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February 24, 2023

A short history of Braiding

No better time to embrace your natural African hair than now!

If you’re black, we’re sure you’re pretty aware of why African hair is considered very important in the culture. And if you’re not, we hope you’ll gain some understanding of the historical and cultural significance of African hairstyles.

For years, Africans have been discriminated against for their skin color and hair, which according to most people does not fit the “conventional beauty standards”, but while we’re here talking about this topic, let us tell you one thing loud and clear:

YOUR HAIR IS BEAUTIFUL, JUST THE WAY IT IS!

Now, let’s take a look at a brief history of these gorgeous African hairstyles that people sport.

When African people were kidnapped and brought to strange lands in the 1600s, they were stripped of their identity and status, traditional clothing, rituals, and practices that were unique to African culture.

This led to new cultural traditions and practices that the Africans had to come up with. Braiding their hair was one of these and involves a deep history of significance and relevance. They were innovative in their ways of adaptation and came up with ‘cornrows’ that were considered a “fad” for many. However, the African communities regard these hairstyles highly within the culture.

In the past, black hair has been looked down upon by many other cultures due to the colonization of Africa and its people. The roots of braiding are deeply ingrained and this is the reason why black people talk often of cultural appropriation when it comes to people from other communities getting box braids, Bo Derek braids, or any other kind.

Ancestral History

Tribes with unique braiding styles were very prominent in the continent of Africa. According to books based on the ancestral significance of African braids, Africans often used these braids to showcase where they came from and where they were going in life. Everyone regardless of their status or class would have some uniquely braided hairstyles.

Different kinds of braids were also used to indicate different regions by the Africans.

Braids as a way of communication

In the early fifteenth century, braids were used by Africans as a way to communicate with others. It was a kind of language system that was complex yet greatly helpful for the slaves. Things such as the marital status of an individual, their age, religion, wealth, and rank within the community could all be easily recognized by others as a way of communication and identity. What region a person belongs to could also be communicated with the help of these braids.

How fascinating is that!

Dehumanization and discrimination

When slaves of African origin were taken to new lands, the first thing their captors would do is to shave their hair. This was done as a way to make them more “sanitary” according to their captors, but this had a lasting effect on the African communities. This was also an attempt to burn the bridge between the slave’s cultural identity and their personal identity. Some of the African communities that were stripped away of their signature hairstyles during this period were the Mandingos, Fulanis, Ibos, and Ashantis. Along with this, they were also stripped of their traditions so they could get “accustomed” to the New World before their arrival.

Braids as a way of survival

During the unfortunate era of African slavery, many African women would even braid their children’s hair along with seeds, grains, or rice while they were taken away from them to unfamiliar lands. They were to a great extent a means of survival for these kids that were separated from their families.

The era of cultural embrace

After years of discrimination, Africans learned to appreciate their naturally gorgeous hair. A revolution began when many famous women were ditching “frying their hair” as an act of self-love and cultural progress. In the 1960s and 1970s, America’s first natural hair movement called the ‘Black Power Movement’ came into the limelight wherein many started to embrace their afros and even wear cornrows as a way to rebel against the conventional beauty standards.

In Conclusion

Ever since then, Africans have continuously attempted to and been successful at rocking their natural hair anywhere and everywhere, from red carpets to movie screenings or even on a daily basis!

Many other movements have also helped the African community embrace the cultural and historical significance of their braids and we only wish that this continues forever because we all know:

Natural hair is beautiful, and if it’s African, it’s even more stunning!

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