Mkupuk Eba
Véronique Lorelle

PARIS – Ever seen a human scalp transformed into a drumhead? Or a shrunken head with its lips sewn shut to keep the dead from casting spells from beyond the grave?

With their hair uncannily preserved, these centuries-old trophies seem to have retained all their eerie powers. They are some of the key pieces of the exhibition The Art of Hair: Frivolities and Trophies that recently opened at the Musée du Quai Branly in Paris and lasts until July 14, 2013.

© musée du quai Branly, photo Claude Germain

"Hair comes from the body’s darkest intimacy, it continues to grow after you’re dead --or so it is believed-- and if you cut it, it grows back..." explains Yves Le Fur, the curator of this mesmerizing exhibition at Paris’s museum of indigenous art, cultures and civilizations. "That is why ancient civilizations attributed magical powers to it."

Le Fur designed the exhibition as a sort of rite of initiation, where visitors start with mere ornamental whims and work their way to loss and grief, with the nicely curled hair… of a mummified head. "It’s a kind of memento mori that reminds us of how precarious our passage on earth is," Le Fur comments.

From the Jivaroan warriors who shrank the heads of their enemies, down to Native American Sioux who adorned their clothes with locks of hair, they all believed they were absorbing the strength of their former owners.

Hairy trophies were worn as necklaces, bracelets or belts and used to distinguish the most outstanding hunters. In the Pacific Islands, tribesmen would braid locks of hair around the handle of their clubs, and tribe leaders around their scepters, because they believed it would increase their arm strength.

Hair was put in amulets, as illustrated by an Australian circumcision knife whose sheath is adorned with hair.

The art of hair

The fact that this is a part of the body that does not rot makes it the perfect medium to talk to the eternal gods, or to deceased ancestors. It may also be the reason that magical powers were imputed to hair, even in societies that were not big on headhunting.

The Frankish kings, who famously sported their hair long, forbade their vassals to wear comparable manes. At King Louis XIV’s court, when wigs were all the rage, the rule of thumb was: the more impressive the hairpiece, the greater the prestige of its owner.

Flowing or messy hairstyles are also often a fantasized expression of wild femininity. The hair of a woman becomes a net, a trap, a prison ... meaning that women with their hair down become seductive sirens luring sailors to their death -- or witches.

According to Greek mythology, Medusa, whose hair was interwoven with snakes, could turn to stone anyone who gazed upon her. Joan of Arc, accused of witchcraft, had her head shaven by guards before she was burned at the stake.

The theme of hair continues to exert a puzzling fascination on society, even today.

Neither hair nor there

"What happens when you get a haircut?" asks French philosopher Roger Pol-Droit in his book Aller chez le coiffeur ("Going To The Hairdresser"). "There’s this belief that your hair is linked directly to your thoughts and that these change once you’ve been to the hairdresser. Getting your hair done is the equivalent to getting your soul done – meaning your soul has become unrecognizable, useless; meaning you’ve become a stranger to yourself."

© Neal Barr

Nowadays, women strive to eradicate every hair on their body using laser or pulsed light, while men pluck their thighs and torso. Our hair has never been so important to us. "We're a bit like Barbie dolls whose hair grows at the turn of a knob," says Odile Gilbert, one of the most famous haute couture hairstylists. This also means that those who start to lose their hair, because of old age or sickness, are doomed to be somewhat excluded from our image-obsessed society. Like the Nazca people, a pre-Inca civilization (circa 100 BC), hairdressers have started using "extensions" to boost both heads and self-esteem.

From Samson, whom Delilah symbolically castrated by cutting his braids, to Rastas and their dreadlocks, the idea persists that hair retains the vital energy of its owner.

See photos from the exhibition here.

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Economy

European Debt? The First Question For Merkel's Successor

Across southern Europe, all eyes are on the German elections, as they hope a change of government might bring about reforms to the EU Stability Pact.

Angela Merkel at a campaign event of CDU party, Stralsund, Sep 2021

Tobias Kaiser, Virginia Kirst, Martina Meister


-Analysis-

BERLIN — Finance Minister Olaf Scholz (SPD) is the front-runner, according to recent polls, to become Germany's next chancellor. Little wonder then that he's attracting attention not just within the country, but from neighbors across Europe who are watching and listening to his every word.

