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A Brief History Of Black Hair Rituals

Sue Omar
·5-min read
Photo credit: .
Photo credit: .

From ELLE

In recent years, celebrities like Adele and Kim Kardashian have been called out for culturally appropriating iconic black hairstyles. From box braids to bantu knots and locs - every single style has a hair history that should never be forgotten about (or conveniently ignored). In celebration of Black History Month, ELLE's delving into everlasting black hair rituals to know now and use forever.

African Hair Braiding

The act of braiding is a rite of passage for Black women that has been practiced in homes and salons for thousands of years - as seen in ancient Egyptian drawings that date back to 2050 B.C. Like many Black women, I can recall wearing my natural hair in braids, cornrows or twists for the majority of my childhood and teenage years.

And, while I had so many styles to choose from, letting my locks loose was never an option. On Sunday evenings, I would sit tightly tucked in-between my mother’s thighs to have my tresses carefully intertwined. Before braiding my hair, she would add water, oils and buttery balms for moisture and then take time to gently groom my mane with a detangling comb. A labour of love, braiding Black hair is a ritual that requires a lot of precision and patience, but once the style is completed the look can last for up to 8 weeks.

Photo credit: Edward Berthelot
Photo credit: Edward Berthelot

Trending Now: Knotless Braids

Knotless braids beautifully blend natural textures with hair extensions at the scalp to create a more seamless look, while doubling up as a fuss-free protective style.

The Big Chop

The rise of the relaxer trend in the early 1900s pressured Black women to smooth out their natural kinky curls and coils with chemical straighteners. Fast forward to 2020 and many Black women are choosing to go back to their roots and embrace their hair in its natural textured state. 'The big chop is the process of cutting off chemically processed parts of their hair that has been treated with texturisers or relaxer,' says Cantu’s Natural Hair Expert and Stylist, Dionne Smith.

'As the natural hair movement continues to grow, one of the quickest ways to embark on this journey is to do the big chop,' she adds. While the snip may take seconds, the big chop is still a bold and emotional move that may take time to adjust to as you define yourself beyond beauty standards. But thanks to the natural community online, you can now binge-watch "big-chop-videos" on YouTube by black women who bare all to empower others to follow suit.

Photo credit: Donell Woodson
Photo credit: Donell Woodson

Trending Now: The Afro Pixie Cut

If you aren’t quite ready to brave the big chop, the Afro pixie cut is an alternative way to start your natural hair journey with more styling options.

The Wash Day Routine

When it comes to cleansing textured and afro hair, there is no such thing as a wash-and-go. For many Black women, wash day has always been more than a routine - it’s a ritual that preserves our crown and glory. From choosing the right products to application methods and grooming techniques, wash day is a very personal ritual that is often performed in private.

'There is a common misconception that Black hair is dense and durable so it is often mishandled,' says Hair Artist, Tiolu Agoro. 'Black hair is in fact fragile and can break easily which is why it’s important to follow a consistent wash day routine to stimulate growth and achieve optimum health,' she adds. Your wash day essentials should include a hydrating shampoo, deep conditioning hair treatments, natural oils to lock in moisture and a wide-tooth detangling comb.

Photo credit: Rosdiana Ciaravolo
Photo credit: Rosdiana Ciaravolo

Trending Now: The Co-Wash

Co-washing is a method that involves skipping the shampoo and using a conditioner to cleanse textured hair without stripping the natural oils that it needs to thrive and grow.

Hair Wrapping

In African villages hair wrapping is a tradition practiced by Black women to symbolise their tribe and social status. From bold prints to block colours, African head wraps come in a variety of shapes and styles that represent the richness in cultures across the continent. 'Some black women living in the West wear head wraps to keep up the traditions of their ancestors,' says Tiolu. 'Others wear head wraps to maintain healthy hair at home or as a quick cover up on days where they don’t have enough time to style their tresses,' she adds.

Hair wrapping is also a great way of avoid heat damage caused from blow-dries as it allows the hair to naturally air dry and set styles as desired. What’s more, wearing a satin scarf at night is a ritual that's championed by the natural community to maintain moisture and minimise breakage.

Photo credit: Melodie Jeng
Photo credit: Melodie Jeng

Trending Now: Turbans

Whether you wrap all your hair away or experiment with half-and-half styles, traditional turbans can be twisted into a multitude of looks for day and night wear.

Protective Styling

From relaxed to natural textures, protective styling is a ritual that's been practiced on all afro hair types throughout the ages. 'A protective style is any hairstyle that keeps your natural hair away from being exposed to damaging agents such as sun, heat and constant manipulation,' explains Sharon Ademefun, founder of Rona Wigs. The purpose of protective styling is to keep your natural hair tucked away, while wearing one look consistently for several weeks at a time.

African hair braiding is the original protective style, but Black women have more options to choose from now such as wigs, weaves and ponytails. 'Wigs are a great low-maintenance tool to help you retain more length and keeping your natural hair moisturised, while preventing your edges from rubbing and applying less stress to the scalp compared to other protective styles such as sew-ins, braids and twists,' she adds.

Photo credit: Christian Vierig
Photo credit: Christian Vierig

Trending Now: Lace Front Wigs

Lace wigs are the first choice for a natural looking style made with human or synthetic textures that come complete with realistic baby hairs.

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