HAIRSTYLES IN AFRICAN CULTURE
The evidence of Greek writer Lucian (ca. 120–190 AD), the satirist from Samosata in his writing introduces two Greeks, Lycinus and Timolaus, who start a conversation:
Lycinus (describing a young Egyptian): "This boy is not merely black; he has thick lips and his legs are too thin . . . his hair worn in a plait behind shows that he is not a freeman."
Timolaus: "But that is a sign of really distinguished birth in Egypt, Lycinus, All freeborn children plait their hair until they reach manhood. It is the exact opposite of the custom of our ancestors who thought it seemly for old men to secure their hair with a gold brooch to keep it in place." (Lucian, Navigations, paras 2-3)
Royal child with plait;New New Kingdom ancient Egypt (In Egypt, the
Pharaoh’s children wore a distinctive plait on the right side of the head)
Hairstyles in Africa and among African Americans are ever-changing, yet deeply rooted in a shared past.
Hairdressing in Africa is always the work of trusted friends or relatives. In addition to the amiable social aspects of the event, the hair, in the hands of an enemy, could become an ingredient in the production of a dangerous charm or "medicine" that would injure the owner.
For those of you who would be interested in seeing how our hair ideas and styles have developed and what it means, i have put an article which I think was well written and to the point. Enjoy! Inputs and comments are welcome!
Ask almost any black woman and she will probably tell you that her relationship with her hair is similar to a love affair. Whether it’s the long hours spent waiting at the hair salon, the pain endured from pressing or braiding, or the amount of money spent—hair is truly an obsession. While I realize other cultures value hair, in Black culture hair is extremely significant and often synonymous with identity. And many individuals, such as Don King, Bob Marley, and Angela Davis have used their hair to make a statement.
Boy with plait (ozondato and ondengura neckband,Himba, Namibia, Africa
Photo dated: Anneliese Scherz, 1940's
As a member of the Black culture, I admit we often take the significance and maintenance of hair to another level. But this is not of our own will. In fact, the importance of hair in the Black community can be traced back to our African ancestors.
And the history of the affair begins.... The origin of this love affair can be traced back to Africa. It seems only natural that the “affair” would begin here, since most blacks were transported from the west coast of Africa. Although the textures of their hair varied greatly, the Africans expressed similar views on the cultural and social significance of their hair.
Serpa Pinto, Alexandre Alberto Da Rocha De, 1846-1900, artist
Source Title: History of Mankind, by Friedrich Ratzel, translated from the second German edition by A. J. Butler, with an introduction by E. B. Tylor, Publisher: New York: Macmillan, 1896-1898.
“In the early fifteenth century, hair served as a carrier of messages in most West African societies” (Tharps and Byrd 2001) These Africans--citizens from the Mende, Wolof, Yoruba, and Mandingo—were all transported to the “New World” on slave ships. Within these communities, hair often communicated age, marital status, ethnic identity, religion, wealth, and rank in the community. Hairstyles could also be used to identify a geographic region. For example, in the Wolof culture of Senegal, young girls partially shaved their hair as an outward symbol that they were not courting (1). “And the Karamo people of Nigeria, for example, were recognized for their unique coiffure—a shaved head with a single tuft of hair left on top.” (1) Likewise, widowed women would stop attending to their hair during their period of mourning so they wouldn’t look attractive to other men. And as far as community leaders were concerned, they donned elaborate hairstyles. And the royalty would often wear a hat or headpiece, as a symbol of their stature.
Natives of Ugogo, east central Africa
Gogo (African People)
Just as the social significance of hair was important, so was its aesthetic appeal. According to Sylvia Ardyn Boone, an anthropologist who specializes in the Mende culture of Sierre Leone, “West African communities admire a fine head of long, thick hair on a woman. A woman with long thick hair demonstrates the life force, the multiplying power of profusion, prosperity, a ‘green thumb’ for bountiful farms and many healthy children” (Tharps and Byrd 2001) However, there was more to being beautiful than having long tresses. One’s hair also had to be neat, clean, and arranged in a certain style. These styles included, but were not limited to, cornrows, and other braided styles. They also adorned the hair with ornaments such as beads and cowrie shells.
Natives of Ugogo, east central Africa Gogo (African People)
Just as hair was elevated for social and aesthetic reasons, its spiritual connection also served to heighten its significance. Many Africans believed the hair a way to communicate with the Divine Being. According to Mohamed Mbodj, an associate professor of history at Columbia University and a native of Dakar, Senegal, “the hair is the most elevated point of your body, which means it is the closest to the divine.” Consequently, many thought communication passed through the hair. Many believed a single strand of hair could be used to cast spells or inflict harm. This explains why hairdressers held and still hold prominent positions in the community. For those who do not know, styling and grooming black hair is often complicated and time consuming. This time spent at the hairdresser often results in close bonds between the stylist and the client. It is important to note that “unstyled" and unkempt hair was largely unseen, as were scarves and "headwraps.” Therefore, one can conclude that the hair was not meant to be covered.
Fante women of Elmina (Edina) in Gold coast (Ghana)with their hairstyle
in a wooden engraved drawing (1800-1895).
Damaging Effects of the Slave Trade
As the study of American history has revealed, the slave trade not only inflicted physical damage, but it also left emotional and psychological scars. The most devastating scar, that is still reflected today, is that done to the slave’s self-image. This is especially true as it relates to hair and skin color. As they both became the framework for determining race.
