History Of Braiding

IMG_7126_resize (1)African Hair Braiding is an ancient art, handed down from generation to generation in Africa. The origins of the art form can be traced back to Egypt as far as 3500 BC. Each region of Africa has its own traditional styles, and each tribe its distinctive aesthetics. In many West African countries, hair braiding developed into complex patterns signaling one’s social status, age group, and village affiliation. Certain elaborate hair treatments were reserved for ceremonial occasions—weddings and other rites of passage, for example. While braided hair is principally a women’s fashion and art form, in some areas men also create and wear these styles.

From a very young age, girls in the village wear their hair styled into braids or knots. Girls first have their hair done by older female relatives—sisters, mothers, grandmothers, cousins, aunts. They learn first by watching, then by doing. A girl just developing these skills will usually practice on her peers or on younger girls, since no one wants to have her hair done by someone younger (and, therefore, less adept) than she.

historyHair-braiding is often an immensely time-consuming activity: some styles can take an entire day or more to create. Among those who have already mastered the art, there is an informal reciprocity to the practice: if someone braids your hair, you are expected to braid hers in return. But the practice of such an intricate traditional art depends on the ample leisure time available to those living in rural and village communities. In the wake of urbanization and industrialization, hair-braiding has in part been turned over to professionals. While the more complex and intricate braided styles may still be found in village settings, salons offering the simpler of the traditional braided styles have become commonplace in Africa’s urban areas. And over the last two decades, braiding salons have also sprung up in many urban areas in the United States.

Because braiding takes so much time, it offers women an opportunity to socialize together. In Africa, having someone braid your hair is also a sign of the friendship, confidence, intimacy, and good will you share. In most salons, braiders and customers alike—talk and laugh together, watch videos and listen to music, and generally entertain each other during the long hours of braiding. This salon socializing recalls the informal sociability that women in Africa share at home while performing this service for one another.

Hair Facts

The composition of hair varies based on the hair type, one’s age, sex, origin, and hair color. Your hair grows from the scalp, it serves to protect the head from injury, and from the elements – the sun, cold weather, etc. The foods and vitamins you in-take play a role on the growth and healthiness of your hair. The DNA in the body predetermines the length to which the hair will grow. The average head is about 120 square inches, and there are about 1,000 strands of hair per square inch, giving the average head about 120,000 strands of hair. However, there are products that can aid the sheen strength, and overall well-being of your hair!

Types of Braiding

  • Country Plaits
  • Cornrows
  • Single Braids

Country plaits

countryCountry plaits, worn frequently by women, are smooth braids that lie against the scalp. Each section of hair is braided by weaving the tresses one over another, gradually working in more hair as the braid progresses. The result is sleek, as if the hair were cut close to the scalp, but marked with subtle crisscross patterns.


cornrowCornrows a later stylistic development, are similar to country plaits in that they, too, follow the shape of the head and lie flat against the scalp. They differ slightly in the braiding process, however: here, the tresses are woven under one another, resulting in a raised braid that follows the shape of the head. Cornrows and country plaits can both be done in a variety of widths, the thinner styles—which require more braids—being more time-consuming than the thicker ones.

Single Braids

microSingle braids, in which the hair from a small section of the scalp is braided out to the end (with or without the addition of extensions), can also be done in a variety of widths. And, again, thinner braids— and therefore more braids—require more time to create and, in the salon, are consequently more expensive. Another recent innovation is a style in which the lengths of hair are twisted rather than braided. The addition of synthetic extensions helps to stabilize these styles and makes them last longer.

Another popular style, commonly called African knots or Zulu knots in the United States, bears the unflattering name of “chicken poopoo” in Africa for its resemblance to small piles of chicken dung. In this style, after one’s hair is divided into even rectangular or triangular sections all over the head, the hair in each section is twisted together and wound into a protruding knot.