What Ancient Cultures And Tribes Wear Braids

Since the beginning of times, hair has been an imminent expression for most people, tribes, and ethnicities. For their hair to express itself, it’s essential to know about these tribes and their cultures. So, what ancient cultures and tribes wear braids?

Several tribes, such as the Tutsi and Hutu tribes, people of Rwanda, Yoruba, and Nok Civilization, are just a few of the different groups of people with different ethnicity, background, and era that use their hair as a means of expressing themselves. However, one thing that has remained constant and consistent with most of them is that their hairs tend to be braided for the most part. 

We have discussed these styles and choices of hair and why they came about. Stick till the end to find out more.

What Ancient Cultures And Tribes Wear Braids? 

Hairstyles represented many different things for people and their tribes. Several ancient cultures and tribes wore braids and embraced them. 

We have talked about the different tribes and cultures that wear braids for you to have a better understanding of the history. Read here to find out.

1. Africa 

Here in this section, we’ll give you in-detailed information on the different braids that different African tribes wear and what these actually resemble. 

I. Tutsi and Hutu Tribe – People of Rwanda 

The Tutsi and Hutu tribe, also known as the people of Rwanda, settled roughly 500 years ago in Africa and began using their hairstyle and braids to express themselves. 

They use their braids to express a lot about their personalities, sexual/marital orientation, and social status. Amasunzu hairstyle originated from the Tutsi and Hutu tribes and symbolized the elite. 

Amasunzu hairstyle

Warriors wore their hair this way to express their courage and victory in a war. Young girls wore this as a symbol of their virginity, purity, and marital status to draw the attention of men. 

II. Yoruba Tribe – People of Western Nigeria 

Yoruba Tribe, people of Western Nigeria, are one of the three most influential tribes. The name for this type of hairstyle came from the Yoruba people. People mostly wore this hair, including intellectuals, farmers, and businessmen. 

It is assumed about 2500 years ago, this hairstyle was created and has been a sacred form of expression for them. Around the 15th century, the Yoruba culture was known as Irun Kiko, who used different braids and twists to develop their distinct hairstyle. 

Yoruba hairstyle

Each type of hairstyle was generally known as Yoruba hairstyle. However, they had one distinction among them. It was a means of expressing one’s social status and marital status 

III. Nok Civilization (Nok Culture) – People of Nigeria 

Nok Civilization is one part of Western Nigeria that came about around 500 B.C.E. up until 200 C.E. For the Nok Civilization, braids date back as far as 1000 B.C., specifically in Nigeria. They are the oldest civilizations to have embraced and evolved their braids and sightings. 

nok hairstyles

This hairstyle was considered a traditional African hairstyle with strong curves, spirals, twists, and even strictly linear compositions. Many statues have been discovered from the Nok Civilization, where these were seen wearing similar historical hairstyles. 

It’s said women mostly wore their hair in such a manner that would stand out among the rest and signify their status. Ancient Nok Civilization during 500 B.C.  is said to have created cornrows during slavery and the resurgence in hip hop. 

IV. Fulani (Fula) Tribe – West Africa, People of Nigeria 

Identified as the hairstyle of Fula or the Fulani people, this tribe from West Africa is known to have embraced their hairstyles to the fullest. The Fulani tribe is in the West Africa and Sahel region, known as Senegal, Mali, Guinea, and Cameroon. 

The people of this tribe are known as the nomadic pastoral community. This is why many Fulani people during the 16th and 19th centuries were used for slavery and shipped off to the US. 

Fulani braids

Fulani braids have been widely known as Bo Braids too. These braids are done by parting the hair on either side. The part is made in the center and laid flat on either side of the head behind the ears. Hairs are then portioned into smaller parts and made into cornrows decorated with rings and beads. 

V. Hamar Tribe – People of Ethiopia 

Hamar tribe, the people of Ethiopia, lived by the Omo river valley of Ethiopia and mainly were part of the pastoral community. Their hairstyle, generally known as Goscha, later turned into what we now know as Ochre Dreadlocks. 

