Helɉan Hair

Being of Iɉen descent, the people of Helɉarva typically have thick, black, sleek hair which they regard with a special significance. The significance comes from hair being a natural source of fiber and warmth in such a cold and hostile environment. As such, cutting of ones own hair is choosing vulnerability, and giving it to another represents great love, respect and commitment as you are symbolically giving them your life. While not a religious set of traditions, the hair traditions of Helɉarva are quite fervently kept up.

 

Marriage Tradition

Starting at the age of four, Helɉan girls have their hair cut to their chin at the beginning of spring every even year. The girls are taught how to clean, braid and preserve the hair and will keep each cutting until they are betrothed. The bethrothal ceremony includes one final cutting of a girls hair before she becomes a woman, and she will spend her engagement braiding an undercloak and if there's enough materials other small tokens out of her preserved hair. She will then present the undercloak and any other tokens at their marriage ceremony, a gesture of choosing vulnerability to protect her new husband. It is not uncommon for the husband to give a new wife a small braided lock of his own hair, but the meaning is more a token of remembrance than anything else.

 

Men on the other hand will continue to keep their hair at shoulders length from their coming of age, until their betrothal, at which point they will not cut their hair again until death.

 

Birth Tradition

After the birth of a new baby, the mother will cut her hair to the chin and braid it into a band to fit the baby's head. This again is a symbol of choosing vulnerability to protect a loved one, and the band will help keep the baby's head warm until it's own hair has grown in.

 

Coming of Age

Men cut their hair less often than women, symbolizing the strength they retain. Unlike women who have their hair cut to the chin, men have theirs cut to the shoulders. The first time a man's hair is cut is when he is old enough to take on duties of the tribe. This cutting symbolizes his vulnerability for the good and protection of the tribe, and his cut braid will be preserved and set aside. If he were to perish in a way his body could not be retrieved, his braid will be retrieved and given to the family to perform funeral rites.

 

Death Tradition

When a Helɉan dies, their hair is cut for the final time by a close relative, who will make small tokens such as a bracelet or necklace for all close family members. The token will be kept through the days of mourning. This final cutting symbolizes the giving of a final sacrifice for the family. In rare cases, a Helɉan will be buried without their hair being cut. This is a sign of disrespect, as the person was either considered too abhorrent to be remembered or be memorialized among the members of the tribe.

 

Other Meanings

Because hair holds such significance with the Helɉan, the lack of or disregard of hair can be a serious insult or at least brings shame to yourself in the eyes of a Helɉan. Exiles and those who severely violate the law will often have their heads shaved clean and their hair thrown into the fire as a sign of disrespect or shame from the tribe.

 

At celebrations and ceremonies, Helɉan will use beads and twist their hair into elaborate braids for the festivities. Especially since things like clothing are such an expensive resource, there tends to be little change in dress for formal occasions, only ever more elaborate braids.


 

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Comments

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2 Dec, 2021 08:49

I'm really fascinated by all the cultural rites and rituals you've woven into the article regarding their hair - it's rally well done. Great stuff and welcome to worldember :D


Creator of Araea, Megacorpolis, and many others.
2 Dec, 2021 14:48

Thank you! This took a lot of being in other people’s shoes because personally I’m super grossed out by disembodied hair. So I’m glad you liked it! Thanks for the read and the comment!

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E. Christopher Clark
16 Jan, 2022 16:12

Great work here! The importance of hair in the culture is so interesting and well-wrought, and it was super-cool to read this after reading your comment to Qurilion about being freaked out by disembodied hair yourself. I wouldn't have known! You definitely describe everything with a reverence that hides any discomfort you might have felt with the subject matter.

Check out the Bekiskpan — originators of the chain mail bikini and my entry for “On the Shoulders of Giants.”