There is no other culture where hair played a huge role in showcasing family status, background, tribe, marital status, spirituality, social status, and even fertility (or lack of it) as it did in ancient African civilisations.
In further context; you could tell what tribe someone was from by merely looking at their hairstyle. Beyond the tribe, you could tell where someone belonged in a village’s social hierarchy through their hairstyles. Members of royal families wore elaborate hairstyles to symbolise their stature.
In some cultures, thick, long and neat hair symbolised that the person was able to bear healthy children. And in some cultures, dried twigs and ashes were spread on dishevelled hair to symbolise that the wearer was mourning.
Ancient Africa was rich with hairstyles and traditions, and some of these cultures have managed to hold on to their rich culture, even till today.
This listicle highlights some of these notable hairstyles that have transitioned into the modern world:
African Threads: This braided hairstyle is made by spiralling a piece of thread around the hair. The hairstyle originated from the Yoruba people of southwestern Nigeria and is a natural hair straightener.
Amasunzu: Amasunzu is common among the Hutu and Tutsi people of Rwanda. In the past, it was a common hairstyle worn by warriors to signify bravery & strength, and by young girls as a sign of virginity. This hairstyle is a collection of rows of hair styled into crescent shapes with sharp contours.
Bantu Knots: Most of us are in love with Bantu Knots today. This hairstyle has its originated in the Zulu region of South Africa. It was originally used to symbolise status and feminity. The hair is divided into sections, twisted, and subsequently wrapped to form spiral knots.
Ochre Dreadlocks: We owe this hairstyle to the Hamar tribe of Ethiopia, who were originally nomads that finally settled in the Omo Valley. This hairstyle is a dreadlock style created by sectioning hair and coating it with resin that has been bonded with water. Some native women adorn their hair with colourful jewellery.
Fulani Braids: Fulani braids are made by parting the hair in the middle and braiding the parted hair into tiny cornrows that are hung or looped on the side of the head. More often than not, the hairstyle is completed with a coiffure in the middle of the head. Most wearers then use beads, cowrie shells, or rings to adorn the hair. As the name shows, this hairstyle came from the Fulani people of West Africa.
Himba Dreadlocks: The Himba women of Northwestern Namibia used dreadlocks to symbolise age and life. The Himba dreadlocks is an elaborate hairstyle created using a mixture of ochre, butter, and goat hair. Sometimes, hair extensions are added for length, and decorative accessories for adornment. The way the hair is worn signifies the person’s place in life. For example; teenagers typically wear strands of their dreadlocks hanging over their faces to symbolise their entrance into puberty. When ready to marry, the dreadlocks are tied back. Also, unmarried men wear a single braid and, once married, cover their heads never to show them in public again – except at funerals.
Edamburu: This hairstyle is native to the Mangbetu people of Congo. Also known as the braided crown, the hairstyle involves weaving very thin braids into an intricate crown. The Mangbetu people were also known for their skull elongation culture, and this hairstyle was particularly used to showcase beautifully elongated skulls.
Sahrawi Cornrows: The Sahrawi Cornrows are made in the typical Sahelian form, with two sections running through the middle. The hairstyle is native to the Sahrawi people of North Africa, who – unlike most of other Africans, have curly instead of kinky hair.
Zulu Topknots: As the name shows, this hairstyle traces back to the Zulu people of South Africa. In the earlier years, this hairstyle signified that the wearer was a member of the ruling class. Today, Zulu topknots are worn by Somalis, Ethiopians, and of course many other black cultures. The hairstyle is made by gathering hair into knots and stretching sections of it with a tie. It is sometimes adorned with jewellery.
Some of the hairstyles on our list have become so popular that some of us have no idea as to their origin. The aim of this article is to remind us all that good things – including beautiful hairstyles, do come out of Africa. We encourage you to be proud of your coily/kinky hair, and invite you to try out one of these beautiful hairstyles.
Please tell us in the comment section which one you’d love to try first!