Beyond the 1960s, many of us don’t know much about the history of natural hair. Omonike, member of the NaturalSunshine.com forum posted this brief history of black hair based on the Encyclopedia of Hair: A Cultural History by Victoria Sherrow.

Why do Black women typically have so much pride in styling their hair?
This “pride” has been passed down since pre-colonial Africa where afro-textured hairstyles were used to define status and identity. Different styles indicated certain qualities about an individual during that period. An individual’s age, wealth, marital status, religion, fertility, and manhood could be identified simply by the style of their hair. Because hairstyles were tied to identity, skilled hairdressers put much time and care into creating elaborate designs that met the cultural standards of their region. The styling process would last hours, and sometimes even days, depending on the hairstyle and skill required. Hair grooming was considered a very important, intimate, and spiritual part of one’s overall wellness. Dense, thick, and neatly groomed afro-textured hair was something highly sought after and admired. Afros at this time were not the norm and were avoided, as they indicated filthiness, mourning, and/or mental instability.

Since there were no salons back then, who was typically responsible for grooming afro-textured hair?
The head female in the household was typically responsible for grooming the hair of her family. Inheriting and mastering the craft of intricate designs and styles was highly significant and therefore such practices of proper grooming were taught and passed down to her daughters. It was pretty standard for communal grooming to take place in the form of social events, where women would socialize and bond with other women and their families while sharing styling techniques (sort of sounds like NatSun!). Unlike today, hairstyling was not a paid service, but was done with love and devotion.

What products did pre-colonial Africans use on their hair?
Black soap was widely used for shampooing in West Africa and Central Africa. In addition, palm oil was used for oiling the scalp, Shea butter was used to moisturize and dress the hair, and argan oil was applied to the hair and scalp for protection against the harmful rays of the sun.

Why does the hair of modern-day African women always appear short, as opposed to the long elaborate braided styles represented in their pre-colonial days?
It’s important to know that the African men and women portrayed in the mainstream media are NOT representative of the entire African continent. Much of what mainstream media portrays are third world countries in Africa, where there is very little time or concern for hairstyling due to impoverished social conditions. Many of these men and women spend most of their days working or in search of food and water. Remember, longer afro-textured hair demands proper care and attention which requires time, especially since this type of hair is very fragile—therefore, shorter hair is more prevalent in African regions where the luxury of hairstyling is just not feasible. In addition, once African countries were invaded and colonized, social conditions changed for many African cultures which affected their access to the time, resources, and tools necessary for maintaining their hair. Overtime, poor health conditions also became a factor that affected the healthy appearance of hair for men and women in these colonized regions.

Read the Rest at NaturalSunshine.com

Black Girl With Long Hair

Leila Noelliste, founder of Black Girl with Long Hair (April 2008). Social media, pop culture and black beauty enthusiast. bell hooks' hair twin...

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45 Comments on "A Brief History of Afro-Textured Hair"

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Natural Kinky Curly Marie
Natural Kinky Curly Marie

WOW, I’m shocked at how poorly researched this article is. The information is inaccurate and full of generalizations. Many African cultures wear their hair short by choice as part of the culture. It’s not because they don’t have time to grow long hair; while others DO grow long hair. I’m perplexed by the misinformation, Stereotyping and Generalization Of Africa and African History.

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[…] afros originated not in Africa America, but Africa original – all 55 countries.  Read this…though off course we often associate afros with America and Black […]

youngin girl

Oh this website went back from 2011 so I missed alot. I was in 10th grade then. Well, This was interesting and I am glad to catch up on my history since Martin Luther King day passed. If I were to start my own club, I would use this reliable information to teach.

Natural Kinky Curly Marie
Natural Kinky Curly Marie

I wouldn’t do that. The information is inaccurate, full of generalizations and lacks research.

