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…

Leave a Reply

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

Notify of
avatar
trackback

[…] via:black […]

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.

trackback

[…] 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.

trackback

[…] 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 […]

trackback

[…] A puff back in the day Source […]

trackback

you want to start to see recur­ring…

sales in your busi­ness, you will need around at least 5,000 sub­scribers to your opt-in email newslet­ter. this may take some time to build, but if you’re using paid adver­tis­ing, it won’t be that tough. but if you’re using free mar­ket­ing…

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 this in… 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 it… 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 done… 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. There… 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…

wpDiscuz