The Origins of Hair Braiding

From the Far Eastern single braided ponytail to complex cornrows in the heart of Africa, from Viking plaits in the cold North to Native American feather-bedecked braids, hair braiding has adorned men, women and children with creativity and originality for centuries. A bird’s eye flight around the ancient world would have unveiled the following hair braiding styles:

Hair braiding in Africa


Skimming over the golden pyramids of Egypt, we find some ancient Egyptians hailing their pharaoh. We discover that the Egyptians, who usually wear their hair very short on a day-to-day basis, have pulled out the black wigs for this special occasion. The women’s variety is not only long but braided and embellished with ivory and gold.


Not too impressed with the Egyptian hair braiding? Let’s soar into the continent of Africa. Here, ancient African braiding reveals origin, status or age, with Masai warriors microbraiding their front hair or Wolof Senegalese girls submitting to their older female relatives’ hair braiding sessions. If you like what you see, however, don’t get too attached. Despite the beauty of cornrows and other braiding styles, in the future Africans will be taken as slaves to North America, where these ethnic hairstyles will be forbidden. African braiding, along with natural haircare, will have to wait for a comeback in the future.


Hair braiding in America


Here in North America, we spy some Native Americans riding their horses on the plains. The men don’t simply wear braids for convenience; this particular hair braiding with feathers, fur, leather or beads means that they are ready for battle. As we glide over another tribe, we see two women walking, one with her hair gathered in one braid, another with her hair divided in two plaits. The significance? One woman is married; the other is not.


Further south, we find some Aztec women sitting in their patios; they’re hair braiding by intertwining their own strands of hair with colorful strips of cloth and then winding the braids into a crown.


Timeless hair braiding


Could we continue our global hair braiding tour throughout the ages, we would take home snapshots of European Renaissance women with French plaits, of Victorian ladies with plaited coils, of Midwest pioneer schoolgirls with braided pigtails… right down to our day of combined versions of all these braids. From the days of the earliest braid records in 3500 B.C., hair braiding will probably stay with us for as long as humans have hair.