Ochre Dreadlocks

Hairstyle played a few roles in explaining each person’s personality, nature, and status. They expressed and let their health and well-being be known to others by the way they styled their hair. It’s a symbol of beauty for the people of the Hamar Tribe. 

However, to identify the member of the tribe, they used micro locs that we created by using clay and butter mixed. The red color from the clay used in their hair was the easiest way to identify the tribe’s members and distinguish them from the others. 

VI. Zulu Tribe – People of South Africa 

Zulu Tribe People of South Africa are a Nguni ethnic group who live in South Africa. They were known for the specifications of their hairstyles by the Bantu Knots. This is a historically embraced hairstyle for Zulu people as they were the only ones doing it. 

Bantu Knots.

The Bantu Knots, also known as the Zulu Knots, were created by the Zulu tribe hundreds of years ago, almost around 2500 B.C. This term “Bantu” literally translates to “People” in over 300 African languages. Moreover, the language used by the Zulu tribe was also called “Bantu.” 

Bantu Knots were used to express the Zulu tribe’s femininity and status. The hairstyle was the way they expressed and symbolized themselves and their status. However, Zulu knots weren’t the only type of hairstyle they used. These topknots were used by the ruler of the tribe, which symbolized their designation. 

VII. Hieroglyphics And Sculptures – People of Ghana 

Hieroglyphics and sculptures in Ghana dating back to around 500 BC show the Africans’ deep fascination with their hair. This was also when braids were first discovered among the Hieroglyphics and Sculptures. 

It wasn’t long until their hairstyle became an important part of who they were. Hairstyle soon became essential to their social, cultural, religious, and historical point of view. Ghana braids were also known as banana braids or fishbone braids too. 

Ghana braids

Moreover, Ghana braids are said to have been done on the majestic Sphinx’s back of the head. It was later adapted to the Western civilization that had also made it through and survived the Middle Passage. 

VIII. Himba Tribe – People of Namibia 

Originally, the Himba tribe and the Herero group shared ethnic roots. This was when they lived on the border between Botswana and Namibia along with the main group. This tribe still strictly maintains the ancestral civilization and lifestyle and hasn’t adapted to the modern lifestyle. 

Himba Tribe

For a Himba woman, her hair is her power. It possesses her beauty and her strength. Himba braids are said to grant a woman a healthy child. Women married for over a year or have a child are known to adorn themselves with a headpiece made by digging into the skin of a lamb or a goat. 

Hair indicates and symbolizes a woman’s ability to bear a healthy child. They decorate themselves wearing braids, headpieces, and colorful “Otjiz” paste to create structure. 

IX. Mbalantu Tribes – People of Namibia 

 Eembuvi braids

The Mbalantu tribes live in the extreme northern corners of the Omusati region. Part of this tribe’s area reaches out and into Southern Angola too. The people of this tribe, particularly the women from Namibia, are known to be wearing Eembuvi braids. 

Doing Eembuvi braid shows a girl transitioning into womanhood. It is a part of the process for the transition of the Mbalantu girls. 

For Mbalantu women, their hair and hairstyle represent the stage in life they are in. A girl starts wearing their hair in Eembuvi when she enters womanhood and continues to wear it until the birth of a child. 

As of now, the Eembuvi braids have become widely popular and inspiration for celebrities copying worldwide. 

X. Great Sphinx of Giza – People of Egypt 

Sphinx statue

Sphinx is a hybrid between a human’s head and a lion’s body. It’s one of the oldest and biggest statuettes all around the world since 2500 B.C. The Sphinx statue structure is similar to the face of Pharoah Khafre, an ancient Egyptian King of the 4th Dynasty during the Old Kingdom. 

It’s believed that the Sphinx originally had a long braided beard and a struck-down nose. This statue is said to be made of the same bedrock that is used for Khafre’s burial pyramid and is almost flawlessly aligned with it. 

An ancient burial site by the Nile river, Saqqara, an Egyptian village in Giza Governorate, is where the first picture of braiding was found.

