The Fascinating History of Box Braids, Culture & Beauty

Kaycee MurugiBox BraidsLeave a Comment

Box braids, The history of box braids

Box braids may seem like any other hairstyle but it’s truly a gift from our ancestors passed down from generation to generation.

It’s amazing how box braids have withstood the test of time and are now more popular than ever.

To do the style justice, we must acknowledge where it all started.

The history of box braids

Box braids can be traced way back to 3500 BC. This braiding style was first started by the people of Namibia who called them Eembuvi braids.

The Khoisan people of South Africa seemed to have caught the bug and later embraced the style. In no time, this braiding style was adopted by the rest the African population and bore a lot of cultural significance in different communities.

The African women used to create fibre skull caps into which they would weave wool, human hair or felt. From there, they would plait the box braids.

They embellished the braids by adding accessories like jewels, cowrie shells and beads, a concept we carry on today when decorating our braids. Considering the limited material, this was creativity at its finest.


Braids were symbolic in many ways.

To begin with, a woman who wore the braids indicated that they were ready to be married. The thickness, lushness and beauty of the braids were a sign of a woman’s fertility and health.

Also, some communities thought that they were a channel of divine communication with their ancient gods. Moreover, they were used to identify people from different tribes.

In addition, braids were a major expression of opulence and fortune. (No, there were no designer Birkin bags or sportscars to emulate your wealth).

It’s believed that if a woman can sit for a period of almost eight hours to get her hair done and afford all that time then she must be of great affluence. For sure, they aren’t wrong!

At the onset of slavery, they formed a cryptic communication system which would be used as maps to freedom. For instance, the number of strands of braid would indicate the number of roads to be taken. I mean you have to admit that this was a very brilliant idea wow! [2]

Why are they called box braids?

history of box braids, cute box braids

They are called box braids because of the parting technique which is done in squares. This makes these braids stands out from other types of braids.

This ‘box-like’ parts gives a very aesthetically pleasing look.

Box braids today

Box braids were first given their name centuries later in the 1990s. Janet Jackson wore the braids to the premiere of Poetic Justice that skyrocketed its popularity.

With time, more and more black celebs are embracing the style like Gabrielle Union, Keke Palmer, Beyonce and even Alicia Keys. They’ve worn box braids style on numerous red carpets and music videos building the style’s glory and admiration.

New styles

These days, new styles of parting have emerged. Aside from the traditional squares, people are now using triangles and diamonds which are equally as special and attractive.

A lot of the synthetic hair used to make these braids comes in a range of colours and lengths. You name it, it’s there from black to yellow.

Box braids have become a huge go to protective hair style by ensuring that the ends of your hair are tucked in and shielded from all agents of damage like weather and over-manipulation.

Even kids are adorning box braids these days, and they look so cute!

It is also associated with hair growth due to the fact the hair is safe guarded. Box braids are a great hairstyle is you want to save time handling your own hair. Instead of starting your day with a comb or hair straightener, you just get up and go.

Whether it’s a high pony tail, half up-half down or a simple bob, they can be manoeuvred into different styles. Pinterest, Instagram and the like are great sources of styling inspiration.

Are box braids cultural appropriation?

This subject has been an epicentre of controversy especially in the recent past. A lot of celebrities have been cancelled for wearing box braids, being from non-African descent.

So, are box braids solely reserved for black people or can other cultures join in?

From one standpoint, it is argued that box braids embody the struggle for freedom of black people and ownership of a culture that was once so condemned. Think, when African American women were discriminated or harassed because of braiding their hair. [1]

Therefore, it may seem condescending when people from backgrounds that deemed the style unsophisticated now glorify it.

On the other hand, people from other cultures may wear them as non-derogatory statement. They are appreciating the beauty of this culture and reconcile the differences that were created in previous eras.

Either way, box braids ought to be used to uplift people and not destroy what we’ve worked tirelessly to build. It is an important representation of charm and beauty in African culture. It is our notable work of art. Respect is therefore paramount.

Should you choose to rock your box braids, remember that you are carrying the heart and soul of an exquisite heritage. So, conduct yourself with poise and confidence and show the world what you are made of.

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