History Of Cornrows in Slavery

Cornrows have been the traditional hairstyle of African women for a long time, especially females in the Horn and West Africa. But they don’t usually like other people from a different culture to wear cornrows.

If you look into the history of cornrows in slavery, you can see that their history is filled with seer resilience and fleeting innovation. Their history of slavery is all about the pain and suffering they went through by the oppressors.

Read along to learn more about why cornrows aren’t a mere hairstyle, how they used cornrows to escape, and many more.

Cornrows Have A Painful History And Should Not Be Worn As A Fashion Statement

Cornrows Have A Painful History

The first traces of women with cornrows are found in Stone Age paintings on the Tassili Plateau in the Sahara. This hairstyle can even be seen in thousands of years old Native American paintings.

However, in the last 10 years, cornrows have gained wide popularity in various cultures as a protective hairstyle. But wearing cornrows as a fashion trend is considered cultural appropriation.

Cornrows hold a cultural and historical significance for black people. This hairstyle played a major role in the freedom struggle of African origin. In the Caribbean, cornrows were adopted as cane rows because they planted cane as slaves.

Did Slaves Braid Routes To Freedom Into Hairstyles?

Slaves Braid Routes To Freedom Into Hairstyles

Yes, during slavery, black people braided routes to freedom into hairstyles. Cornrows are generally braided following neat linear rows. Hence the lines can also be turned into geometric and curved designs.

During the Middle Passage between 1700 to 1800, millions of African people were forced to migrate to America for slavery. They were forced to shave their head to take away their identity.

At that time, Cornrow was adopted by slaves as the first initiative in rebellion. Also, this hairstyle helps them easily map their escape route from the oppressor’s place.

How Were Cornrows Used By Slaves To Escape Slavery?

Cornrows Used By Slaves To Escape Slavery

When a large number of black people were forced to leave their continent and migrate to South America for free labor, they became the prey of brutal practices.

Those practices made them feel distanced from their own continent, heritage, and identity. Hence, they started to wear cornrows as a tool of liberation and rebellion.

Besides being a tool of liberation, resistance, and cultural identity, cornrows were also used as an escape map for enslaved Africans from plantations. This method for escaping was easier to hide as no one would doubt an enslaved’s hairstyle.

Cornrows are an intricate hairstyle and start from the scalp, so it was easy to conceal the full maps. They also hide rice grains in their braids to satisfy their hunger during the escape.

What Did Slave Traders Do With Africans During The Transatlantic Slave Trade? 

Slave Traders Do With Africans During The Transatlantic Slave Trade

During the transatlantic slave trade, many African slaves were forced by their masters to shave their heads off to be more sanitary. However, distancing them from their continent, cultural identity, and resistance was also the motive of the masters behind this practice.

King Benkos Biohó Sent Secret Messages To His Army Through Women’s Cornrows

King Benkos Biohó Sent Secret Messages To His Army Through Women’s Cornrows

During the Middle Passage, the Portuguese captured King Benkos Bloho from Africa. He somehow managed to escape to Northern Colombia, where he built San Basilio de Palenque, an intelligence and army network.

Through this network, Benkos Bloho tried to save and liberate enslaved Africans. At that time, slaves weren’t allowed to be literate; hence they passed their message and maps through women’s cornrows.


Can Hispanic people get cornrows?

Yes, they can wear cornrows along with french braids, buns, and twists. However, it doesn’t mean that they own the hairstyle.

When did cornrows originate?

Cornrows first originated in South Africa in 3000 B.C. Warriors and Kings used to wear this hairstyle as their identification.

Can Spanish people wear cornrows?

Yes, Spanish people have cultural significance, and they can wear cornrows. However, one must show respect for the roots of this braided style.

Can you cornrow white hair?

Cornrows can be worn with white hair. If you want to create a protective style, you can use white hair extensions too.

Can Native Americans have cornrows?

Cornrows are a traditional African hairstyle that was used as a tool of liberation against slavery in America. So wearing cornrows as a trend by native Americans may consider cultural appropriation.

Are cornrows appropriate for work?

No, wearing cornrows for office work won’t be appropriate. 

Are cornrows in style?

Many celebrities are wearing cornrows as a style, which may lead them to face backlash. For instance, Kim Kardashian was accused of cultural appropriation for presenting cornrows as Bo Derek.

When did cornrows start?

Cornrows were first traced in 3000 B.C when the people on the horn and west coasts of Africa used to wear this braid.

Are Viking braids cornrows?

The hairstyle of the Viking warriors was twisted cornrows, french braids, or fishtails. They didn’t follow the exact hairstyle of cornrows.

Are tribal braids cornrows?

Tribal braids originated from the Fulani braid style in West Africa to celebrate their culture. The look of the tribal braids consists of the middle-parted Cornrow, but it wasn’t actually cornrowed.

When did Chinese men start to wear braids?

Chinese men have been wearing braids for centuries. The style originated in the Qing Dynasty and has been popular throughout different periods of Chinese history. However, it was not until the Revolution of 1911 that braids became a symbol of masculinity and national identity.

Can Mexicans wear cornrows, or would it be cultural appropriation?

Recently there has been some contention around whether or not non-Mexicans can wear cornrows without appropriating the style. It is important to first understand the history and cultural significance of a hairstyle before making any decisions about appropriating it. You may find other reasons to respect and appreciate the style beyond just its cultural roots.

Did ancient greeks have braids?

In ancient Greece, braids can be found with some of the earliest examples. The Minoan period, which took place from 2700-1450 BC, is known for its long black hair and plaits. The Aegean period, which took place from 1600-1100 BC, is known for its long, finely braided hair. The maiden of the archaic period, who lived from 776-486 BC, wore extremely fine braids that were often decorated with beads or shells.

Who made the box braid popular in the modern era?

The modern box braid was popularized by American singer Janet Jackson in 1990. She wore them during her Rhythm Nation tour and made them mainstream.

Can an Egyptian wear braids

Yes, an Egyptian can wear braids without culturally offending others.

What does the Christian religion say about braids

The Christian religion has a few things to say about braids. One is that they shouldn’t be worn to show off, but rather for more humble reasons such as functionality or protection. Another is that beauty should not come from outward adornments, but rather from the heart.

What are the roots of Bantu knots, twists, locs, and many more styles of African hairstyles?

The roots of Bantu knots, twists, locs and many more styles of African hairstyles can be traced back to the days when black people were stolen as slaves and brought to America. They were stripped of their culture and forced to adopt Western standards of beauty. Over time, they developed their own unique styles that incorporated elements of both cultures. These styles have in common the fact that they are all designed to protect the hair from damage.

Related Articles:

  • Why Are My Cornrows Frizzy
  • Who Invented Cornrows
  • Do Cornrows Hurt
  • Do Cornrows Cause Receding Hairline: Treat Hair Like A Shrine


Cornrows are just not a hairstyle for the African people, which can be cleared from the history of cornrows in slavery

Although millions of people were compelled to leave their homes and get into slavery for free, they didn’t sit back but fought for their civil rights. And cornrows were a great way to their path of liberty.

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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