Origin of Braids: Where Did Braiding Originate?

Kaycee MurugiHairstylesLeave a Comment

Origin of braids, Braiding in Africa

The origin of braids can be traced to different regions of the world, with each region having distinct braiding techniques such as box braids from Southern Africa, West African Cornrows and so on.

Let’s travel down memory lane and find out where braiding truly originated from.

Braiding in West Africa

Origin of braids in West Africa

There is a high likelihood that braids were first invented by Africans as supported by several historical records.

Sculptures and Hieroglyphics have been found in West Africa in countries such as Nigeria and Ghana. These sculptures paint the picture of the braided hairstyles dating way back to 500 BC.

From the Nok civilization in Nigeria, a figure is seen embellished in cornrows. Sculptors from the time played a key role in depicting the genesis of hairstyles such as Fulani braids from the Fulani people in Sahel region and Ghana braids.

Traditionally, braided hairstyles were a major sign of opulence and wealth. Royals in the chiefdoms and kingdoms would often wear braids to signify nobility.

The variations in braided styles were also a major indicator in one’s tribe, or marital status. Ornaments like cowrie shells, flowers, beads or even metallic elements were added to. Show off beauty and status.

These styles especially cornrows and Ghana braids made a reappearance during slavery where enslaved west African would use the styles to store food like grains of rice. [1]

I would say that’s ingenuity at its finest!

Ancient Egypt Braiding

Origin of braids, Ancient Egypt Braiding

Tucked away in the Egyptian tombs are drawings portraying braided styles that are believed to date back all the way to 3500BC. Hence, Egyptian are one of the first civilizations to discover the three-strand weaving technique that is braiding.

The young rulers would shave their hair and leave only a single braid called the sidelock of youth. Artifacts also show numerous single braids as a common hairstyle for the people along the river Nile. [2]

Braiding in Southern Africa 

Box braids accredit their genesis to the mbalantu people of Namibia in southern Africa whose key feature is the square shaped partings. The style bore great social importance in that is signified wealth and tribal membership.

During the Bantu migration (When people from the Congo region bearing similar origin dispersed to the Eastern and southern region of Africa), a hairstyle was born. The style was non other than the renown bantu knots.

Early civilizations like the Zulu of southern Africa developed this hairstyle to showcase beauty and spiritual connection to the heavens.

Native American Braiding

Braiding in America

Let’s zoom over to the continent of North America. Native Americans are known to braid their hair traditionally using two or three strands. They are worn by both men and women and bear a major spiritual meaning.

It is believed that long braids are a representation of the union with the creator. They often add feathers to add to the beauty of the style. All in all, hair is a very significant and sacred aspect of the native American people.[3]

Braiding in Asia

Now we land in Asia. One of the prominent braiding cultures is that of the Mongol empire. Here, women used to braid their hair and hide it behind their wing on each side of the head.

In the Tibetan culture, micro braids were quite the norm and were often coupled with colorful jewels. These braids were considered very beautiful and golden to the hearts of the Tibetan people. It would be used to adorn a girl in customary ceremonies like marriage.

In Hindu culture, it is also quite common to braid hair in large braids. Single women plaited a single braid while the married women had braided buns.[4]

Greek Goddess Braids

greek goddess braids

The Greek goddess hairstyles hit the mark when it comes to resembling royalty.

Greek women would often add curls and braids to their hair enforcing the them with beeswax. Their fine braids were often aimed at keeping the hair clean and neat for modesty.

Greek goddess Malia is also said to have worn braids making the style that much more magnificent. Even the roman emperor’s daughter, Julia plaited twisted braids that created a braiding frenzy among affluent roman women. [7] 

Vikings Braids

When it comes to Vikings who predominantly dwelt in Scandinavian countries, little records on their daily lives are known. Relying on accounts from other people like Arab merchants who encountered Vikings, it’s discovered that they also wore braids.

In this culture the men were the ones who pampered and groomed themselves meticulously.

The men are said to have adorned long braids which was a tactic to intimidate their enemies. The also braided their beards for neatness. [5]

French Braids Origin

French braids origin

Something mind blowing about French braids is they are not even from France.

They trace the origin to Northern Africa particularly Algeria where women gathered in their hair into one three strand braid. However, I don’t know if North African braiding would catch on.

It was dubbed the French braid as France is always associated with finesse and finer things in life. So, the westerners saw it as an exquisite and intricate style that it had to be named French right?

Braiding Today

Braiding is very much alive and trending today, with so many braiding styles emerging.

With the rise of social media and the internet, braids have been making their mark in the hair industry.

Synthetic hair is being used to lengthen braids some long enough to reach the floor. We are now more experimental with color inclusive of every color of the rainbow.

Braided hairstyles are also very profound in the lives of black women and serve as a protective hair style. This reduces breakage and protects the hair form harsh elements. Even braided wigs are becoming a staple in the market.

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To finalize,

Braids have a very rich history originating from various parts of the world. Both women and women who chose to exhibit braided hairstyles should do it with heart and soul because they carry a beautiful past. A past we shall not allow to fade.

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