History Of African Braids

Braids are not just a simple hairstyle to black people; it’s more than that. If you look at the history of African braids, you’ll see that the hair was the glory and pride of African heritage and culture.

Throughout African history, braids played an essential role in describing someone’s tribe, social status, power, and many more. Even braids were a way of escaping plantations and slavery during the transatlantic slave trade.

Read along to learn more about individual African braid history and why braids are still so popular after so many centuries.

Why Are African Hairstyles Still So Popular After So Many Centuries?

Black communities have created multiple unique braided hairstyles back in ancient times. Some of those hairstyles can see in modern black culture today.

Even after so many centuries, braiding is still popular through political, social, and cultural conversations surrounding the African people today.

Most black women still wear ancient braided hairstyles like cornrows, box braids, dreads, or goddess braids as a protective style and their identity.

Historical Braids In Africa

Black hair played a major role in ancient black civilization history. Braided hairstyles symbolize a person’s social status, tribe, family background, marital status, and religion. Here are some popular types of ancient braids and their history:



This particular hairstyle was first discovered in 3000 B.C. People in the Horn And West Coast of Africa used to wear cornrows. In the early 1500s, multiple African societies adopted cornrows as a medium of communication.

Later they were compelled to work as slaves in America, where they followed the cornrow hairstyle as their customs. This braided hairstyle was a symbol of religion, wealth, age, kinship, marital status, and self-expression.

In recent years, cornrows have been an example of discrimination. Renee Roger was a flight attendant at American Airlines. The airline banned her from duties for wearing cornrows in 1981.

She sued the company for racism; however, the court took the side of American Airlines. 

Again, when Gabrielle Union attended America’s Got Talent show with cornrows in 2019, she received racist behavior from the judges. She received a complaint that her hairstyle was “too black” for the show.

Ghana Braids 

Ghana Braids 

This hair-braiding style can be found in hieroglyphics and sculptures carved back in 500 B.C. Sphinx, a mythological creature with a woman’s head and a lion’s body, first wore ghana braids.

Usually, this hairstyle starts from the scalp; hence, a person can wear it in multiple hairstyles like low buns, wrapped buns, or high ponytails. The braiding pattern is similar to straight-back cornrows but actually follows the feed-in braiding method to make them look fuller and longer.

However, unlike cornrows, one can wear ghana braids with or without extensions. In ancient Africa, ghana braids were a symbol of ethics, social status, religion, and cultural heritage for centuries. Later on, this braiding method started to influence western civilization.

Fulani Braids

Fulani Braids

The most popular nomadic pastoralist community worldwide is the Fulani or Fula tribe of Africa. This tribe lived in the Sahel region and West Africa. They practiced syncretic Islam, particularly Sufi, and their traditional hairstyle was the Fulani braids.

Their traditional braids were the symbol of their tribe, beauty, unity, and strength. Fulani braids are usually thin and medium-tight. These braids are either hanged or trapped into extensions and decorated with cowrie shells and beads.

In 1979, the Fulani braid gained much popularity with the film 10, where Bo Derek wore this braid style. Again in 2017, it became popular with Beyonce’s album Lemonade.

Goddess Braids 

Goddess Braids 

This braided hairstyle also originates in Ancient Africa. The braided pattern is just like cornrows, but the braids are precise, oversize, raised higher, and very sleek. Goddess braids became the symbol of artistic inclination, precision, and creativity. 

In ancient Greek, this braid was also known as the Greek goddess braid by the Greek people. During the Flavian era (79-81 A.D.), Julia, the daughter of the Roman king, invented some new braiding methods.

Twisted braids, wireframes, and curls are some of her inventions, which were popular as Greek Goddess afterward. However, goddess braids thrive again as a popular trend in the 2000s.

Box Braids

Box Braids

Generally, the origin of box braids in South Africa back to 3,500 B.C. But some historians think that box braids were found 3000 years ago as the trace of this pattern carved in the mummy and sculpture.

The Namibia tribe was the first people who wore box braids, but they called this hairstyle Eembuvi braids

Recently, this braiding method got the name Box braids in 1990. Janet Jackson, an American singer, wore box braids at his event and made this braid style popular among Americans.

In ancient Africa, box braids were a symbol of economic status, readiness for marriage, and a medium of communication and escape plan to freedom.

Bantu Knots

Bantu Knots

Generally, Bantu is an ancient African language spoken by the Bantu tribe. They arrived in a central African country known as Cameroon more than 2000 years ago.

The term “Bantu” described more than 300 tribes in South and Central Africa as they all used this language to communicate. And they invented the Bantu knots hairstyle as an indication of their tribe.

However, Bantu knots have gained lots of popularity in the Zulu Kingdom of South Africa. The Nguni people named the hairstyle Zulu knots.

Later, Bantu was used as a derogatory term by the Dutch colonialists after the destruction of the Zulu kingdom. But South Africans propagated the true meaning of the Bantu among the people. The Duch started to oppress the Bantu people to stop them from spreading the term.

In recent years, Bantu knots have become popular among caucasian people, calling the hairstyle their own invitation. This issue is disrespectful to black people, and they have been fighting against European beauty standards for many years.

In Jamaica, the Bantu knot is familiar as The Chiny Bump. Many black celebrities have also worn Bantu knots, for example, Rihanna, Cardi B, Beyonce, Kiki Layne, and Scary Spice. 

However, there are also some incidents regarding Bantu knots appropriations. In 2016, Khloe Kardashian styled her blonde hair into Bantu knots and posted it on Twitter. It upset black women, and Kardashian received many harsh comments from them.

African Threads 

African Threads 

This hairstyle was a part of African people to take care of their hair. People from Nigeria, Ghana, and Sub-Saharan Africa used the African thread the most.

To create African threads, they need to wrap their hair into sections. It also straightens black hair without needing a hair straighter or a hair blower. Black people usually used this method to protect their hair strands and grow them in a less manipulative manner.

Since African threads were popular in multiple tribes, this method had many names, for instance, Los, Sunga, Eko bridge, etc. 

Like many popular braids, threading depicted socio-culture prosperity as the final pattern looks like skyscrapers or crowns. They used wool, rubber, cotton, or silk to cover black hair from top to end.

Zulu Topknots

Zulu Topknots

This braided hairstyle was a traditional hairstyle of men in the Zulu Kingdom. Zulu topknots were popular hairstyles in multiple tribes of South Africa, like Zulu, Mpoondo, Xhosa, and Ndebele.

Not only them, but men from Tanzania, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe also wore Zulu topknots. They wore this braided pattern to show bravery, honor, and respect. Even the clan leader used to wear Zulu topknots, but he had to wear them in the morning and take them off at night.

On the other hand, this hairstyle was widely popular among the Somalis and Ethiopian people. During the early centuries, women from the ruling classes also wear Zulu topknots as status symbols.


So you now have an idea about the history of African braids. Different braid hairstyles originated in other tribes of Africa. And each braid holds different cultural and traditional symbols. Their ancient braid hairstyles are still popular among black people today. 

But their traditional hairstyles are being widely adopted by white people as their own creations, which is increasing the struggle of blacks against European beauty standards.

By Cindy Mahlangu

Hey there! I'm Cindy Mahlangu, a pro hairstylist with a serious passion for natural hair care. My mission? To inspire and educate others on the beauty and benefits of protective hairstyles. Through my creative writing, aim to empower individuals to embrace their unique hair texture and confidently care for their locks. So, whether you're rocking locs, braids, or twists, join me on this hair journey and let's achieve healthy, fabulous tresses together!

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