From African tribal styles to dreadlocks and the afro, Black hair has been an integral feature of black history.
Stars and Idols like Beyonce, Kim Kardashian, Rihanna, even Gabrielle Union rock different African hairstyles at different points in time. This sparks admiration from so many but do they know the origin of some of those hairstyles?
In early African civilisations, hairstyles could indicate a person’s family background, tribe and social status.
Just about everything about a person’s identity could be learned by looking at the hair. For example, when men from the Wolof tribe (now in Senegal and The Gambia) went to war they wore a braided style. While a woman in mourning would either not “wear a style” or adopt a subdued style.
From the spiritual point of view, many believed that hair, given its close location to the skies, was the conduit for interaction with God.
Let’s take a look at some of these hairstyles and where they originate from;
Cornrows originated in Africa. Cornrows on women date back to at least 3000 B.C. and as far back as the nineteenth century for men, particularly in Ethiopia. Warriors and kings were identified by their braided hairstyles. Still largely worn throughout West Africa, Sudan, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia, cornrows can signify one’s age, religious beliefs, kinship, marital status, wealth, and were also a form of self-expression. Women and men used shells, glass, corals, fresh flowers and twigs, among other items, to adorn their cornrows and express their personalities.
Bantu Knots is a traditional African hairstyle that originated among the Zulu people of South Africa. Throughout its existence, women have worn it as a symbol of femineity and status. The Bantu hairstyle is one in which the hair is divided into sections and twisted into spiral knots. The word Bantu means “people” in many African languages and the hairstyle originated from Zulu.
Ghana braids also referred to as banana braids or fishbone braids, can be traced all the way back to Ghana. They also appeared in hieroglyphics and sculptures carved around 500 BC, illustrating the attention Africans paid to their hair. What makes Ghana braiding so different from traditional cornrowing is the start and finish. Each braid is started off small, soft and natural as it goes into a much thicker and fuller state in the middle until it is tapered off at the ends.
The Fula, or Fulani Tribe, is the largest nomadic pastoral community in the world that populate West Africa and the Sahel Region. A very traditional hairstyle for women includes long hair being put into five long braids that either hang or are looped on the sides, with a coiffure in the middle of the head. Hair is decorated with beads and cowrie shells. A tradition that is passed through the generations to women and young girls includes attaching the family’s silver coins and amber onto braids as a heritage symbol as well as for aesthetic purposes.
Box braids can be dated as far back as 3500 B.C. in South Africa. The box braids all know and love today aren’t that different from the Eembuvi braids of Namibia or the chin-length bob braids of the women of the Nile Valley from over 3,000 years ago.
Dreadlocs & Faux Locs:
Most often associated with Rastafarians and all things Jamaica, dreadlocs actually originated in Africa.
Ancient Egyptian pharaohs also wore locs, which appeared on tomb carvings, drawings and other artefacts. Thousands of years later, mummified bodies have been recovered with their locs still intact.
For the Himba Tribe, in the northwestern region of Namibia, hair is often loc’d with a mixture of ground ochre, goat hair and butter. In modern times, Indian hair extensions purchased from nearby towns have been included in creating dreadlocks.
African thread is a very common traditional African Hairstyle all over the continent. Threads are native to the Yoruba people (mainly in South-West Nigeria). It is a natural hair straightener and has been a protective style.
Popularly referred to as Braided Crown, this African hairstyle is native to Mangbetu people of Congo. It is thin braids intricately woven into a crown and is used to appreciate the culture of skull elongation among the natives.
What unique hairstyles do you have in your community? Do share with us in the comment section.