The traditional Osun-Oshogbo African hairstyle
Slave owners often described the Africans' hair as being "woolly", thus likening them to animals. These and other terms would later be used to justify the inhumane treatment of the slaves. After years of repression and constantly seeing those with "straight hair" and "light skin" afforded better opportunities, the slaves began to internalize these words. Ultimately, self-hatred began. In an effort to educate others about black hair and to celebrate its diversity.
african american hairstyle history (http://thirstyroots.com/black-hair-history/african-american-hairstyle-history/hair-history-3)
SOME TRIBAL AFRICAN HAIRSTYLES
Woman with complex coiffure and hair ornaments
Fulani, West Africa Photo: Afrika Museum, Berg en Dal.
Woman with coiffure in the form of a crest with ornaments and comb.
Igbo, Nigeria, West Africa Photo: Afrika Museum, Berg en Dal.
A coiffure is perfected by various decorations: cowries, beads, mother-of-pearl buttons, medals, pieces of silver, amber balls, metal rings, and pins of wood, bone or ivory. In the West African Sahel, the Fulbe and Peul (Fulani) cultivate impressive hairstyles.
For purposes to do with magic, a man or woman may also attach amulets to certain hairdos. The more elaborate coiffure includes braids, crests, curls, cascades, chignons, and vertical cornrows.
West Africa Photo: Afrika Museum, Berg en Dal.
Through the terms braiding, twisting, plaiting, and reverse braiding are often interchangeably, they actually describe different means of styling the hair.
Woman with a child from northern Dan village of Biankuma, Ivory Coast, West Africa
Photo: Vandenhoute, 1938-39, IV.F.V. 89-10
The variety of the coiffures is apparent once again in the picture of a woman and child from Biankuma (northern Dan). The woman's high forehead, lined with a braids at each side, between the ear and the cheek.
The child on its mother's arm has short-trimmed hair but also a braid turned forward on top of its head.
Wife of the Niao chief at Ganya in We- territory of Ivory Coast, West Africa.
Photo: Vandenhoute, 1938-39, IV.F.VII. 134-10.
The coiffure of the wife is very artful: her high, arched forehead is lined with a series of braids that end in the neck, while the top of her head is covered with many separated braids that are interwoven at the back, creating an excellent chignon at the base of the neck. The two braids descend along her face.
Men's hairdressing, Sango, Upper Mobangi River, Democratic Republic of Congo.
Photo: The Minister of Colonies, Belgium, early 20th century.
Nasara, one of the wives of Akenge with typical fan-shaped style of the Zande, Democratic Republic of Congo.
Photo: Herbert Lang Expedition, 1909-1915.
The wive's of the Zande rulers south of Bomokandi wore their hair in a style that, like the Mangbetu coiffures, involved braiding their own hair along with "foreign" strands in the shape of a disc. This coiffure, call bagbadi, was in fact a fan-shaped wig, but was rarely taken off. The disc was attached to the hair with a few loose knots.
Photo and text from the book Hair in African Art and Culture, Edit by Roy Sieber and Frank Herreman, The Museum for African Art, New York, 2000
Two women whose braids have been lengthened to their ankles through the use of sinew
Photo: M.Schettler, 1940's
Woman with feather and other hair ornaments, Oulad-Hamid, Sudan.
Photo: Bernatzik, first half of 20th century.
Visit the historical and archaeological sites ofAxum (Aksum). The ancient city marks the location of the heart of ancient Ethiopia, when the kingdom of Axum was the most powerful state between the eastern Roman empire and Persia. The archaeological and historical attractions in Axum include: the archaeological museum, the magnificent monolithic steles and obelisks, the tombs of King Kaleb and King Gebre Meskal, the legendary bath of Queen of Sheba and the ruins of her palace. The 16th century cathedral St. Mary of Zion, the holiest church in Ethiopia is said to host the original Ark of the Covenant. The churches and monasteries of Axum are richly endowed with icons and historical crowns of ancient emperors.
Source: African Adventure Tours
Historically, Nigerians hairstyles symbolized certain things.Girl with traditional hairstyle and tribal scarring , Sirigu , Upper East.
A unique hairstyle of Fante Gold Coast women. (1895).
traditional hairstyle,Central African Republic
traditional hairstyle,Central African Republic
Alicia Keys,creative Afrcan hairstyle
Hairstyle of Himba tribe`s boy from Namibia
"Nwoba enyiwa" (Snail`s Eye) Hairstyle from Ghana
Mwila tribe girl,Angola
Gold Coast (Ghana) fante women
Gold Coast (Ghana) Fante fashionable woman
Gold Coast (Ghana) Fante woman
Bedik men hairstyle
Dinka and Nuer Hairstyle
Bamana woman hairstyle
African people... keep the spirit...ReplyDelete
Matthews Mooketsane Bantsijang
cool ; )ReplyDelete
Beautiful, thoughtful, and useful. Thank you for this...ReplyDelete
So many thanks for sharing such an Informative article. It is true that, hairstyles is a symptomatic feature of African origins as well as many black hairstyles have historical connections to African cultures.ReplyDelete
Now the fashion slightly change , and the have many more new black hairstyles introduce including Afro Caribbean hair styles that is most upto date afro hairstyles
for black women,men, children.
The most amazing thing is there is no wider variety of hair styles in any communities as you would find in African community. You really shared an excellent article with wonderful vast collection of image.
THANK YOU SO MUCH
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