THE AFRO-COMB: A BLACK HAIR CARE TOOL

 

Combs are among the ancient tools we still use on a daily basis. Every cultural group and class applies its aesthetic values to its level of scientific and technological development and produces tools that express economic relations as well as society itself. The history of Africa and its Diaspora is exposed in the history of its combs.

There are four stages in the historical development of the Afro-comb as a hair tool among African-Americans, especially women.

1. Traditional African Comb: The tradition Africa comb is a pick, a tool for hair sculpture. It is usually made of wood, and sometimes other material, e.g., ivory or bone. There are three parts: the prongs, the body, and the handle. The size and shape of these three parts, especially the designs involved, gives the comb its cultural meaning.

2. Industrial Comb of African Diaspora:The comb of the industrial era was
created in the African Diaspora. It is made of metal and used to straighten  and curl hair, giving it often the same effect as threading, wrapping thread tightly around strands giving it the same flexibility as if it were straightened. This technology works with bio-chemical materials used to oil and hold the straightening process.

3. Pan African Industrial Comb: In the late 1960's as more and more people became aware of traditional African culture the desire to reclaim our African heritage led to a rediscovery of the traditional African comb. This comb merged the materials of the industrial comb with the design  of the traditional comb. The innovator in this stage was 
Picel from Detroit.

4. Global : As African and the African Diaspora became a growing market for hair care, the production and distribution process of the global economy grabbed this market as one for potential profit. All of the above combs have been taken into inexpensive production based on plastics and cheap labor in Korea and Taiwan. This is tied into the increased role of immigrant workers and shop keepers in all aspects of Black hair care.