Dreadlocks may date to Biblical days, although they were popularized in the 1970s by Jamaica's reggae music and the late reggae singer Bob Marley, who wore locks. Another factor was the Rastafarian religion, which began in the 1930s when Ras Tafari, an African prince, was crowned Emperor Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia. During the invasion of Ethiopia by Italy in 1935, the emperor was forced into exile and warriors swore not to cut their locks until Selassie, often called “the lion of Judah” by Rastafarians, was returned to the throne.
But dreadlocks may be older. There are references to locks in the Bible. For example, the Old Testament recounts the story of Samson and Delilah, in which a man's potency is linked to the “seven locks” upon his head.
In addition, some believe that artifacts from ancient Egypt dating back to 3500 BC depict priests and royal figures with locks, according to www.naani.com, an online guide to African hair.
In America, while dreadlocks have been adopted by people of all races and creeds, according to the book Dreads (Artisan, 1999) by Francesco Mastalia and Alfonse Pagano, many African-Americans “regard dreadlocks as a way of freeing themselves both figuratively and literally from the dictates of Western European fashion.”
While many blacks have adopted locks, the style is not solely a black American expression. Many cultures have adopted the look of dreadlocks, including India's Hindi Sadhus and the Himba of Namibia and Angola, to name a few. Many whites have also chosen the style as a means of self-expression.