Saturday 18 May 2024


The origin of braids can be traced back 5000 years in African culture to 3500 BC—they were very popular among women. Braiding started in Africa with the Himba people of Namibia. The country’s Mbalantu ethnicity uses eembuvi braids as an initiation into womanhood – our first examples of single braids or “box braids". In Angola, among certain tribes, hair grooming was an activity trusted only by other family members — something that women were taught at a young age and encouraged to participate in throughout their lives to promote womanhood.

The origins of the ever-popular Bantu Knots have been traced to the Bantu people who exist across central and Southern Africa. “South Africa’s “Zulu Knots” are said to be the original manifestation of the style, and South Africa is also credited for the invention of “Box braids”, with evidence of the style being traced back to 3500 BCE. Braiding’s roots in East Africa have been traced back to 3500 BC, with cornrows (called Kolese braids in Yoruba) maintaining the top spot in popularity for just as long. Historically, Somali women have been recorded donning long, small braids when approaching puberty.

Ethiopia has maintained an admirably close relationship with its traditional forms of braiding. In the Southwestern Omo Valley, the Hamar people have perfected their hairstyles as a means to dictate male worth and female marital status. The importance of braids in communicating identity is a rich part of Uganda’s history, too. In Kenya, the Maasi and Kikuyu tribes have donned their famed matted braids, intricate beading, and gold detailings ever since. West Africa boasts an abundance of hair braiding styles, many of which have influenced global African culture and trends for decades.

The Fula people, whose 30 million strong population exists across West Africa, gifted the world with Fulani braids. In Ghana, the iconic Banana or Ghana braids have gained favor for their easy application, upkeep, and excellence in providing protection to natural Black hair. The first examples of this way of braiding are traced back to hieroglyphics and sculptures found around 500 BC. Similarly, Nigeria’s rich history of braiding can be traced back to a clay sculpture dated to 500 BCE depicting a cornrowed member of the Nok tribe.

Mali's Dogon people has various spiritual idols depicting cornrowed spiritual leaders, and the retained tradition of The Dama dance have allowed us the privilege of understanding the bewildering society that contributed to our understanding of our universe. In Sierra Leone, Mende people's hair is closely tied to femininity and is juxtaposed with the way forests grow out of the Earth – the vegetation covering Mother Earth grows skyward the way Afro-textured hair grows out of the head.

Senegal’s Senegalese Twists or “Rao” as they’re known locally came in vogue as an alternative means of creating individual, long braids – if locs or “box braids” aren’t your style. Gambian warriors were known to march off to war with tightly coiled braids, too. The Mangbetu people of the Democratic Republic of Congo, known for their practice of wrapping their skulls into a cone shape from infancy, locally referred to as “Lipombo, ” the elongated heads were then adorned with braids plaited into a crowned, basket shape called edamburu. Cameroon’s bountiful Fulani community has kept many of their hair traditions well and alive, while the region’s Bantu population participated in the popularity of the now-famed ‘Bantu knots’.

In Chad, women of the Basara ethnicity are known for their thick, long, luscious hair – often plaited into waist-long individual braids.

In Kemet around 1600 BCE, hair braiding amongst women of royalty, nobility, and concubines was adorned with gold, beads, and perfumed grease, while common folk kept to simpler styles necessary to get work done. #Africa

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