Dreadlocks in the Church of Pentecost: Rasta or Rastafarians?
Issue: Vol 20 No. 1 (2021)
Subject Areas: Religious Studies
This paper discusses a controversy about the acceptance of dreadlocks that arose in the Church of Pentecost (CoP) in 2010. Based in Ghana and espousing a strong holiness ethics, the church had for many years held fast to a condescending rejection of people with locked hair. Originally, this was justified with the association of dreadlocks with “paganism” and mental illnesses. Later, Rastafarianism re-signified dreadlocks as a symbol for yet another religion with which Pentecostalism had no common ground. Yet, through its association with African nationalism and anti colonialism, Rastafarianism also prepared the integration of dreadlocks into broader Ghanaian culture, where they became something of a fashion trend. It was now, and with a missiological motive, that the church started to make overtures toward people with dreadlocks. Under the chairmanship of Opoku Onyinah, the church issued a reform that allowed persons with dreadlocks to freely worship with the church, and in 2015 a special convention was held for people with locked hair. The reform and the convention met a sustained backlash that threatened to split apart the CoP. Relying on ethnographic data collected in Ghana in 2019, this paper traces the cultural and theological reasons for the contention that surrounded the acceptance of dreadlocks in the CoP. The argument is that the challenge facing the CoP is not so much in choreographing a break with the past, but how to uphold a clearly demarcated difference from the “modern world,” a difference that is demanded by holiness born-again theology but is in constant need of adjustment as church seeks to remain relevant in its mission to young people while cultural significations shift.
Author: Charles Prempeh
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