That was certainly the case this past weekend in Brdo, Slovenia, where the minister met with his European counterparts. And of particular interest for those in attendance is where Scholz stands on the issue of debt-rule reform for the eurozone, a subject that is expected to be hotly debated among EU members in the coming months.

France, which holds its own elections early next year, has already made its position clear. "When it comes to the Stability and Growth Pact, we need new rules," said Bruno Le Maire, France's minister of the economy and finance, at the meeting in Slovenia. "We need simpler rules that take the economic reality into account. That is what France will be arguing for in the coming weeks."

The economic reality for eurozone countries is an average national debt of 100% of GDP. Only Luxemburg is currently meeting the two central requirements of the Maastricht Treaty: That national debt must be less than 60% of GDP and the deficit should be no more than 3%. For the moment, these rules have been set aside due to the coronavirus crisis, but next year national leaders must decide how to go forward and whether the rules should be reinstated in 2023.

Europe's north-south divide lives on

The debate looks set to be intense. Fiscally conservative countries, above all Austria and the Netherlands, are against relaxing the rules as they recently made very clear in a joint position paper on the subject. In contrast, southern European countries that are dealing with high levels of national debt believe that now is the moment to relax the rules.

Those governments are calling for countries to be given more freedom over their levels of national debt so that the economy, which is recovering remarkably quickly thanks to coronavirus spending and the European Central Bank's relaxation of its fiscal policy, can continue to grow.

Despite its clear stance on the issue, Paris hasn't yet gone on the offensive.

The rules must be "adapted to fit the new reality," said Spanish Finance Minister Nadia Calviño in Brdo. She says the eurozone needs "new rules that work." Her Belgian counterpart agreed. The national debts in both countries currently stand at over 100% of GDP. The same is true of France, Italy, Portugal, Greece and Cyprus.

Officials there will be keeping a close eye on the German elections — and the subsequent coalition negotiations. Along with France, Germany still sets the tone in the EU, and Berlin's stance on the brewing conflict will depend largely on what the coalition government looks like.

A key question is which party Germany's next finance minister comes from. In their election campaign, the Greens have called for the debt rules to be revised so that in the future they support rather than hinder public investment. The FDP, however, wants to reinstate the Maastricht Treaty rules exactly as they were and ensure they are more strictly enforced than before.

This demand is unlikely to gain traction at the EU level because too many countries would still be breaking the rules for years to come. There is already a consensus that they should be reformed; what is still at stake is how far these reforms should go.

Mario Draghi on stage in Bologna

Prime Minister Mario Draghi at an event in Bologna, Italy — Photo: Brancolini/ROPI/ZUMA

Time for Draghi to step up?

Despite its clear stance on the issue, Paris hasn't yet gone on the offensive. That having been said, starting in January, France will take over the presidency of the EU Council for a period that will coincide with its presidential election campaign. And it's likely that Macron's main rival, right-wing populist Marine Le Pen, will put the reforms front and center, especially since she has long argued against Germany and in favor of more freedom.

Rome is putting its faith in the negotiating skills of Prime Minister Mario Draghi, a former head of the European Central Bank. Draghi is a respected EU finance expert at the debating table and can be of great service to Italy precisely at a moment when Merkel's departure may see Germany represented by a politician with less experience at these kinds of drawn-out summits, where discussions go on long into the night.

The Stability and Growth pact may survive unscathed.

Regardless of how heated the debates turn out to be, the Stability and Growth Pact may well survive the conflict unscathed, as its symbolic value may make revising the agreement itself practically impossible. Instead, the aim will be to rewrite the rules that govern how the Pact should be interpreted: regulations, in other words, about how the deficit and national debt should be calculated.

One possible change would be to allow future borrowing for environmental investments to be discounted. France is not alone in calling for that. European Commissioner for Economy Paolo Gentiloni has also added his voice.

The European Commission is assuming that the debate may drag on for some time. The rules — set aside during the pandemic — are supposed to come into force again at the start of 2023.

The Commission is already preparing for the possibility that they could be reactivated without any reforms. They are investigating how the flexibility that has already been built into the debt laws could be used to ensure that a large swathe of eurozone countries don't automatically find themselves contravening them, representatives explained.

The Commission will present its recommendations for reforms, which will serve as a basis for the countries' negotiations, in December. By that point, the results of the German elections will be known, as well as possibly the coalition negotiations. And we might have a clearer idea of how intense the fight over Europe's debt rules could become — and whether the hopes of the southern countries could become reality.

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