At that time, only rulers wore long, weighted wigs full of braids. 

XI. Ancient Egyptians Rulers Pharaohs – People of Egypt 

Egyptians Rulers Pharaohs

Pharaohs were mighty people. They were both the leader of religions and the head of the state. Even the women of Upper Egypt wore their hair braided like the Pharaohs.

Meanwhile, the Black Egyptian Princesses were known to be wearing braids and wigs along with a snake crown on their heads. Women wore short hair in Egypt for a while but quickly shifted to long, curly, and plaited hair. 

That’s not all; women of higher standards and status wore wigs beautifully decorated with Egyptian jewelry. 

The kings and other high-standard males would only be allowed to wear long, elaborate wigs to differentiate themselves from the locals. Moreover, the Pharaohs were of the superior class, so their hairstyles needed to be well-groomed and tidy.

XII. Nubians – People of Egypt 

Nubian twists

The hairstyles of the Nubians were known as the Nubian twists. They typically had their hair in braids, which were leveled up with different classes of the Egyptian-Nubian population. They initially styled their hair with pretty thin dreadlocks. 

2. Asia 

The different tribes of Asia have always been fascinated with braids. So, through this section, we’ll let you know all the ins and outs of how braids were resembled in these fascinating cultures. 

I. Suryavarman II-Khmer Empire – People of Cambodia 

Angkor Wat

Suryavarman was the name of the king of the Khmer empire, which was once located in Cambodia. During his reign, he built several temples that were well-decorated and had figures of women on them. 

These women were seen to have exceptionally well-braided hair. One of these temples is known as the Angkor Wat, one of the most iconic religious structures in the world. 

The Khmer empire was ruled in 1113 A.D. by Suryavarman II King. Both inside and outside, his temples had structures and statues of humans, almost all of which had braided hair. 

Back then, the ones in charge of the temple styled the hairs of the statues like they would that of a woman. 

II. Hindu God Shiva – People of India 

The Vedas, the oldest scriptures of Hinduism, showed Shiva wearing his hair in lock or jaTaa in Sanskrit back in 2500 B.C.E. Moreover, the hairstyle of Shiva, jaTaa, is what we now know as dreadlocks. This hairstyle dates as further back as 1500 B.C. 

Hindu God Shiva

In the case of Shiva, a portion of the hair is pulled up almost into a half bun held together in a place by a Rudraksha Mala. It’s worth noting that sections of His hair were matted and tangled, which caused the hair to be shaggy. 

Matted hair like his is said to signify extreme control over one’s mind and senses, similar to Lord Shiva’s. 

III. Manchu Dynasty – People of China 

Manchu Dynasty

The Manchu tribals forced their men to completely shave the top and front of their heads. Although previously, they were allowed to wear their hair just enough to gather it and tie it in a knot at the top, it soon changed. 

They could only wear their hair in skinny, long, and narrow pigtails. This was forced upon the Chinese men as a symbol of vassalage. This form of hairstyle by the Chinese men was imposed by Dragons and was known as the Queue. 

The Queue has been documented since the Northern or Toba, Wei dynasty of the 6th century. Back then, it was common for conquered men to wear their hair in Queues forced by the Northern Tribes. 

IV. Song Dynasty – People of China 

Hairstyles for the women during the Song dynasty mattered quite a bit. It’s because their hairstyle signified their family’s personal financial condition and power. 

Song Dynasty

These hairstyles were divided into two parts, a high sideburn or a low sideburn. Although these women were free to decide how they wanted to keep their hair, it was necessary to remember it reflected their status. 

People from higher classes and conditions kept their sideburns combed and clean. In contrast, people of poorer situations stick to the lower temples. There were several types of hairstyles women opted for during the Song dynasty. 

Most variations of hairstyles depended on the type of dresses they were wearing. However, choosing a specific type of hair ensured their faces looked slimmer and trimmer.

