The ever-evolving world of beauty births new trends every day. It’s impossible to keep up with all the hairstyle fads that have come and gone throughout time. But one thing’s for sure—braids have been a staple style in the history of hair for what seems like forever. No, but really: The history of braids dates back to 3500 BC. In other words, they go way, way back. It’s safe to say the style has maintained a historical legacy that’s here to stay.
The origins of braids traces back to African culture. “Braids have been impressionable throughout history,”. “The origin of braids can be traced back 5000 years in African culture to 3500 BC—they were very popular among women.”
“Braiding started in Africa with the Himba people of Namibia,”. “These people have been braiding their hair for centuries. In many African tribes, braided hairstyles were a unique way to identify each tribe. Braid patterns and hairstyles were an indication of a person’s tribe, age, marital status, wealth, power, and religion. Braiding was and is a social art. Because of the amount of time it can take, people often would take the time to socialize. It began with the elders braiding their children, then the children would watch and learn from them. Younger children would start practicing on each other and eventually learn the traditional styles. This tradition of bonding was carried on for generations and quickly made its way across the world. It was around the 1900s when braids became most popular around the world. Almost all women, children, and most men in some way had their hair braided.”
The Mbalatu Women of Africa and their Floor-length Natural Hair Traditions. Near the Southern tips of Angola, reside the Mbalantu tribes of Namibia. They are known for their headdresses. At the age of 12, young girls in Mbalantu tribes begin preparing their hair for the headdress.
They cover their hair with a thick layer of finely ground tree bark of the omutyuula tree. This mixture is applied to improve hair growth.
Within a few years, the thick fat mixture will be loosened so that the hair is visible. Fruit pips of the bird plum will be attached to the hair ends with the aid of sinew strings.
When the young girls reach the age of 16, their fruit pip headdress is discarded and replaced with one of sinews. The style is again changed once the girls reach their Ohango Initiation ceremony. Their hair is then styled in 4 long thick eembuvi braids. Once the girls make it through their initiation ceremony, they are considered ovafuko (brides) and then an additional layer of tree bark and fat is applied to their hair. The hair is later taken up and styled into elaborate headdresses throughout their life.
In relation to time periods, Pace credits Africa with cornrows in 3500 BC; Egypt with afro box braids in 3100 BC; Greece with the halo braid in the first century; Native Americans with pigtail braids in the fifth century; Europe with the crown braid from 1066 to 1485; China with the staircase braid from 1644 to 1912; the Caribbean with modern cornrows in the 1970s; and the Internet (of course) with braid tutorials becoming especially popular in 2005 when YouTube launched.