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April 23, 2007

Hairstyles from Around the World

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THE WOMEN: Members of the lower castes in India, devadasi girls are handed over to a local temple by their parents as an offering to the Hindu gods. They remain "married" to the temple until death.

THE LOOK: Their hair is often long and matted, similar to the dreadlocks of Jamaica's Rastafarians.

THE MEANING: "Long hair and sensuality are deeply connected in Indian mythology," says Ranjanaa Devi, director of the Asian Arts and Culture Program at the University of Massachusetts. "In religious texts, every verse is depicted by a goddess with long hair spilling down her back." "The sole pride of a devadasi is her matted hair, known as jaedi," says Aroon Thaewchatturat, a photojournalist and expert on Indian culture.

WHERE THEY STAND: Once believed to be the bearers of good fortune, devadasis were invited to weddings of upper-caste members. Today, devadasis are often exploited by temple priests, who sell them to brothel owners for prostitution. The practice has been outlawed, but it persists across the country.

BEAUTY QUIRK: Devadasis in southern India often wear a necklace of colored beads that they never remove, a reminder that they are married to a deity and thus forbidden to marry a mortal.

Seminomadic pastoralists in Kenya.

THE LOOK: In the heat of the Serengeti desert, Masai women wear their hair short. (The practice also keeps the scalp free of insects and disease.) Another reason for the close crop: "It shows women as opposites to the young moran [male warriors], who wear their hair in long plaits," explains art historian Klemm.

THE MEANING: Masai women adorn their cropped hair with intricate beadwork. The colors, patterns, and styles of beads reveal personal information about the wearer-her age, her marital status, and even how much money her husband has.

WHERE THEY STAND: The Masai are a patriarchal society. Girls serve as companions to the warriors, and it's the male fighters who command respect in the community. Women don't own cattle-the item by which wealth is measured-but they do maintain the livestock until their sons are old enough to inherit it.

BEAUTY QUIRK: During ceremonial dances, the headdresses bounce rhythmically to complement the girls' body movements.

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