Braids : An Age-long Secret That Will Blow Your Mind.

Braids. They are an easy, go-to style to up chicness, comfort, and convenience. How well do you know about it?


braid (also referred to as a plait) is a complex structure or pattern formed by interlacing two or more strands of flexible material such as textile yarns, wire, or hair.[1] Historically, the materials used have depended on the indigenous plants and animals available in the local area. Braids have been made for thousands of years,[2] in many different cultures around the world, for a variety of uses.

As you know it, every other women love to go for braids, an age long beauty style. But as the world embraces culture fusion, there has been many incidents of “cultural appropriation” and misrepresentation of culture via the arts and hairstyles, especially in America and the rest of the western world. There is something a lot of people do not know about braids and this article will shed some light on it. 



The braid is an ingenious invention, and the practice of braiding hair is ancient and culturally universal, dating back at least to 3000 BC. Braid, one of the ultimate example of hairstyles that traditionally convey messages — about standards of beauty, identity, socioeconomic status etc. Especially in Africa. Braids are not just known for its versatility, it also played a very important role in the lives and freedom of the slaves during the colonial era. 

The most simple and common version is a flat, solid, three-stranded structure. More complex patterns can be constructed from an arbitrary number of strands to create a wider range of structures (such as a fishtail braid, a five-stranded braid, rope braid, a French braid and a waterfall braid). The structure is usually long and narrow with each component strand functionally equivalent in zigzagging forward through the overlapping mass of the others. It can be compared with the process of weaving, which usually involves two separate perpendicular groups of strands.

 Braids worn by an Amhara man and Emperor Tewodros II, nəgusä nägäst Founder of Modern Ethiopia (1855-1868).


Traditional African hairstyles are intricate (and sometimes elaborate) works of art that display the creativity and unique craftmanship of African women, In Krio, to braid is to plant. The braids along with other styles of hair like Afro, waves, threading, have patterns that signifies different things with different meanings. For example, Cornrows in some tribes in Africa was named after the pattern of corns in a field. This explains why this particular style symbolized agriculture, order and a civilized lifestyle. 

Early braids had many uses, such as costume decoration, animal regalia (like camel girths), sword decoration, bowls and hats (from [[Arecaceae[e|palm leaves]])” – Wikipedia


For some escaped slaves in South America for example, braids were a survival mechanism and one of the cultures left that led them to freedom. These slaves were prevented from reading, writing, and communicating with one another; however, strict their situation was, they found a way to communicate – Their hairs.

And this was possible because of the fact that women were not often checked upon and were allowed to wander more freely than the men. While the women slaves were “wandering,” as their masters would believe, they were in fact mapping out escape routes from the plantations.

In South America, cornrows were mostly used as intricate, hiding-in-plain-sight maps to guide escaping African slaves to freedom. The women would weave the maps in their hair, carve out paths with the styles. Some patterns were even utilized to deliver secret messages. Many of the braids especially the cornrow styles still done today were developed during the slave era and passed down to this generation.


Cornrows in Africa was named after the pattern of corns in a field. This explains why this particular style symbolized agriculture, order and a civilized lifestyle.


Many of the braid styles you see, each hold very significant meaning according to where it was developed. E.g. a fishtail braid that begins almost from forehead and runs the ridge of the skull like a reptile’s crest is worn by female warriors. and it is very common in the Himba tribe of Namibia. Today in San Basilio de Palenque, a small village in Northern Colombia, have authentic styles recreated by women living in the town. 

San Basilio de Palenque is about 50 miles from Cartegena. Believed to be the first freed slave city of the Americas, Founded by Benkos Bioho. Due to the nature and the usefulness of the different styles of braids to freedom of the  American slaves, it is quite understanding why the hairstyle was and still is the most protected culture in the fashion and mainstream entertainment. the braids are the most revered hairstyle known to the blacks and African people. 


During the industrial revolution, the braids became one of the motivating factor in many of the techniques used in productions. It was during this era that the mechanized braiding equipment was invented to increase production. The braiding technique was used to make ropes[3] with both natural and synthetic fibers as well as coaxial cables for radios using copper wire.[4] In more recent times it has been used to create a covering for fuel pipes in jet aircraft and ships (first using glass fibre, then stainless steel and Kevlar). Hoses for domestic plumbing are often covered with stainless steel braid.


These are different angles of the Fishtail Braids


Getting braids — single plaits, cornrows or any style that weaves together three strands of hair-is a rite of passage for many Black women in America. Many of whom can remember spending hours as a child sitting on the floor or on a small stool between a loved one’s legs as their tresses were carefully intertwined. And today as adults many of them now frequent salons or hire private stylist for more expertly crafted masterpieces. However, unlike a lot of their popular styles, such as finger waves and rod sets, braids are more than mere “aesthetics” for just anyone to wear. The braids is part of them, part of who they are, like the rest of us blacks all around the world, it is what bind us together. They are an integral part of our culture as Blacks and Africans—past, present and future. In their earliest known forms on the continent, the styles had a duality of purpose: Not only did they uphold societal customs, but they were also fashionable. “African women have a rich history in terms of the ways they adorn their hair,” says Zinga A. Fraser, Ph.D., an assistant professor at Brooklyn College.

A specific look could indicate your tribe, the clan you belonged to, your marital or social status or your age. For example, a traditional style symbolizing heritage for the Fula women of the Sahel region consisted of five long braids down the back with a small tuft of hair gathered at the top of the crown. Hairstyles were passed down through the matriarchs of each generation—from grandmother to mother to daughter. This is the history, this is the culture for every black person on the face of the mother earth. And it is why, the braids like every other ancestral hairstyles will be defended and protected from exploitation by wannabe “culture vultures”. So consider this before you make that style of braids




And as this short history comes to an end, lets take a moment to highlight some braids, their very significant name according to where it was developed or originated from.  

Eembuvi Braids : This here is a style of braids that is peculiar to the Mbalantu tribe of Angola in Southern Africa.


Danakil Braids : Style of braid worn by women of the Afar Tribe, of Ethiopia in East of Africa.  

Orisabunmi; Orisabunmi meaning “the gods gave me” is braiding style that was first done/named after a female diviner called Orisabunmi. and it originated from the Yoruba tribe in the south west area of Nigeria in West Africa.  

Gilbich : This particular style is known Tigray and Amhara people Eritrea and Ethiopia respectively and has varieties.


Redlocked Hair: One of the most popular hairstyles in Africa and it is worn by brave warriors of the Masaai Tribe of Kenya and Tanzania.  


In subsequent articles, more will be written on different hairstyles from different tribes of Africa. So the next time you wear a braid, wear it with pride and honor… 


Thank you for reading… If you enjoyed this, we will like to hear your comments.      


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Disclaimer: Africa Heritages claims no credits to any of the images used in this historical article.

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