Hair braiding has always been an intricate part of African-American culture. Thanks to technology and social media, people all over the world have the opportunity to share their hair braiding tips with the world. If you look for hair braiding images on Google or social media, you’re bound to find millions of photos along with tons of tutorials. But a lot of people don’t know the real history behind hair braiding or what the fascinating technique was used for.
A Form Of Communication:
According to a previous report by the Washington Post, hair braiding dates back to the times of Colombian slavery. Hair braiding techniques were actually used as a form of communication. During an interview with the publication, Ziomara Asprilla Garcia shared details about the extensive Colombian history of hair braiding. She started by sharing details about her humble beginnings when her mother taught her to braid hair at the age of 8. While representing the Afro-Colombian women of Choco at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, she recalled how she became interested in hair braiding. “I was always curious and captivated by the way my mother moved her hands,” said Garcia.
Colombian slavery dates back to the 16th century when most of the slaves were brought to the areas by the Spaniards. A vast majority of those slaves settled near the coastal area of the region where the sugar plantations were operating. But luckily, many of those slaves managed to escape and relocate to geographically remote locations that many people thought were inhabitable. However, the slaves managed to make something out of nothing, building communities and thriving in those areas. It is said that hair braiding was widely credited for helping slaves escape. At the time, women would braid a hairstyle known as “departes” to signal that they wanted to escape. “It had thick, tight braids, braided closely to the scalp and was tied into buns on the top,” Garcia said.
She continued to explain the types of braid styles and how slaves were to create escape plans. “And another style had curved braids, tightly braided on their heads. The curved braids would represent the roads they would [use to] escape,” Asprilla Garcia said. “In the braids, they also kept gold and hid seeds which, in the long run, helped them survive after they escaped.”
“Why did they not speak the messages?” someone asked. Of course, Garcia explained how talking was definitely not the best way to communicate escape plans. “By that time, a lot of the owners understood their language,” Garcia said. The message in the women’s braids “was the best way to not give back any suspicion to owner. He would never figure out such a hairstyle would mean they would escape.”
Pride And Heritage:
In today’s society, many of the hairstyles from the past are coming back into style. Now, the braids are considered a unique form of beauty and a sense of pride for heritage and culture.
“It’s a movement not to forget what our ancestors brought with them when they came over,” she says. “It’s a movement to honor them. People are braiding hair and wearing headpieces and more traditional dress to honor their ancestors. People dress in African tunics and headpieces. We are keeping that tradition alive.”