By Phemelo Segoe
If you had to guess when people started braiding their hair, how far back would you guess? 1000 years ago? 2000? Well, you’d be wrong. Namibian tribes started braiding their hair about 5000 years ago. In many tribes, braided hairstyles were a unique way to identify each tribe. Braid styling and even the pattern of the braids conveyed a lot of information about that person. Like their age, wealth, marital status, and tribe they were from.
Braiding was and still is a social art simply because of the amount of time it takes to get your hair beautifully braided. Back in Namibia in 3500BC, braiding was started by the elders who braided the children’s hair. The children would pay close attention to how their elders plait their hair and started learning how to braid too. As younger people learned the skill, the practice became so much more popular and an opportunity to spend time as a community.
Today, you either spend hours in salons or sitting in between your sibling’s thighs as she instructs you to bend your head while braiding the hair just above your nape. Getting your hair braided is a full day commitment, giving you time to build a relationship or bond with whoever is braiding your hair.
Braiding your hair has many benefits which are perhaps why it has stood the test of time and remained one of the most current and favorable hairstyles throughout the world. Notorious for their versatility and how well they protect your hair during cooler seasons, braiding our hair seems to also do more for hair businesses.
As part of a project called Formalising Informal Micro-Enterprises (FIME), the Sustainable Livelihoods Foundation interviewed over 6,000 small businesses in Cape Town and Johannesburg. This report found that small hair care businesses depend on cultivating loyal followings, based on the reputations they build up over time.
Not only does that data prove that we build bonds with our hairdressers but also, successful salons thrive because of the connections they’ve built with their customers. Hairstyles like braids, which take a significant amount of time to complete, play a big role in strengthening a salon’s currency in the connection economy and also the bottom line. Braids have become pricey so when you choose to get your hair braided, it isn’t just with anyone.
It’s clear that strand by strand we create community, build businesses, and care for our hair by getting it braided.