Sun | Nov 28, 2021

Rastafarian high-schooler fights to keep his hair

Published:Wednesday | October 20, 2021 | 12:09 AM
Tyrone Iras Marhguy, 17, pose for a photograph at his home in Accra, Ghana. An official at the academically elite Achimota School in Ghana told the teen he would have to cut his dreadlocks before enrolling.
Tyrone Iras Marhguy, 17, pose for a photograph at his home in Accra, Ghana. An official at the academically elite Achimota School in Ghana told the teen he would have to cut his dreadlocks before enrolling.

Tyrone Iras Marhguy had to make a difficult decision after being accepted to the high school of his choice: his faith or his education.

An official at the academically elite Achimota School in Ghana told the teen he would have to cut his dreadlocks before enrolling. For Marhguy, who is a Rastafarian, cutting his dreadlocks is non-negotiable, so he and his family asked the courts to intervene.

“I manifest my faith through my hair,” Marguy, 17, told The Associated Press (AP). “I assume it to be like telling a Christian not to read the Bible or go to church.”

Hair is an important part of the Rastafarian faith; believers grow their hair out naturally in locks, in obedience to Biblical commandments. It is a public symbol “that we have made a vow,” said Tereo Kwame Marhguy, who is Tyrone’s father.

Although many Rastafarians believe in the Bible, it is a distinct religion guided by unique practices, including the adherence to a strict ital vegetarian diet, the use of cannabis for spiritual purposes, and the avoidance of alcohol.

Short hair is a requirement at the Achimota School, a co-ed public institution in the northern outskirts of Ghana’s capital, Accra. The school did not respond to the AP’s repeated requests for comment, but argued in court documents that all boys, regardless of their religion, must “keep hair low and neatly trimmed”.

The school was founded nearly a century ago during British colonial rule. Among its alumni are many of Ghana’s social and political elite, including four former presidents, as well as the former presidents of Zimbabwe and Gambia.

Unhappy about the school’s reluctance to accommodate their son’s beliefs, the Marhguys sued Achimota School and the government in March. A separate suit was filed by another Rastafarian student, Oheneba Kwaku Nkrabea, who was also denied admission to the school.

The Marhguys’ ongoing case is one of many instances in which Ghana’s public high schools, mostly started by Christian missionaries during and after European colonisation, have become a battleground for the fight for religious tolerance. In a separate incident earlier this year, a Muslim student was prevented by school authorities from fasting during Ramadan, Islam’s holiest month.

Ghana, a majority Christian country, prides itself as being democratic and religiously tolerant in a region plagued by inter-religious conflicts. Government and faith leaders have signalled their commitment to religious harmony, including recent financial donations by top officials, who are Muslim, to church-building projects.

For the Marhguys, the case highlights the discrimination Rastafarians face in Ghana, where they are a small but visible minority. They hope that with the attention the case has received, local attitudes will become more tolerant.