Right from the culture of ancient African civilisations before slavery began, the hair was entrusted to close relatives for styling as it was believed that if a strand fell into the hands of an enemy, the owner of the hair could be harmed.
Hair at the time played significant roles, as it symbolized one’s family background, social status, tribe, their spirituality and even marital status.
Communities as early as the 15th century attributed the hair to fertility, believing that thick, long tresses and neat, clean hair symbolised one’s ability to bear healthy children.
In effect, early African civilisations came with so much tradition and different hairstyles long before the dreadful colonial invasion that ushered in Western civilization.
Scroll through to see some of the hairstyles and how they were done:
These were the earliest form of dreadlocks styled by ancient Egyptians. Anthropologists have discovered mummies with their hair still intact with locs. The first written evidence of this style is found in what is now India’s Vedic scriptures, which show the deity Shiva wearing the style.
These were used to signify one’s age, marital status, religion, wealth, and rank within West African communities. History says in West Africa, Nigerian housewives in polygamous relationships created the style known as kohin-sorogun, meaning “turn your back to the jealous rival wife,” that was styled in a way to torment their husbands’ other wives.
The name of the style is derived from Bantu, which translates to “people” among over 400 ethnic groups in Africa. These knots are also known as Zulu knots because the Zulu people of South Africa, a Bantu ethnic group, originated the hairstyle. Bantu knots are styled by sectioning the hair into parts all over the head, then twisting those individual sections until they form mini knots. The style is popular today and is sometimes referred to as Nubian knots.
These are tight braids laid along the scalp and were worn by Africans as a representation of agriculture, order, and a civilized way of life, according to history. In East Africa, the culture of Ethiopia and Kemet (ancient Egypt), cornrows seemed to be the higher class of fashion.
There was also the triple high cornrow of high-class ladies of Kemet down to Nubia and into Ethiopia, as well as, into Libya. These styles, which were very convenient among ancient Africans are now increasingly meant for adornment during special occasions.
Braided styles like box braids link back to the eembuvi braids of the Mbalantu women in Namibia.
From ancient Egypt, these wigs were used in place of headdresses. They signified one’s rank and were associated with the royalty and the wealthy, whether male or female. Servants at the time were prohibited from wearing wigs. These wigs were styled with braided pieces of human hair, wool, palm fibres and other materials set on a thick skullcap.
Short or shaved hair
In countries like Ivory Coast, Niger, Nigeria, Benin, Mali, Togo, and Burkina Faso, men wore their hair short or shaved bald. The knights and the princes often wore luxurious turbans or hats, mainly for fashion or class. In Kemet (ancient Egypt), many men would butter their hair down with goat butter or oil until it hung down in a bob.