Culture August 18, 2022 at 12:30 pm

Amasunzu, the historically rich traditional Rwandan hairstyle that made an epic comeback

Deborah Dzifa Makafui August 18, 2022 at 12:30 pm

August 18, 2022 at 12:30 pm | Culture

Lupita Nyong'o with the Amasunzu hairstyle. Photos: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images/New Times/Public domain

Amasunzu is a traditional hairstyle from Rwanda that was historically worn by both men and single women to signal to possible suitors that they were available for marriage. It is common to refer to the hair as having crescent-shaped crests.

In order to create the Amasunzu style, some hair was chopped diagonally, toward the middle, and then allowed to grow. Some patterns resemble circles inside circles, while others resemble walls inside walls.

There are more than thirty different types of Amasunzu that are worn by both sexes and frequently serve as symbols of their various social standing and roles. Amasunzu was a way for males to display their strength, bravery, nobility, and status. 

Amasunzu was only worn by teenage girls up until marriage and was inextricably associated with marital status and virginity when worn by women. Some ladies let their hair grow naturally after being married.

People enjoyed being inventive with their Amasunzu creations, and several communities sponsored contests to choose the best ones. The day they would be old enough to sport the haircut was something many kids wished for. 

According to The East African, Amasunzu is much more than just a fashion choice. “The biology of the body serves as the basis for Rwandan etiquette”. This fashion was utilized to emphasize significant characteristics like strength, cleanliness, and, for single girls, virginity. Strong leaders, nobles, and the wealthy sported the haircut as a sign of class. 

In her book, Surviving the Slaughter: The Ordeal of a Rwandan Refugee in Zaire, Marie Beatrice Umutesi described the experience of a man who had spent some time in a Rwandan prison before being exiled to Burundi because “the authorities considered his behavior subversive and blamed him for wearing a beard and not having the required Amasunzu haircut.”

The Amasunzu hairdo symbolized various responsibilities and phases of life for both men and women. The look represented valor and strength when worn by warriors.

Despite having largely lost its purpose, the Amasunzu haircut is increasingly gaining popularity among individuals who consider it a way to honor the Rwandan culture that was eradicated under colonization and the post-Rwandan civil war.

After sporting the traditional Rwandan haircut known as the Amasunzu at the 90th Academy Awards, actress Lupita Nyong’o made headlines in the fashion world. She chose to wear the revered, centuries-old Rwandan haircut, which received praise from hundreds of Rwandans.

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