History Of Cornrows

Special braids for tight-textured and coily hair, cornrows are one of the most celebrated black hairstyles. Cornrows are a protective hairstyle for hair types that breaks easily and cannot retain moisture. 

Also the most culturally appropriated hairstyle, cornrows have a rich and glorious history. While other braids that originated from Africa also have spread among other nations, cornrows are special.

Because cornrows are a dedicated braiding technique that caters to only afro-textured hair. This braid goes as far back as 3000 B.C. They were worn by warriors and kings to signify their position in society. 

There are much more things to talk about cornrows. Eager to know more? Let’s get to the article to learn the history of cornrows!

Cornrow Is A Centuries-old Hairstyle 

Centuries-old Hairstyle 

We may be under the impression that cornrows are a new ‘trending’ hairstyle. And that couldn’t be any further from the truth. 

Cornrows were traced back centuries ago, about 3000 B.C. There were stone-age paintings of women wearing cornrows. Not just Africa, even 1000 years old North American artworks depict cornrows-wearing human beings. 

However, cornrows were particularly popular in the west of Africa and the horn of Africa.

The above-mentioned archaeological artifacts is a proof that cornrows have existed as a hairstyle for thousands of years.  



African hair type easily loses moisture, is spongy, and breaks easily. Being delicate hair, it needed a protective hairstyle. And that’s how cornrows came to be in Africa, about 5000 years ago in 3000 BC. 

The origin of cornrows is in Africa and its mainly popular among the residents of the horn of Africa and West Africa. African women learn to do cornrows in their childhood. 

The techniques and patterns of cornrows were a symbol of their tribal, religious, and social identity.

Because cornrows require time, they also acted as a bonding experience for African people. And the culture has since been kept alive even through their grueling enslavement period. 

In the 19th century, Ethiopian kings and warriors used to wear cornrows as symbols of their honorable status.

Symbol of Resistance For Slaves

Symbol of Resistance For Slaves

During the enslavement period, cornrows were a symbol of resistance for African slaves. Even after cutting their hair off, they’d wear their hair in cornrows when it grew back.

Executing the idea of once king Benkos, slaves communicated their escape routes using cornrows. 

Men and women would create maps and paths in their heads with cornrows. That way, their masters would be in dark about their escape plans. 

The African slaves also hid food inside the cornrows for sustenance. Mothers would put grains in their children’s hair and braided cornrows with them.

Hence, cornrows became a hairstyle that embodied the African history of oppression and freedom.

In Colonialism, Used As A Communication Medium

Used As A Communication Medium

During the colonialization period, with the help of anti-literate laws, slaves were prohibited from learning to read and write. 

Using their mother tongues would also subject them to being suspected and tortured. This left them without any means to communicate.

So they used cornrows to communicate their escape route with their fellows. African slaves passed on the information regarding revolt and escape coded in cornrows.

The number of cornrows and patterns indicated how many roads to take and which way to go. 

This was a clever idea because the white masters could never decipher how they communicated without words. 

In Ancient Times, Cornrows Served As A Safe Place To Hide Gold And Seeds

Cornrows Served As A Safe Place To Hide Gold And Seeds

Food was hidden inside cornrows not only during enslavement but also in ancient times. 

You read that right, thousands of years ago, when African people prepared for a journey. 

Mothers and wives braided the children’s and men’s hair in cornrows with gold and seeds inside. 

These hidden golds and seeds were later taken out and used for sustaining lives. 

Truly a clever use of braids to hide food and valuables. 

Cornrows Became Popular In The 1990s and 2000s, and Other Communities Copied Them

Became Popular In The 1990s and 2000s

Janet Jackson, the icon of 90s pop culture made her screen debut wearing cornrows in the movie ‘Poetic Justice’.

This move of hers banished a considerable amount of taboo from African hairstyles. Influenced by her gorgeous looks, many people started wearing cornrow braids in their hair. 

Before this, African hairstyles were considered dirty and discouraged. The normalization had a good start. 

