Hair played a significant role in the culture of ancient African civilizations. It symbolized one’s family background, social status, spirituality, tribe, and marital status.
As early as the 15th century, different tribes used hair to show one’s social hierarchy. Members of royalty wore elaborate hairstyles as a symbol of their stature.
Hair was also a symbol of fertility. If a person’s hair was thick, long, and neat, it symbolized that one was able to bear healthy children. If someone were in mourning, they would pay very little attention to their hair.
With hair being an elevated part of one’s body, ancient communities believed that it helped with divine communication. This belief is the reason why hair styling was entrusted to close relatives. People thought that if a strand of hair fell into the hands of an enemy, harm could come to the hair’s owner.
Hair was a prominent social activity, especially among women. People had the opportunity to socialize while styling each other’s hair. The communal tradition of hair still exists today.
Africa is rich with ancient hair traditions and styles. Here’s a history of notable hairstyles and hair traditions from across the continent.