Hair-stylisation and the “Art-ofliving”:

the case of Tendai Huchu’s The hairdresser of Harare

  • Edwin Mhandu PhD candidate, English Department, University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg.
Keywords: the Art-of-living, enjoyment, well-being, human flourishing, Zimbabwe, salon, hair-stylisation


In this article, I consider the portrayal of hair and hair-stylisation in Tendai Huchu’s novel, The hairdresser of Harare (2010) as powerful tropes that communicate the ‘the Art-of-living’ (Veenhoven 2003) and human flourishing. I take a different route from the conventional tradition in which hair-stylisation is seen as site of struggle and contestation, and, by extension, is laden with insinuations of race (Tate 2009; Erasmus 2000). Rather, I argue that hair-stylisation is an expressive genre that conveys meaning to and of the self, the immediate community and the global world. As a form of an extension of clothing, hair styles have the capacity to carry messages that enrich the self in various spaces of dialogue, be they religious, social or political. Conversely, hair styles can also signal the forbearance of sturdy individualism. I explore the centrality of the self, the image, and the body’s articulation in various modes. Drawing on Kwame Anthony Appiah’s (1998) theory of ‘cosmopolitan patriots’, I argue that through hair-stylisation processes, black and white women presented in The hairdresser of Harare demonstrate the individual capacity to introspect, relate and share “the good life” and versions of human flourishing in a multi-ethnic environment. They extend Ruut Veenhoven’s (2003) concept of the “Art-of-living”, or ‘the capabilities of leading a good life’ (Veenhoven 2003:373) to embrace the global visual and aesthetic images typified by black American actresses and singer-songwriters such as Halle Berry and Toni Braxton. Hair-stylisation enables the female characters in Huchu’s text to defeat and rezone time-space distantiation, and transfigure themselves into what I interpret as ‘citizens of the world’ (Appiah 1998). However, in the process, female characters do not necessarily forgo cultural particularities, and this motivates for local cosmopolitanism – a state in which they celebrate the presence of people different to them, and enjoy the pleasures of hybridity as they relate to the global world.