V. Goguryeo Era – People of Korea 

Goguryeo Era

From 37 B.C. to 668 A.D., Koreans had their hair in a distinct style known as the Tchokchin Mori. This style is created by braiding the hair and turning it into a bun at the back; the bun then sits just at the nape of the neck. 

This hairstyle became more popular during the Choson period when false braids became widely popular as these were used to create the illusion of volume. 

VI. Kofun Period – People of Japan 

Kofun Period

During the 4th through the 6th century A.D. had their hair in a particular hairstyle known as the Megami. Girls stick to this hairstyle placed on their forehead for some time until their coming-of-age ceremony. 

Even the nobles and farmers at this time wore their hair in a bun at the back of their heads. This is because farmers carried things on their heads, which they couldn’t if they had their hair in a bun at the front. 

3. America

This section will run down all the facts about braids that most American tribes used during their times.

I. Rastafarians – People of Jamaica 

Rastafarians and Jamaica, also known as Rastafarianism, lived in a colonial state when Europeans captured Jamaica. To represent Africa, Rastafarians took on a different physical form to differentiate themselves from the Europeans. 

Although the Europeans colonized them, they changed their physical form and prevented being influenced by them. 

Rastafarians dreadlocks

Rastafarianism is a religious act or movement among black Jamaicans that taught them the value of inevitable redemption. During this time, Abrahamic religions also developed in Jamaica during the 1930s. During the 1930s post-emancipation, dreadlocks began first to appear. 

To the Rastafarians, dreadlocks represented a lion’s mane and the return of a mighty leader. The Rastafarian movement originated the word dreadlocks and through to it. 

II. Kiowa Tribe – People of Native Americans 

Kiowa Tribe

The Kiowa Tribe, people of Native Americans, are known to add fur to their braids. Men wore two long braids with fur peeking out. They also wore their hair in pompadours or forelocks at the front. 

Cutting their hair was not a common act among them. This was only done when they were mourning the loss of something or someone. 

These men would also wear turbans like hats made of otter fur. Other times, they would part their hair through the center and create long, sleek braids hanging off of their face at the front. 

Decorating the braids was something these people were fond of. Beads, rings, and other accessories were used to adorn themselves. 

4. Europe 

This section will cover how different tribes used their braids and how these resembled different traits of their culture. 

I. Venus of Willendorf – People of Austria 

Venus of Willendorf

The name of this prehistoric sculpture is an ode to a Roman Goddess, Venus. This Venus of Willendorf is a 4.4-inch tall sculpture carved and is now displayed in Willendorf, Austria, where it was discovered. 

It’s a figurine of a woman with her face and head tilted downward. The crown of this sculpture’s head has a repeating decorated pattern, similar to a braid or a headdress. These jagged lines on the head symbolized either hats, curls, or braids. 

Moreover, it’s even believed that the Venus of Willendorf was carved between 30,000 and 250,000 B.C.E. This is known as one of the oldest works of art known to mankind. This was found in 1908 and was given this ironic name due to its shape, structure, and figure. 

II. Kouros Ancient Greek Sculptures 

Kouros Ancient Greek Sculptures 

In ancient Greece, the earliest descriptions of dread date as far back as 3600 B.C.. During the second half of the seventh century B.C.E., several experienced Greek sculptors began to try their luck carving statues out of marble. 

Frescoes in Santorini, Greece, were made roughly about 3600 years ago. Over half of the existing men of ancient Greek Kouros sculptures show men wearing dreadlocks of different lengths and accessories. 

Apart from dreads and braids, these people would also have their hair twisted in a manner that would be visually appealing. 

III. Medieval European Society 

Medieval European Society

During 1066-1486, MEdieval Europeans wore braided buns and crowns. Women were barred from letting their hair down. It’s because it was considered a sinful act and temptation due to her long tresses. 

Through the test of time, all over the world, a woman’s hair has been closely associated with attractiveness, a means of sexual temptation, and signifying their societal status. 

Through the Middle Ages, a woman’s marital status was expressed depending on whether her hair was exposed or not. An unmarried young female would be free to do what they want with their hair, braid it or let it loose and uncovered. 