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[…] status. Those of higher status wore elaborate hairstyles that took hours or even days to complete. Unlike these unique styles, an Afro was a sign of mourning, dirtiness, and even mental illness. It […]

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[…] A puff back in the day Source […]

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pstyles
This was an interesting read! And I must say that women are and will always be in tune with their hair. No matter if you rock your tresses relaxed, natural, locked, bald (low fade); under a wig or weave the truth is women have always been very creative when it comes to their hair. This, of course includes women from Africa, the America’s, Europe, and Asia etc. Although there is a new surge in African American women to wear their natural hair, many women in Africa still choose to wear weaves and wigs. I hope that other women will not… Read more »
Rosina
Why does the hair of modern-day African women always appear short, as opposed to the long elaborate braided styles represented in their pre-colonial days? Pstyles – great addition to the argument. I have spent the past two weeks going over the various forums that deal with “african hair” and one thing I have personally concluded is that many of the forums contain a lot of good information which has really helped my hair out. I have also concluded that they are mainly for people with some American or European or other such kind of blood in them. I dont mean… Read more »
funmbi
I don’t agree with you on the whole ‘our hair is short because of our genetics’. Pure Africans can gain amazing length (natural or permed!). I’m pure Nigerian. My hair is a wild as anything!! Coarse and in curls with an average diameter of about 5 mm, it’s a bit looser at the crown (1 cm). My Dad had thick hair my Mom has fine…I ended up with both. Every strand is constantly having a fight with the next. I went natural in 2006 cos I didn’t really have anywhere to do it. I went abroad so I just wore… Read more »
ang
As a proud, full bred, 100% and satisfied African (Ghanaian to be precise) the final statement in the article has got it all wrong. The generalization that every African woman in every nook and cranny is looking for food and thus has no time to take care of her hair is preposterous to the core. The opportunity to shake our heads and tut at the whim of every news such as this is in itself insulting and we forget that we have at least some power if not all to path our destinies. I therefore wholeheartedly disagree with the statement… Read more »
Marshala D Stovall

Preach and Amen. 🙂

Kate

Why the anger and insults? You can correct the author without the venomous anger you (and other’s here) are spitting out. Why not post links correcting her? Photos perhaps? As far as I’m concerned, without *some* evidence, tall of this is hearsay.

And sorry that a lot of us think you’re all destitute in Africa. That is mainly what we see in our world. Those are the images we are shown. Why not take some sort of action in shaking that “myth”?

ScrewyHair
@Kate: To what insults are you referring? Ang made none. And although she’s well within her rights to express some anger, she didn’t stop there but gave facts that are well-documented, should you choose to look them up, and that help refute Omonike’s claims about the African woman’s relationship between hair and socioeconomic status, viz Ghanaian queen mothers. Omonike’s “research” all comes from one solitary (and questionable) book, so why hold Ang to a higher standard by suggesting she post links? As far as putting the burden on Africans to “take some action in shaking that ‘myth’,” Africans have already… Read more »
Somie

That was the most nonsense answer i have ever read in my life>>> Just cause you live in a 3rd world country it doesn’t mean you are looking for food and water and don’t have time to make your hair look good>> Maybe you should come to Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania, Namibia etc etc before you type such utter poppycock and confuse your readers into believing even more negative African stereotypes. SMH! Can’t believe this mess

Xo
That was the most nonsense answer i have ever read in my life>>> Just cause you live in a 3rd world country it doesn’t mean you are looking for food and water and don’t have time to make your hair look good>> Maybe you should come to Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania, Namibia etc etc before you type such utter poppycock and confuse your readers into believing even more negative African stereotypes. SMH! Can’t believe this mess >>>> “it’s important to know that the African men and women portrayed in the mainstream media are NOT representative of the entire African continent. Much… Read more »
ScrewyHair

This post only goes to show one thing: don’t believe everything you read on the interwebs. It has more than just a few generalizations, assumptions, guesses, and just plain inaccuracies, e.g., long hair being a sign of wealth and short hair one of poverty throughout Africa. It would’ve been more informative for the writer to have included all her sources, so that it’s clear where all this misinformation came from, but the entire post seems to be a summary of just one source, Victoria Sherrow’s Encyclopedia of Hair.

ee

for clarity, I meant this statement:

‘Much of what mainstream media portrays are third world countries in Africa, where there is very little time or concern for hairstyling due to impoverished social conditions. Many of these men and women spend most of their days working or in search of food and water. Remember, longer afro-textured hair demands proper care and attention which requires time, especially since this type of hair is very fragile—therefore, shorter hair is more prevalent in African regions where the luxury of hairstyling is just not feasible. ‘

ee

thank you anisa….

That statement was one of the most ignorant, uninformed nonsense I have heard yet.

