What Braiding Really Means to Black Culture

Braids are just a normal hairstyle to the modern people of this age. But braids are more than just a hairdo to black people? Have you ever wondered what braiding really means to black culture? Why do they mostly wear braids?

Most popular braided hairstyles, like box braids, cornrows, Fulani braids, Bantu knots, etc., originated in Africa. Each braided hairstyle has a specific symbol; it can either be age, religion, tribe, social rank, power, or marital status.

But what’s the history of black wearing braids? Is there any connection between the black power movement and braids? Why do black people wear braids? Read on to get your answers.

History Of Black Hair Braiding  

History Of Black Hair Braiding

In ancient Africa, braids were a great symbol of one’s identity. People from different tribes used a unique braided hairstyle to differentiate their tribes from the other tribes.

Not only that, from the King to slaves in Ethiopia wore a specific bearded hairstyle to represent where they came from and what their role was in society. 

African civilization

However, hair becomes an integral part of West Africa in the early 15th century. Braided hairstyles were used as a message carrier in most West African cities. Citizens of these cities, such as Mende, Wolof, Yoruba, and Mandingo, filled the ship of slaves that created the period of the Middle Passage.

Since the dawn of African civilization, braid hairstyles have become an indication of religion, ethnic identity, age, wealth, social rank, marital status, tribes, etc. Even someone’s surname was also determined by the unique hairstyle they had.

Connection Between The Black Power Movement And Braids 

Black Power Movement And Braids

After the slavery period in America, black people were free under the Emancipation Proclamation. Although they were independent, they weren’t fully accepted by the Americans. As a result, they were deprived of most of their human rights.

This issue gave rise to Black Power Movement in 1960. American African women began to wear braided hairstyles to embrace their original identity and pay homage to their roots.

Reasons People Have Braided Hair In The Past? 

Reasons People Have Braided

Throughout the history of Africa, braids have been a unique way to present the indication of their tribe and rank in their society. Starting from the King to the young kid of slaves, everyone wore a distinctive braided hairstyle to define their origin and identity in society.

Their braided hairstyle can also change depending on their goals in life. Hence, braids were a symbol of social status, tribes, age, marital status, wealth, power, and other societal classifications. 

However, braids were also a way of managing their hair neatly to avoid shaving their head during the transatlantic slave trade. Later on, they used their intricated braided pattern as an escape route from plantation and slavery.

Are Braids An African-Only Thing? 

Braids An African-Only Thing

Although many braided styles have been depicted in African culture, but other cultures like central Asia, Europe, and Arab countries also had braids in ancient times. Therefore, it’s safe to say that braids aren’t an African-only thing.

However, some hairstyles, such as cornrows, box braids, goddess braids, etc., are considered cultural appropriation as these styles have a deep history with black culture.

Why Do Black People Braid Their Hair? 

In ancient Africa, braids were worn by black people to identify where they came from and what their social rank was. But now, most braided hairstyles are worn by black men and women to protect their hair from environmental damage and to look refined.

What Braiding Really Means To Black Culture 

There are different types of braided hairstyles in Africa. Some popular African braids and their historical significance are as follows;

1. Amasunzu


Traditionally this hairstyle came from Rwandan, a country in East Africa. Men and unmarried women wear the Amasunzu hairstyles following the crescent shape.

This particular hairstyle is an indication of social status for men. Thus, if any man were seen without Amasunzu, they were considered suspicious until the twentieth century.

And women above 18 wear this hairstyle to indicate that they are ready to get married.

2. Bantu Knots

Bantu Knots

This braided hairstyle was first originated by the Zulu people of Southern and West Africa. Bantu knots are also known as Zulu knots throughout the Diaspora and Africa. This twisted hairstyle is traditionally a symbol of self-love and pro-blackness.

3. Fulani Braid

Fulani Braid

The Fula or Fulani people are the largest tribe in the Sahel and West Africa. Today they are widely dispersed throughout the region. Fulani braids originally came from the Fula tribe, and this hairstyle is a symbol of social status, tribe, and marital status.

3. Ochre Dreadlocks

This braided hairstyle originated in the Omo valley of Ethiopia. It’s said that the Hamar tribe is the creator of the Ochre Dreadlocks. They used to decorate their locks using colorful beads. The cultural symbol of Ochre dreadlocks is tribe, the Hamar tribe.

4. Cornrows


Kings and warriors used to wear cornrows to identify themselves. Cornrows are still worn by black people in Sudan, the Horn of Africa, and West Africa. This hairstyle is a symbol of age, kinship, wealth, religious beliefs, marital status, etc.

5. Box Braids

Box Braids

This braided hairstyle originated in South Africa in 3500 B.C. It originated with the Namibian tribes, who called them Eembuvi braids.

Yet ancient Egyptians wore them at least 3,500 years ago. The braiding style appears in art and sculpture from that time period, and even mummies still have this braiding.

6. Stitch Braids

Stitch Braids

Traditional cornrows and stitch braiding techniques are pretty similar. However, to create this modern braided hairstyle, you need to section your hairline very precisely into thin or thick horizontal lines, then braid your hair with extensions.

7. Butterfly Braids

Butterfly Braids

In this technique of braiding hair, you need to create two large braids on both sides of your head. Then you need to feed them into a single braid behind your head. Chelsea Lauryn, a self-taught loctician in North Carolina, first started this hairstyle in models.

8. Elegant Ombre

Elegant Ombre

Ombre is actually a french word that means Shaded. In this modern braiding hairstyle, you have two shades; a darker shade at the end and a similar lighter shade in the upper section. 

Two shades blend really nicely, that it makes your braids look attractive. You can either follow box braids or cornrows with this elegant ombre color technique.

9. Undercut Braids

The undercut braids are a symbol of poverty or inability. From the early 20th century to 1920, undercut braided hairstyles were famous among young street gangs and working-class men.


There isn’t a single answer to the question of what braiding really means to black culture. In Africa, braided hairstyle is an integral part of African history. Each braided hairstyle has a different symbol. Most of the braid names usually refer to its tribe.

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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