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Traditional African Braided Crowns – Black Braided Hairstyles!

The impact of historical African culture on fashion is monumental—yet it doesn’t receive the reverence it deserves. Black style, with its innovative and fertile flair, is nowadays deeply rooted and embedded in popular culture—from film costumes, music costumes, to even the runway.


Few Black styles—if any—have a long history and cultural significance as the braid. As discussed in the post, the wide variety of braiding techniques are more than a hairstyle; they’re an art form; they’re social markers with cultural significance; they’re a rite of passage for Black girls/women.


History of African Hair Braids – Exploring the Ancestral Roots


As you can guess, the origin of braided hairstyles can be traced to the African continent. According to historical records, African hair braids (cornrows to be specific) date back to as far as 3,500 BC—as evidenced by a Stone Age rock painting found in the Sahara by a French ethnologist.


What was/is the significance of Black braided hairstyles? The ancient braiding techniques were often unique to a clan and they were used to symbolize the marital status of a woman, age, kinship, religion, power, wealth, ethnicity. It was deemed fashionable and social art—whereby people got to bond.


Even today, a significant number of Black women can recall a time when they sit for hours as a peer, older adult, or a stylist intertwined strands of hair on their heads in different braided hairstyles. The widely popular “Beyoncé’ braids’ and other styles we love to recreate today are the product of a culture that’s been passed down several generations.


Below are some examples of traditional African braided crown styles and their cultural significance:


Braid Crown by the Mangbetu People of Congo


Image: in.hair.itance on Instagram


According to an Instagram post by in.hair.itance, this African hair braid is known as the “edamburu”—and it was worn by women from Congo. It’s basically thin braids that have been intricately woven into the hairstyle. The structure of the coiffure is rather impressive and used to accentuation the tradition of skull elongation practised by the Mangbetu people.


If this traditional African braided crown looks familiar, you’ve probably seen it in the “Black is King” by Beyoncé on Disney+ in which the Queen Bey celebrates the richness of African culture and tradition.


Image: Disney+/Parkwood Entertainment


Fulani Braids (Gyonfo)


This majestic and gorgeous braided hairstyle was donned by Fulani women and passed down from one generation to another.


It features a large crescent running on top of the head (much like a mohawk) that’s made by braiding hair towards a piece of leather. The braided crown is then decorated with cowrie shells, beads, and sometimes silver coins or amber for aesthetic purposes.


Image: in.hair.itance on Instagram




Cornrows

Cornrows are one of the most iconic Black braided styles—and for good reason. Aside from being the first African hair braid referenced by history, cornrows are also widely popular—proving to stand the test of time.


Depending on the culture, the hairstyle can signify wealth, marital status, kinship, religion, age, or it can be a fashionable style. Cornrows could also be spruced up with twigs, fresh flowers, corals, shells, glass, among other adornments.



Famous Black Figures with Braided Crowns


As entertainers and public figure found their style within African culture, the community, in turn, adopted these looks and expounded on them—carrying on the culture of their ancestors.


Here are a few famous Black people who donned braided crowns inspired traditional African cultures.


Betty Wright

Betty Wright was a Grammy-winning soul icon who took the music world by storm in the 70s and 80s. Up until her death in May 2020, she continued to wow listeners with her vocals.


Aside from her prowess in front of the mic, Betty Wright is also known for her stance in celebrating Black culture—including the traditional African braided crown in the image above.


Image: in.hair.itance on Instagram





Solange Knowles

Image above: Saint Records


In a 2016 SNL (Saturday Night Live) performance, Solange Knowles rocked an amazing hairstyle that was inspired by a 19th Century image of a woman thought to be from Zaire in Africa (left image).


The mesmerizing traditional African braided crown also featured tons of Swarovski beads to accessorize the hairstyle.




Toni Morrison


Noble Prize winner, a Pulitzer Prize, a National Book Critics Circle Award, and a Presidential Medal of Freedom—Toni Morrison is easily one of the most accomplished Black novelists.

In addition to her efforts against racial inequality, she also had hard-to-ignore locks that have roots in traditional African braided hairstyles.


Image: in.hair.itance on Instagram



Simon-Hartman London Headpieces – Inspired by Traditional African Braided Hairstyles

Image: Disney+/Parkwood Entertainment


As highlighted in this article by Vogue, the wearable art worn by Beyoncé in Mood 4 Eva is inspired by traditional African braided crown hairstyles. It’s a twist to a conventional Queen costume that pays homage to ancient cultures and Black tradition.


Images: Disney+/Parkwood Entertainment and Melissa Simon-Hartman (top right)


Tierra Whack

Another piece of wearable art by Simon-Hartman London is this traditional African braided hairstyle worn by Tierra Whack in Beyonce's My Power video.


The piece created by Melissa Simon-Hartman is an elevated braided crown adorned with metallic cowrie shells.


The popular (TikTok viral) track and well-choreographed video is part of Beyonce’s album for Disney’s The Lion King.


Click on the image above to see

Melissa Simon-Hartman's IG post of

the My Power video clip featuring

Tierra Whack


Images: Disney+/Parkwood Entertainment and Melissa Simon-Hartman (left & top right)




Black History Month


October 2020 marks the annual tribute to the achievements and history of Black people in the UK. It’s time to celebrate the nation's Caribbean and African cultures. Simon-Hartman London will be posting weekly blogs observing the rich culture of black hair, fashion and costume throughout the diaspora, so keep in touch for more enlightening and empowering posts.


Click here to learn more about the author.




#blackhistorymonth #simonhartmanlondon #melissasimonhartman #simonhartmanlondonblog #blackhair #africanhair #braidedhairstyles

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