Anisa
“It’s important to know that the African men and women portrayed in the mainstream media are NOT representative of the entire African continent. Much of what mainstream media portrays are third world countries in Africa, where there is very little time or concern for hairstyling due to impoverished social conditions” As an African I must disagree with this generalisation. There are cultures in Africa that embrace the bald or short hair style and it has nothing to do with lack of food and these so called third world countries (developing countries rather) also have affluent areas where women are more… Read more »
Omonike

Hi I am also African (Nigerian) and I was unaware this blog was published on this site. I was simply sharing some information with my natural hair family on natural sunshine.com regarding a book I’ve read. Nothing more. Nothing less. There is a lack of research and there are some generalizations made, but again, this was from my personal blog and is not meant for researching purposes. Thanks:-))

Anne

+1
As an a Kenyan, i feel the article has some inaccurate generalizations too as stated above.

Anne

sorry, meant “As a Kenyan”. Plz excuse the typo

ScrewyHair

Although this post has quite a few generalizations and assumptions (e.g., long hair being a sign of wealth and short hair one of poverty throughout Africa), it’s nice to see an interest being taken in our hair history. Would be nice to see sources for such articles, though. This one seems to be a summary of just one (Victoria Sherrow’s Encyclopedia of Hair).

S.L

Wonderful article. Really fascinating information. I’ll be passing this on to a lot of friends.

Claudette

I have Locks down my back, my hair loves water I usually wash my hair 2 weekly I find when i wash weekly it looks Beautiful. Never heard the term co-washing before I will try it every week after the two week wash. Thannks for the idea, I live in England a cold Country so washing 2-3 times per week not good.

APRIL

Wow. This is a very interesting post!

Amayou

Wow very interesting. No wonder I miss my mom doing my hair 🙁 I’m definitley going to share this with the women in my life so we can all gather around and do eachothers’ hair and have it become a part of socializing once again.
I really enjoyed this part:
“It was pretty standard for communal grooming to take place in the form of social events, where women would socialize and bond with other women and their families while sharing styling techniques (sort of sounds like NatSun!). Unlike today, hairstyling was not a paid service, but was done with love and devotion”

Inka

This is a gorgeous article. Posting it on my wall. <3

AishaSaidIt

I LOVE articles like these. And it’s also good to know that although I had to try many things that I eventually returned to things like plain Shea butter (hair and skin) and black soap (for my skin so far) like my ancestors.

It feels good to type “my ancestors” because I don’t know much of anything about them. I always admire people who can trace their lineage to the beginning of time. Articles such as this one, makes me feel like I have some sort of connection. 🙂

– Kudos NatSun & BGLH

June

Black soap does wonders for my skin. My face is so smooth and clear because of it.

June

Wonderful article. Knowledge really is power.

LillianMae

I love the history behind our hair! Great article!

deena
When the slavers came and saw how much Africans prided their hair, they cut it off. In a lot of ways we are starting over in knowing how to affectionately take care of our hair. Other women of other cultures have had thousands of years of uninterrupted trial and error at this thing called hair. Yes, there was the 70s but it was a fad and thus did not last. We must not be so hard on ourselves and especially those who have not gone natural or cant see its beauty. we dont have to take insults lying down either…lol.… Read more »
Stephanie Thornton
THank you Deena, that brought tears to my eyes. I need that this week, because even though I try not to play with my hair because I want it to grown. I cannot keep my fingers out of my hair I CANNOT!!!. I was thinking this week what a conspiracy of why in these last few years I never knew I had this hair texture of curly goodness. If I knew I would never RELAX NEVER!!. I was so mad thinking our community has been bamboozled of all the sterostypes, all the hateful words about our hair. It really made… Read more »
anastasia

Well said:) Peace and Blessings!

Le Le

@ La: I like you comment, and it is so true. Your comment put some things into perspective for me.

df

It’s not just african americans that are disconnected fromt heir hair. Many “modern” africans are too and I guess it’s just an effect of colonialism. I always pray the natural movement here will spread to the major cities of Africa.

Amma Mama

AGREED

Le Le

DF, your comment reminds me of how when I went to African braiding shops in the past, and they saw that my hair was natural, I have seen them give each other that ‘look’, and even had some ask why I didn’t have a relaxer. So no, it isn’t just American born Black people.

Carla

Great comment! Thank you for sharing that point of view.

AishaSaidIt

+1

Jasmine

So beautifully put! :3

La

wow…this brought tears to my eyes…

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