How to braid hair (“corn rows”) for secret messages

A trivial point sometimes discussed about secret sharing is how during the Cold War the CIA could have trained agents to send messages using variations of shoe lacing.

A “Recognition Signals” instruction manual was reportedly distributed in 1953 by a magician named John Mulholland (MKUltra Subproject Number 4, as reproduced by The official CIA handbook on trickery and deception through
H. Keith Melton and Robert Wallace):

The first suggestion is to pass the double-stranded lace through the
eyelets closest to the instep, i.e. towards the toes. First, the cord is cut in half. Then
the point of a lace is pushed from the inside of the shoe through a hole, through the
instep, and down through the opposite hole. The tip of the other half is processed in the
in the same way but is started on the opposite side. While the cut ends are still on the outside of the
shoe, each is tied, with a slipknot, around the other lace. The tips of the laces are then
drawn so as to have the two knots inside the shoe and each by one of the eyelets. (See
illustration.) The shoe is then laced in the normal way. For those who are looking for such
possibility, the double lace is easy to distinguish. He’ll never be seen by a no
research particularly. Although this is not noticed, it is for no reason except for
mending a broken shoelace were the shoes to examine.

Since the laces are inserted into the shoes in three standard ways, any deviation of
these means become useful for signaling. On other pages there are illustrations of the standard
ways to lace up shoes and many ways that shoes could be laced but never are. Nothing
of these alternative means will attract attention, but each is very obvious to the one looking for
such a signal.

The manual goes on to say that a tie should expose two buttons on a shirt so that their sizes can be alternated to convey a message.

What this “old” manual never says, what I find interesting, is to use the hairstyle. Even though it was used for secret messaging for hundreds, if not thousands of years, it did not appear in American spy tactics of the 1950s.

Afro-Colombian women, like reported in 2011 by the Washington Post for example, encoded “messages of freedom” in their hairstyle.

During the days of slavery in Colombia, braiding hair was used to relay messages. For example, to signal that they wanted to escape, women braid a hairstyle called departures. “He had thick, tight braids, braided tightly to the scalp and tied in buns on top.

And another style had curved braids, tightly braided over the head. The curved braids would represent the roads they would make [take for] escape. In the braids, they also kept gold and hid seeds which, in the long run, helped them survive after their escape.

A competition in 2015 called ‘Tejiendo Esperanzas‘(Knitting Hope), celebrating emancipation from slavery, was even reported by the DailyMail with laces woven into braids.

Source: DailyMail

This type of multi-braid hairstyle has been developed and worn for thousands of years, including by world famous royalty like Cleopatra or Nefertiti.

Source: DeAgostini / Getty Images

One would think that it would thus appear as a classic or common style and go unnoticed.

In addition to fueling racial ideologies and discrimination based on appearance, some research indicates that the details of the “message” hair styles may have been overlooked until much later in history if they were noticed.

My analysis contradicts the conclusion that 18th century advertisements “very frequently” described the hair of runaway slaves. Longer post-revolutionary and 19th-century ads may be more likely to focus on details like hair. It may also be that the oft-cited compelling descriptions of African American hairstyles are the exceptions rather than the rule.

Perhaps part of the secrecy built into hairstyles could also be attributed to the “head cloths” or “scarf” used to hide the hair, often for the sake of keeping the head safe.

The cover-up was motivated in particular by the racism of the late 1700s in America that put “frizzy” and curly hair to shame, leading to ideas like “tignon”Of the Louisiana territory being imposed by the law of 1785, even a structured signage using headgear.

A South Carolina who trafficked people indeed, things like wearing a white turban were regulated by a chief servant, erasing all appearance of natural black hair, while servants had to cover themselves with a bandana.

… The headgear was to maintain the power of southern whites in a society based economically and socially on racial slavery. Of note in this regard are the ordinances that regulated the dress of African Americans throughout the South during the 18th century. Indeed, whites used these dress codes to outwardly distinguish those who lacked power from those who held it.

Underneath, however, remained a “wrapper” often using thread or twine with hair separated into sections and rows. Perfect for hiding a message, like a letter in an envelope.

With all of that in mind, I’ll now give you three guesses why thousands of years of designing and messaging with dark hair are never mentioned in the CIA guide to secrets.

And also you should guess why in America it is “illegal to braid hair without a permit“.

To get a license, Jestina would have to spend more than a year in a cosmetology school. The tuition would cost $ 16,000 or more.

Hint: This is not about safety or harm to consumers, as the report argues, although it does relate to the fear of what is widely disseminated by the rows of corn (e.g. black freedom and freedom of expression).


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