History of Braids: More Than Just a Hairstyle

Throughout history, braiding has been used for several reasons—from defining tribes, social status, and other societal classifications to mapping escape routes for slaves. This tradition of carefully intertwining tresses has been passed down through generations and become an integral part of Black and African cultures. Today, braids are used to celebrate and honor one’s ancestral roots as well as express personality and style. Over the last 5,000 years, the appearance of the braids has slightly changed, but the techniques depicted through ancient drawings and artifacts have stayed the same.

In honor of Black History Month, we are celebrating this art form by sharing our favorite braiding styles and their origins.

1. Cornrows

The History and Cultural Significance of Black Braids

@euphoricstylez, @freshlengths, @josie__hair

Cornrows can be traced back to 3000 B.C. Africa. The patterns typically indicated which tribe a person belonged to and their stature within that tribe. Warriors and kings also used cornrows to show their status in society. Today, the style is seen worldwide and holds significance in West Africa, Sudan, and throughout the horn of Africa. In these locations, the braids can signify a person’s age, marital status, wealth, kinship, religion, or personality. The tight, neat style is kept close to the scalp and can be worn alone or with shells, glass, coral, flowers, and/or twigs enlaced throughout.

2. Ghana Braids

The History and Cultural Significance of Black Braids

@naleafahlindsay, @lipstickncurls, @naiomi.osire

Ghana braids originated in Africa and were first seen in hieroglyphics and sculptures made in 500 B.C. Since then, the style has played a large role in Ghanaian cultural, social, and religious traditions. Ghana braids are kept close to the scalp, similar to cornrows, but the Ghanaian design starts small, then moves into a larger pattern until tapering off at the ends. This style typically is not adorned with decorations, but there are different ways of wearing these braidshigh ponytails or wrapped buns, for example.

3. Fulani Braids

The History and Cultural Significance of Black Braids

@curlbellaa, @sunreey, @naturalhairloving

Fulani or feed-in braids originate from the Fulani (Fula) people in West Africa and the Sahel region. The large, nomadic community passed on the traditional hairstyle through generations of women. Known for its length and unique patterns, this style features braids that hang or loop on the sides of the head. There will also be a coiffure in the middle of the head. The hair is then decorated with beads, shells, wooden or metal accents, or even a family’s silver coins and amber for heritage purposes.

4. Goddess Braids

The History and Cultural Significance of Black Braids

@freshlengths, @marlyshairbraidning, page no longer available

Goddess braids date back to Ancient Africa and have a comparable history and appearance to cornrows. The hairstyle was seen as a work of art, creativity, and precision among tribes and was often adorned with metal accents. This look was created by braiding closely to the scalp, and the goddess braids are thick, often raised, and extremely defined.

5. Box Braids

The History and Cultural Significance of Black Braids

@martiniquaisement_, @amxndakali, @jessthe_mess

Box braids originate in South Africa and can be traced back to 3500 B.C. This style, then and into the present day, takes up to eight hours to create. Many believed if a woman was able to afford the time and cost of these braids, she was a woman of wealth. Women also showed their readiness for marriage, economic status, and other classifications through colorful beads, cowrie shells, jewels, and other items worn in their box braids.

6. Dreadlocs & Faux Locs

The History and Cultural Significance of Black Braids

@westindieray, @urfavoritecolor, @josyramos

Contrary to popular belief, dreadlocs (also known as dreadlocks) originated in Africa, not Jamaica. The style was first seen in 2500 B.C. in The Vedas, where the Hindu God Shiva was said to wear “jaTaa” (dreadlocs in Sanskrit). Locs were also seen in Egyptian carvings, drawings, and ancient artifacts. Over thousands of years, mummified pharaohs have been recovered with their dreads completely intact. Later, the style was seen in the Himba Tribe in Namibia. There, the hair was used to indicate a person’s age or marital status—for example, a young woman would wear her dreads tied back to reveal her face and show she’s ready for marriage. Today, this hairstyle is seen worldwide and represents several meanings for various cultures.

For more articles like this, read our blog: Black History Month: 10 Pioneers from the Medical Industry

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