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Meet Asha Mandela, the Black Rapunzel Who Has the World’s Longest Dreadlocks

50-year-old Asha Zulu Mandela started growing her lovely dreadlocks 25 years ago, after moving from Trinidad Tobago to New York. Today she is known as “the Black Rapunzel” and holds the record for the world’s longest locks, which measure 19 feet, 6 inches long.

Soon after she settled in Brooklyn, New York, Asha Mandela started working as a nanny, spending most of her time in parks and playgrounds. Perming and styling her hair just wasn’t working very well with her hectic schedule, so she decided to go for an easier, more natural alternative. After careful consideration she started growing “locks, which didn’t sit too well with her family, especially her mother, who though it made her head look like “a riff-raff mop”. Not even Asha herself was sure she had made the right decision because her short hair made them look spiky. But as they grew, she fell in love with her new hairdo and even started referring to her hair as “my baby”. The years passed and her dreadlocks grew past floor length, but she didn’t realized how unique her natural hairstyle had become until about 5 years ago when people started complimenting her and asking all kinds of questions, like how long she had been growing the locks for, how long it took to wash and if she was featured in the Guinness Book of Records. That last one sparked her interest, so she reached out to Guinness and Ripley’s to make her record official.

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Photo: Asha Zulu Mandela/Facebook

After following the strict rules imposed by Guinness and having her locks examined by two hair care professionals who made sure she had no extensions, Asha set a new record for the World’s Longest Locks, which measured 8 feet, 6 inches. The length of her hair was nothing short of impressive, but as it turns out, the official measurements weren’t even half right. Soon after her record was acknowledged by Guinness, Mandela remembered that for over a decade she had been knotting her locks to prevent breakage. Eight years after she started growing her locks, Asha had a series of medical problems, including 13 surgeries, two mild heart-attacks and two mild strokes, so she spent the next 14 years in and out of hospitals. Her hair, which had already passed floor length had become hard to ope with and very fragile. Unable to follow the suggestions of her family and friends to cut it, the woman started knotting her locks to make them manageable.

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Photo: Asha Zulu Mandela/Facebook

After realizing her mistake, the Black Rapunzel contacted 3 “locticians” to find out if her hair knots could be undone. Two of them said it was impossible, but the third said that while she didn’t have the time and skill to do it herself, there was someone in Trinidad who could help her. There was no guarantee that there would not be any damage or breakage to the locks, but Asha spent 14 long hours in Odette’s Hair Clinic, in Point Fortin, Trinidad to have her hair set free. She contacted Guinness World Records again and had to go through the same strict process to have her hair officially measured, but in 2009 she set a new record of 19 feet, 6 inches. According to an unofficial measurement, one of her dreadlocks was a whopping 55 feet, 7 inches long.

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Photo: Asha Zulu Mandela/Facebook

Asha says that after 25 years of growing her hair naturally, cutting it would be like taking away her life. Still, her pride and joy can be a little problematic at times. She uses six bottles of shampoo at a time, and the hair needs to days to dry. When wet, the locks weigh 25 pounds, which puts an extra strain on her neck. Doctors have told her she has a curvature of the spine, most likely caused by the extra weight of her incredibly-long hair. Some have said her neck has collapsed at the back, and that if she’s not careful, she could start having spasms in the spines and end up paralyzed. These warnings are apparently not enough to convince Asha Mandela to cut her dreadlocks, as she says the hair has become part of her life, and getting rid of it would make her feel like a zombie.

 

Sources: Asha Zulu Mandela, IBTimes, Mirror.co.uk