far as I’m concerned its kolese and I told the silly boy so. But the sharp guy quickly reminded me that men wearing plaits date way back, why did I remember Sango? It means men had been wearing plaits for centuries, what of the Masai warriors with long braids and even the Fulanis.

lanre okunola (1)

Hummn, ok, o.

You can understand my ‘predicament’ when I planted my lean butt on the hairdresser’s chair the other day; I totally wasn’t expecting to share the same space with a young man in his twenties, who had also booked time with the hairdresser for long braids.

Yeah, you read me right. I found myself gaping unashamedly at his… long hair which made my thin and wispy hair look like a bad job.

We both stared at each other in the mirror; me from disbelief, him from disdain at my open curiosity.

hairman (1)

I turned round, took in his pierced ears, skin tight t-shirt, dark jeans trousers, loafers, manicured nails and I snorted.

He looked at me from top to bottom, swivelled his long neck the way black American women do; rolled his eyes and snapped his fingers all at the same time.


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About The Author

Osigweh Lilian Oluchi is a graduate of the University of Lagos where she obtained a B.A (Hons) in English, Masters in Public and International affairs (MPIA). Currently works with 1stnews as a Database Manager / Writer. [email protected]

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