Posted by: beachchairandabook | September 15, 2011

So You Think You Can Braid? Hair Show – Afro-Colombian Style

Please forgive me.  This is so late. I intended to post  by the first of August, at the latest. Instead  I was in the air, on my way to take the picture that graces Beach Chair and a Book. 🙂 So better late than never, I hope, here it is:

To all those “conscientious objectors” who insist that email is our enemy  I beg to differ. Thank God for smart phones, email and good, kindred spirit friends. Had it not been for all three (or four) I would have missed Washington’s own Jewels and the DC hand-dance frenzy they set off under the shade of the Soulsville tent.  The musicians and singers from Belize (who looked, danced and sang just like the McIntosh County Shouters from Georgia’s Sea Islands) would have come and gone.  And salsa fanatic that I am, I would have missed the blood-pumping dance party under el rumbiadero.  Fortunately, the global village that was the Smithsonian’s Annual Folk Life Festival was still humming, cooking, chowing down, reminiscing, singing, crushing grapes and shea butter, dancing, demonstrating,  and braiding.

Yes, braiding – and no way would we miss it! After a meal of Soulsville barbecue the three of us grabbed front row seats to see and hear Ziomara Asprilla Garcia, Afro-Colombian hair braider extraordinaire.

Translator and Ziomara Asprilla Garcia

Through a translator, who moved fluently and fluidly from Spanish to English and back again, Asprilla Garcia, (from Choco in Colombia’s Pacific Rainforest Region), told the audience that she learned the art of braiding from her mother. I’ve never seen anything like her extravagant styles – not in a braiding salon or even in places where flamboyance is a way of life.  But these were more than  towers of  neon, multi-colored braids. They were sculptures –  birds, butterflies and even music notes woven from synthetic hair. Who would wear that? Even as  I wondered, a few names came to mind :).  Maybe she sensed the question; before anyone could ask she explained  that these braided wonders had been  created especially for celebrations, performers and competitions. She did show examples of her more conservative styles but we were too transfixed by the splendor. No wonder she won first prize in a Bogota braiding contest last year. When it was time for Q&A I knew what my question would be.

Two rows over, a hand shot up. “How long does it take?” “Three hours,” she replied with a smile. A united gasp rose up from the audience. Three hours? She could make a fortune in America! Unfortunately for her (and us) she was unable to connect with any DC-area braiders, although she did see styles in the city similar to those worn by Afro-Colombian women.

Then it was my turn for a question. “Have you considered entering hair shows in the States?” I had Bronner Brothers on my mind, and apparently so did the translator when she referenced  Chris Rock’s “Good Hair” to the audience.  Even with my broken, TV Spanish I understood Asprilla Garcia’s  answer: “I would welcome the opportunity.”

Because her model became ill, there was no  live demonstration of Asprilla Garcia’s skills. Still, we got an up-close look at the result when she directed  us to the stage where a Colombian musical group was just leaving the stage. Here’s one of her symbolic designs – this woman was mobbed!

And I too, was glad for the opportunity to make another cultural connection.  History fanatic that I am, I never knew during slavery in Colombia, braiding styles had been used in the flight to freedom. Some patterns  signaled escape and others the route to take. I did know that slaves in America used quilts to send that same message.  What a coincidence! Can’t you just hear Peter Tosh  singing in the background – “don’t care where you come from…”

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