11 Traditional African Hairstyles & Their Fascinating Origin Story

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traditional african hairstyles, himba tribe, himba dreadlocks

We cannot talk about Africa’s rich culture without mentioning Traditional African Hairstyles.

These hairstyles are the pride of many cultures, they symbolize status – social, economic, marital – and spiritual divinity.  

Besides giving a sense of identity, these hairstyles were also used to protect the hair from damage.

Most of these hairstyles are still relevant today, while some have been updated, most have retained their good old ‘vibes’

These Traditional African Hairstyles include:

1. Cornrows

traditional african hairstyles, cornrows

Cornrow braids are estimated to have originated around 3000 BC in the West and Horn of Africa. In the 1500s towards the slave trade era, cornrow braids were used as a means of communication.

Like many hairstyles, cornrows were used to symbolize status and levels within African society.

If you want to do cornrows, begin with moisturized hair and section your hair into as many vertical parts as desired.

For each section, split the hair into three parts at the front of your head. Next, braid your hair in an over-under manner close to your scalp till the base of your neck.  Repeat the process for the other sections.

2. Fulani Braids

Fulani braids

There is no denying how visually appealing and creative Fulani braids are. You probably remember the braids gaining popularity around the summer of 2017.

The origin of this hairstyle can be traced to the Fulani community from West Africa.

The Fulani are a nomadic, primarily Muslim community found in 4 major West African countries: Guinea, Mali, Senegal, and Cameroon.

Traditionally, Fulani braids looked like 5 horizontal cornrow braids on each side of the head and an ornament in the middle of the head.

3. Maasai Dreadlocks

These dreadlocks originate from the Samburu and the Maasai community in Kenya and Tanzania. The locs are created from braids and are created using red ochre, ashes, and clay.

Once the strands have been created with these materials, they are woven together with wool and thread to form this intricate hairstyle.

Only Maasai men are allowed to wear this hairstyle and the women are often spotted with shaven heads. This hairstyle is referred to as a Maasai warrior`s mane and symbolizes strength and masculinity.

4. Himba Dreadlocks 

Himba dreadlocks , african cultural hairstyle

The Himba are a nomadic tribe originating in Northern Namibia.

These dreadlocks signify different social statuses and change with status. For instance, young girls wear dreadlocks around their faces while ladies ready for marriage tied their hair at the back away from their faces.

To make the dreadlocks, the women use butter and a type of ground ochre known as otjize. The final product appears as red dreadlocks with a fluffy tail made out of goat hair. [1]

5. African Threading

African threading  hairstyle, traditional african hairstyles

African threading has its origin in Sub-Saharan Africa, specifically Nigeria where it is locally referred to as Los or Eko Bridge.

As the name suggests, braiding threads are used to achieve the hairstyle. This hairstyle works great for drying hair and retaining length.

To achieve this, section the hair into about 5-10 sections and hold them a hair tie or band.

Secure the thread at the base of each section then wrap the thread along the length of your hair until the end of the strands. Tie the end and repeat for the remaining sections.

You can play around with different styles. For instance, you can keep feeding in the thread to make it long and once you are done, wrap around the other sections.

There is no limit to how creative you can go with this style.

6. Bantu Knots

You may have noticed this trendy hairstyle with a couple of celebrities including Rihanna and Beyoncé.

Bantu knots are assumed to have originated in Africa among the Bantu community around the 2nd millennium BCE and held social meaning, especially among African women.

To achieve Bantu knots:

  • Begin with dry and moisturized hair.
  • Section your hair into as many parts as desired.
  • Next, twist each section and wrap it in a circular motion around the base to form a knot.
  • This hairstyle is best achieved on dry hair and can last for about 5 to 6 days.

7. Amasunzu 

Originating from Rwanda, the Amasunzu is a unisex hairstyle that can be worn in over 30 ways!

This hairstyle was achieved by shaving off the sides of their head and letting the middle part grow. This part would then be styled into crescent-shaped sections.

Traditionally, this hairstyle was used to signify wisdom and strength. It was also used to denote a difference in social class and status. [2]

The Rwandese have taken liberty to customize this hairstyle into different styles even having competitions for the most creative versions.

8. Zulu Topknots

The Zulu topknot is a conical hairstyle that can be traced to the 19th century that was held in very high regard.

Both men and women in Zulu shaved their hair. Married women however left a topknot made out of red ochre, grease, and an ornament. [3]

9. Afro

traditional african hairstyles, afro

The Afro is derived from the term Afro- American and describes naturally growing kinky African hair that is styled into a round shape. The Afro can be attributed to the motherland where naturally growing kinky hair was the norm.

To achieve an afro, begin with clean moisturized hair. Then use a pick or wide-toothed comb to fluff your hair. Then manipulate it to a round shape to create an Afro.

10. Edamburu 

This hairstyle is also known as Tumburu and was worn by Mangbetu women originating from Congo.

Recently, this hairstyle has been made popular following the release of Marvel`s “Black Panther”. This hairstyle resembles a crown made out of thin braids delicately woven together.

This hairstyle is also an ode to the skull elongation culture that is quite popular among the Mangbetu community.

11. Ngala

The Ngala hairstyle originates from Nigeria, specifically from the Igbo tribe. Among the community, the hairstyle shows class and pride in their culture. It is popularly worn during large ceremonies among the Igbo tribe.

Traditionally, the hairstyle consisted of 6 braids running down and front from the middle of the head. In modern times, the hairstyle consists of cornrows that have hair extensions added to them.

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