The world of hair is an exciting, explorative and creative one with many trends and fads coming in and out of style like bellbottoms. One hairstyle that seems to stand firm through all seasons is braiding. Braids have been a staple style in the history of hair for what feels like forever, with their history dating back to 3500 BC. It’s safe to say braids are here to stay, right? From classic braids, cornrows, twists, and others, braids have been a sign of societal status, ethnicity, religion and more.
So where do we start? About 5000 years ago in Namibia where braids originate. As we already know, braiding started right here, the cradle of civilization, Africa. It’s claimed that the Himba people of Namibia were the first people to start braiding their hair.
“Details vary from tribe to tribe: Mangbetu women plait hair and arrange hair in cone-shaped basket frames decorated with bone needles. Miango women decorate braids with scarves and leaves. Massai men stiffen them with animal dung, and Himba women mix red ochre, butter, ash, and herbs to coat them; a girl is entitled to only two braids and acquires more once she marries. Himba men wear one braid and tie it into a turban after marriage. Mbalantu women put finely grounded tree bark and oil into their hair starting at the age of 12 to help it grow long and thick, and braid it into elaborate headdresses throughout their lives.”
Braid patterns and styles were also an indication of a person’s tribe, age, marital status, wealth, power, etc. Braiding was and still is, a social art. Because of the amount of time it takes, braiding creating opportunities to socialize, bond and connect. Way back then, it began with the elders braiding their children, then the children would watch and learn from them. Younger children would start practicing on each other and eventually learn the traditional styles. This tradition of bonding was carried on for generations and quickly made its way across the world. It was around the 1900s when braids became most popular around the world. Almost all women, children, and most men in some way had their hair braided.
So how did braids become worldly? Here’s a rough timeline. Africa gave us cornrows in 3500 BC; Egypt with afro box braids in 3100 BC; Greece with the halo braid in the first century; Native Americans with pigtail braids in the fifth century; Europe with the crown braid from 1066 to 1485; China with the staircase braid from 1644 to 1912; the Caribbean with modern cornrows in the 1970s.
YouTube has popularized and braiding tutorials all the more available since it was launched in 2005. Today braids are the ultimate cool-girl hairstyle with creativity peaking on how to decorate and style. But braids are not just a fashion statement, they are cultural and for many, a form of personal identity. No matter how you relate to braids, make sure you always pay homage to the queens that brought us this life-changing form of hair care and style.