Interview with Asha Mandela
Greetings, my Brothers and Sisters, I am Asha Zulu Mandela, the Guinness World Record Holder for the Longest Dreadlocks measuring 19ft 6 1/2 in. I have been growing my crown for 21 years. I did not plan to grow them this long. I really did not think of how long I wanted to grow them and what length I thought would be good for me. They just grew and the time went by before I began to realize that they were not so easily manageable anymore. By that time, I had become so attached to my “baby”, I just continued to do my best to care for my locs while keeping them controlled by tying knots to shorten them.
My hair does hold great significance to/for me since it was the beginning of a new me…a new journey. Soon after I migrated to New York 25 years ago, I found that I was faced with a very different type of struggle especially with hair, race and culture. Chemically treated hair was no longer my thing as I began my spiritual journey. I decided to grow locs during my spiritual awakening and soon found an inner strength and peace that not only allowed me to be myself, but to also be an inspiration and example to others struggling with the idea of growing locs regardless as to the reason… be it spiritual, a fashion statement, or an overall connection with culture.
When I had told my mother I was growing locs, she said “Not that mop thing….after all the years I brushed your nice curls. Why do you want to look ruff scruff with wild hair?” I said mom this is my calling and I would appreciate your support. She hung up on me! A few days later she called and said “Well, I thought about what you said, and although I don’t approve of it, if that’s what it will take to bring you closer to God to live a spiritual and decent life, then I guess it’s ok”. Once my mom recognized the new growth and strength in me, she became my biggest supporter and greatest fan… now after 21 yrs, every chance she gets, she tells me “Daughter Gold” (that was my pet name in growing up) I am so proud of you. I will NEVER cut my locs…. my crown is my life and my baby. ‘Never’ is a strong word, but I mean it when I say I will never give up my crown.
My hair regimen is really simple as in the basic shampoo and conditioning of which I do 3-times a week. I do have a product preference, however I am not able to comment on it at the moment since I am working on some projects for the said product. Besides this product, I have used Olive oil from the birth of my locs til the present, since for me, olive oil works really well in my scalp for massaging especially in the winter season when my locs are drier as opposed to the summer and I think it is brilliant for heat treatments of which I get done once a month. Any brand will do. Supplements are my best friends (smile) .I swear by cod liver oil capsules along with a hair, nail and skin combo supplement I take twice daily.
Washing and Drying Hair:
My locs take quite a few hours to dry. On my wash days, I try to do it no later than the mid afternoon since it allows enough time for my locs to get aired out. After washing, I wrap them in a huge bath sheet/towel for about 20 minutes. which absorbs the water really well. Then I sit back and read or watch TV or even get work done on the PC while they lay out on the floor on a towel or sheet to air dry. The ends take a bit longer to fully dry so most times they are very damp at bedtime, so I lay on the bed with them dropped on the floor on a sheet and just go to sleep like normal.
Styling/Maintaining Her Locks:
I have never been one to style my locs. If I do, it is either in a bun wrap or just let down. I guess it’s because I took care of them myself and never really got creative with styles. For the first 10yrs of growth, I enjoyed tying them in a turban which gave me that Nefertiti look that I absolutely loved. I have never been to a hairdresser in my life except for the 2 times my locs needed to be verified and adjudicated by Guinness World Records and one other time to have years of knots untied to free its length. I care for my locs while keeping them controlled by tying knots to shorten them.
I don’t re-twist my locs anymore since they are a bit heavy, and I need the full bodied roots to maintain the weight. I groom just a little like once a month to keep some neatness at the front.
At night, except for when its damp from a wash day…I lay my locs beside me on the bed to sleep….it’s like another person laying next to me (smile) or sometimes I bundle them up behind my neck for use as a pillow.
Experiences With Hair Damage:
All hair types, be it processed or natural, go through breakage. I started experiencing weak points and breakage when I got injured 13 yrs ago and thus began a medical struggle which prohibited me from being able to maintain my locs properly. I spent so much time between the hospital and a nursing home dealing from complications from a bilateral mastectomy that I just couldn’t quite handle them, so they started weakening and some broke off. Family and friends suggested I cut them off, but there was no way I was going to lose my crown. So, I just started tying them in knots to protect the weak ones and before long, I was tying most of them to control the length since they got in the way a lot. I tied knots in my locs for 13 years. Its only last year September that I decided to sum up the courage to have a loctician go through my hair to see how best we can untie the knots. Now that I look back, and though it was a struggle, I realize that I was very creative in finding a way to protect my crown of which for me, was well worth the struggle and has been a blessing in disguise.
Winning the Record for the World’s Longest Locks:
I have held the Guinness World Record for two years. I received the first record in November of 2008 at 8ft 9ins. Right after receiving the record, I realized that I was so overjoyed and excited, that it didn’t even click to me that I should consider untying 13 years of knots for its full length. The more I thought about it, the more I became curious as to how long my locs really were, but didn’t know how, where and when to begin trying to untie them. It was like mission impossible! I was referred to a loctician in the Caribbean who decided to take on the challenge of unknotting my locks. It was a long and tiring almost 12 hours of careful unknotting, and boy was I surprised to see the bulk that lay before me! Glorious! Simply glorious!
I returned to Florida, and after a few weeks of getting used to carrying this much locs,I swear it felt like I was carrying another body!!… All the time!!… It still feels that way (smile), so I decided to measure them out of curiosity since they just seemed endless. I was totally shocked to realize just how much growth and length had been hidden for 13 yrs! It was an amazing discovery! I contacted GWR and explained to them what I had done. They advised me to re-submit a new application and go through the process all over again to have my locs examined and verified before its length can be updated or modified in their records. Although I am not a fan of hairdressers and don’t like strangers hands in my locs,I surrendered to a 3rd examination and after submitting the evidence to GWR, was approved and adjudicated on the CBS Early show in November of 2009 where my crown was officially measured at 19ft 6 1/2 ins!! Whew!! What an exciting and nerve-wracking day it was!! But so worth it! After I won the first record, I really did not do anything different since I was still having re-constructive surgery. As a matter of fact, later on that day after I received the record in 2008, I flew to Miami for surgery at Jackson Memorial. So I really didn’t have a chance to bask in the moment since I was still very much in a medical crisis facing 3 more surgeries. It’s really not until I had the locs untied and re-applied to GWR that I thought, well maybe I can actually make my hair work for me, since I worked so hard for it for so many years (smile). I was blessed with being invited to GWR live TV shows in Italy and also did interviews for Greek and Poland TV, both of which were a brilliant experience. I am now working on my hair care line, appearances, hair shows and other projects.
What Has Changed Since Earning the Title?
Realizing and manifesting that deep inner strength I beheld but did not know I had. From the birth of my locs journey to the present, has been filled with joy and some sorrow, however, the greatest lesson and gift. I have learned is that patience and perseverance is virtue. My faith my in God is even stronger. For faith is the substance of things hoped for. The evidence of things not yet seen. To some, my locs may just be a huge mass of hair. To me, it’s my baby and my heritage… the foundation of which I stand on today. The benefit of this change is knowing that I am an inspiration for many people of different races, background and cultural blends and that I have made my brothers and sisters all over the world proud of me as I feel blessed and honored to represent all natural hair…locs and Rastafarians and important part of Afrikan Culture.
To My brothers and sisters all over the world. “A CHAIN IS AS STRONG AS ITS WEAKEST LINK”. We must unite and stand as one with each other…….
Queen, Asha Zulu Mandela ***
Video of Asha washing her hair
Thanks for sharing your story! You can visit Asha Mandela’s website HERE