They were also seen to wear braids and plants rarely. However, any married woman or a widow was required to ensure their hair was covered modestly at all times out in public. 

IV. Emperor Augustus – People of Italy 

Octavian, also known as Caesar Augustus, was the first official emperor who ruled for a very long time from 27 B.C. up until he died in 14 A.D. He also for founding the Roman Principate. 

Emperor Augustus

During his reign, detailed and elaborate hairstyles became a fashion statement resembling wealth and status. 

The Titulus hairstyle at this time was a popular choice among men. This hair was curled at the front and fixed over the forehead on a wired frame, similar to a kokoshnik. 

At the back of the head, the hair would be braided into smaller sections and laid in the form of a basket. 

V. Flavian Dynasty – People of Italy 

This was the period during 79-81 C.E. During this period, fashionable hairstyles were relatively common, and Roman women’s sculptures were seen widely during 69-96 C.E. Portions of their hair were hung forward. 

Flavian Dynasty

The curled upwards while the back portion was braided and gathered into a nice prompt bun. 

Moreover, the daughter of the Roman Emperor, Julia, was the one to be credited for lavish and elegant hair up-dos done with the help of wires, frames, twisted braids, as well as different types of curls. 

Over time, this style became more complicated among Roman women and got even more intricate during the Roan periods. These styles were rather bold and elegant and were known for the dramatic appearance of the curls and braids, and height. 

VI. Ancient Celts 

The Ancient Celts are a group of tribes originating in central Europe. As easily as 1200 B.C., Celtic cultures began to evolve and were embraced soon after as they spread like wildfire throughout Western Europe. 

Ancient Celts

Their hairs were long and mostly braided into curls. These people were also known to have rounded bowl cuts at times too. 

According to historians, Roman accounts stated that Celts wore their hats like –“ little snakes,” as several Germanic tribes and Vikings are known for their matted dreadlocks. 

Meanwhile, women and Celtic men had more elaborate hairstyles and braids. This is because long braided hair symbolized class for Celtic warriors. 

Certain hairstyles were connected to the spiritual connotation of warriors who preferred them. Even to this date, Celtic braids are just as popular as they were.

VII. Germanic Peoples – People of Central Europe and Scandinavia

Germanic Peoples

Germanic people were widely known to be Scandinavian and Nordic. These people were known to wear dreadlocks that had matted and become stiff. Medieval braided hairstyles were considered a symbol of power and had significant importance

For them, hair played an essential role in expressing who they are, their social status, family status, and the power they possess within themselves over others. 

VIII. Spartan Warriors – Soldiers of Greece 

Spartan men believed long, free and voluptuous hair resembled that of a winning man back home. 

This was an easy and understandable way of getting their hair done. Regardless of how beautiful or amazing one looks, making anyone appear much more put together, and clean isn’t easy. 

Spartan Warriors

Some Spartan usually prefers their hair to be done nicely and put together. Keeping the hair properly clean together and well-groomed. 

IX. Viking Age – People of Scandinavia 

What we now know as the “Reverse Mullet”, is where the frontal portion of hair is long, thick, and greasy. Meanwhile, the other portion of the hair at the back and the bottom is short or shaved for the most part. Viking women, however, had sleek, long, black hairstyles. 

They were free to decorate their hair however they wanted but made sure it was well-decorated. Whether they kept their hair in braids or buns, they were always shaped and sleek. 

Hairstyles widely vary for people of Scandinavia. Whether you’re a male or a female with either long or short hair, it’s important to have it cared for. 

It’s because the hair would be the one way they expressed most of themselves. Even though not all of them are born white-skin, with white hair, and blue eyes, it’s important to know most are born with varying shades of colors.

Final Words 

Isn’t it amazing to know the ins and outs of what ancient cultures and tribes wear braids? Well, hair is an imminent part of everyone, regardless of whether you have a sitter or not. 

So, we believe after going through this blog; you should now have a crystal clear idea of how braids have a deep connection with different tribes of the world.  

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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