The eembuvi-plaits of Mbalantu women before the Ohango initiation ceremony (1930s). Photo: CHL Hahn, Collection Antje Otto

The origins:

The history of braids can be traced back to 5000 years ago in the African culture to 3500 BC. Braids where used for signs of societal status, ethnicity, religion, and more just by using classic cornrows, three strand braids, Dutch braids, and other styles. [1]

Time periods:

  • 3500 BC – Africa with Cornrows
  • 3100 BC – Egypt with Afro Box Braids
  • First Century – Native Americans Pocahontas “Pigtail” Braids
  • 1066 to 1485 – Europe with the Crown Braid
  • 1644 to 1912 – China with the Staircase Braid
  • 1970s – Caribbean with Modern Cornrows [1]

Braids in Slavery:

Understanding the history of braids is hard to understand without knowing the impact put on African American women during slavery. Before boarding the slave ships, the traffickers shaved the women’s heads to take away the women’s link to their homeland. By shaving the women’s head was brutal and caused psychological trauma, because they were stripped from their humanity and culture.

Due to the lack of time, resources, or products, African- American women wore their hair in easy- to- manage styles like single plaits. In slavery braids served as a system to communicate with slaves. They used their braids to send secret messages with one another that their masters would never understand. For example, the number of plaits worn would indicate how many roads people needed to walk to meet someone to escape bondage. Their braids where used as a “map to freedom.” [2]

Braids Today:

In today’s culture braids are adorn and worn many in different ways. The expressions and styles have changed, but the braiding patterns have remained the same. Men and women have embraced braids. Braids are seen styled more messier and freer and are accepted the braids to look more less perfect, chic, and more relaxed.

For the African American braids are not just a style but a form of art. Men and women dare getting their hair braided on a day-to-day basis and the art of braiding has evolved beyond the original cultural ideas. [1] In pop culture, braids have been a trend seen on celebrities in music videos and movies in the 1990’s and early 2000’s. [2]


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LaShawna Gunn is currently a Junior that is majoring in Health Services Administration with a minor in Women’s Studies at Old Dominion University. She’s a small town girl with big expectations. She enjoys learning about the different topics in Women’s Studies. She is excited to learn more about  the understanding of Bodylore and all it’s fundamentals.