But then other communities were wearing copying cornrows without acknowledging their origin. This was the start of the cultural appropriation of black culture. 

Discrimination Against Cornrows

Discrimination Against Cornrows

Janet Jackson making cornrows popular did little favor to actual black folks who’d wear cornrows. 

Cornrow braids can be kept for 4 to 6 weeks with proper care. White people deemed this as being dirty and unprofessional. 

Following such shallow judgment, black people wearing cornrows faced large discrimination in the workplace and professional spaces. Cornrows-wearing black folks faced a hard time finding respectable jobs and a place in society. 

Ironically, white celebrities would be praised when they wore cornrows. 

Black history, identity, and childhood is represented by cornrows

Cornrow braids take multiple hours to finish. Sometimes it takes a few days. Many black people recalled their childhood. And most of them mentioned how cornrows occupied a large portion of their time. 

Black history, identity, and childhood

Cornrows also provide bonding among the members of the community. Women and children would sit together and get their hair braided. 

During those hours, they’d gossip and share their experiences with the community. 

Specific styles of cornrows also carried tribal identity for African people. They’d recognize others by looking at their braids. Cornrows bore their societal, religious, socio-economic, and marital status. 

Cornrows Became Popular As A Result Of The Black Power Movement

Cornrows Became Popular

Towards the end of the late 80s, black folks in the US started speaking out against discrimination for their hairstyles. 

The activists proudly started to wear African hairstyles to push the movement to reject European beauty standards for themselves.

Women started wearing their hair in an afro, cornrows, and different braids. With the help of the movement, more black people started wearing cornrows with their heads held high. 

The Relevance of Cornrows in Modern-day Society

Cornrows in Modern-day Society

In modern-day society, cornrows still hold great relevance to black people. 

Cornrows now symbolize heritage and hold significance to their long history of oppression. This braid played a major role in freeing the black slaves.

Modern black people now wear cornrows as a symbol of power, resilience, and freedom. Plus, cornrow is a great hairstyle to give you a sleek look. People continue to invent different patterns of cornrows and share them with the world. 

Nowadays, rappers and celebrities flaunt cornrows on the red carpet. In addition to making you look gorgeous, cornrows protect your hair for 4-6 weeks with little maintenance. 

Why Are Cornrows Called Cornrows

Cornrows Called Cornrows

Cornrow braid is a braiding style that ties the hair close to the scalp. The hair is braided in an upward and underhanded motion. This style worked very well to protect fragile and coily black hair. 

Every two cornrows have a line of exposed scalps. Which reminds you of a cornfield. Hence they are called cornrows

Also, lots of the black people who worked in agriculture styled their hair in this braid. Americans later came to call them cornrows because of their profession and their similarity with a field. 

It was America who called cornrows ‘cornrows’ for this reason. Before this, cornrows had different names in different African tribes.


Do Cornrows Come From Africa?

Cornrows come from Africa. This hairstyle was found back in 3000 BC, in many stone age paintings. Cornrows are specifically designed to protect the dry, fragile hair of black people. This braiding technique symbolized African people’s social, tribal, religious, and marital status. 

Cornrows VS Braids

Cornrows are a type of braid native to Africa. And braid is a broad category of hairstyle. In general, a braid is made by weaving 3 parts of hair over each other. There are many types of braids. Whereas, cornrows are a braiding technique where the hair is braided closely and tightly to the scalp.

What is the difference between Bantu knots and other types of natural hairstyles?

Bantu knots are a type of natural hairstyle that is becoming increasingly popular. They are similar to other styles such as cornrows and twists, but have a unique geometric look. Bantu knots are also culturally significant, as they are often worn by celebrities like Rihanna or Lupita N’yongo.

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That concludes the article on the history of cornrows. This intricate style of braiding holds perhaps the most integral part of black history than anything else. 

Arguably, black people would expect respect for this hairstyle from everyone else who wears cornrows. So, make sure to acknowledge the roots of cornrows when you do wear them. 

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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