Dreadlocks and Locs: What’s the Difference?


Often times you will hear people say I have locs because I refuse to call my hair “dreadful”. It also has been said that dreadlocks has a demeaning connotation which roots are derived from Jamaica. While many people may think dreadlocks originated in Jamaica this is incorrect. Before Jamaicans, many cultures have worn dreadlocks such as the Yogis of India and Egyptians

The style came in contact with Jamaican culture through the slavery of Indians. Though it is said that the idea of dreads originated from the Bible.

Even today you can find modern day Yogis in India with their hair in Dreadlocks. Dreadlocks to these people are more than just a hairstyle. It is a denial of one’s own personal needs and it is a part of the quest to connect with the divine.


Now where are people getting this negative feeling from the word dreadlock?

I was curious about this feeling, when I had dreadlocks or locs I had no problem calling them either or and I wonder about the negativity behind the term. So I decided to ask my father who was born and raised in Jamaica. Through this conversation I discovered Jamaicans use the term “dread” as a term of respect, just like you would use “Sir” to address someone you are not familiar with and would like to show respect to.

Jamaican Patois Definitions of Dread

  • A person who has dreadlocks
  • Greeting to friend
  • Expression of a good idea
  • Awe or astonishment

Now here is where the confusion sets in?

dreadful power of the holy”

Now this Jamaican Patois definition is derived from the religious roots that dreadlocks have. People feared and respected those who wore dreadlocks. Those who were associated with dreadlocks were thought of as holy and powerful. They were thought to have this spiritual connectedness with the divine that separated them from the others. If you were to even speak with a present day Yogi they would tell you that their journey separates them from the world around them.

Now does this make “dreadlock” a negative term because it is associated with being “dreadful”, well it all depends on your perspective, as no two people will agree I am sure. However, before you just accept that the term “dreadlock” has a negative meaning please do your own research and then you determine for yourself, don’t just follow the lead of all the conflicting sources of information out there.

Sources: http://www.dreadlocks.org/the-history-of-dreadlocks/

                  http://kb.osu.edu/dspace/handle/1811/28443

                  http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/rastafari/customs/customs_1.shtml

                  http://forum.dancehallreggae.com/showthread.php/231731-Sadhu-mystical-influence-on-the-Rastafari-Movement

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43 thoughts on “Dreadlocks and Locs: What’s the Difference?”

  1. Indian yogis and Egyptians did NOT have dreadlocks. They have j’atah. They have their own name, on history and own purpose. The vikings also had their name and meaning for the style. Dreadlock is Jamaica. Period. End of story! The conflation of styles to a singular name is culture erasure.

  2. If any of you actually did reading for any other reason than supporting your half witted arguments then you’d see that cultures from around the world that seemingly had nothing to do with each other DID share many many similarities besides hair styles which if anything attest to the once singular origin of all human life on earth. If a man in India lets his hair form natural dreads and a man in Africa does the same does that mean they have to have known each other?

  3. Also I DO believe that it is foolish to have the argument of “cultural appropriation” about a hairstyle. Even though we as black folks may be able to form and maintain loccs easier, it doesn’t mean we have a patent on them. Most everyone has hair. Hair tangled and matts up if you don’t constantly comb and moisturize. Basically, going to battle for a hairstyle is like making claim to tattoos. Almost every culture in the world where’s tattoos of some nature and we don’t know where it started. All tattoos are different and people have the right to express themselves with it. If a white man gets a tattoo of Africa does that give me the right to attack him about it? What if he was born in Africa and knows no where else as home. We should all love ourselves, our hair, and each other. If we all at least try that the world wouldn’t be so dreadful after all.

    1. Actually we do know where tattoos came from. They started in the Pacific Islands in a practice called Tatau. This name was from the sound of the tools used to create the Tatau and the tap tap tap of the small hammer on the bone chisel…..hence the name tattoo…..a colonised version of Tatau.

  4. “Sketch”: as inflatable as that thesis sounds that’s one of many stories that has led to the almost childlike misconceptions about a hairstyle that has been around in many cultures around the world for hundreds of years.

    To “E” though. That was a beautifully worded and thoughtfully typed and if I may I’d like to share my input on this long lasting controversy. I’ve been posed with many questions and theories about how locks came to be called “dreads” and this lead me to do my own extensive research that took me all over the globe and the time line (via internet Of course).
    In many cultures locks are more than just a hair style and can mean almost anything the wearer so pleases. This is why there are so many different theories of who did it first and who has a right to say what they mean. Ie, the African warrior may wear his locks for a different reason than the Indian guru.
    Many cultures used locks as a some kind of spiritual tether to their god and kept them very clean as well.
    What many people don’t know though, is one of the first recorded instances of this hairstyle was in India dating as far back as 2500 bc stating that the Indian deity shiva wore them. This led to a group being formed that would predate the Rastafarian religion. These people called themselves the “dreads”.
    Dreads not meaning dreadful in a sense of the American context but more so relating to a deep regard or fear for their god. They wore locks and grew them as long as they would go and it became know that these people wore this style thus earning their name (dreadlocks).
    It wasn’t until Bob Marley introduced them to mainstream in the 70s that “dreads” became a kind of rebellious hairstyle associated with negative connotations because of the many cliches American society.
    This research wasn’t done to support or debunk any particular theory so it’s not partial to what I thought before. If you want to read about the dreads I’d recommend starting at your local library because the internet does NOT hold all information despite popular belief.

    Simply put. This topic has trickled down through time losing more and more truth as more people half wittingly took up the discussion and distorted information. Now we call the hairstyle the name some of their original wearers were called.

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