Braided Hair a Signal

Since I wrote a July blog about Trinidad’s knotted hair fashion, I started a board on Pinterest entitled Beautiful Hair all in Knots. On it I included braided hair, updos, and wedding styles, but no pin has been as popular as this simple hair braided from the forehead and down the side.

braided hair
Braided Hair on Pinterest

July 8 I posted about how Trinidad’s relationships are communicated with hair knots. Since then I’ve noticed a resurgence of braid popularity and wondered if braids have been symbols throughout history. Most of the information in this post was taken from refinery29.com which has some great pictures. It shares how braids have been used to “symbolize wealth, marital status, age, and rank.” Here is a short summary of that article focusing on braids as a symbol.

Africans have worn cornrows, the oldest braiding style, as far back as 3500 BC. “Depending on the region and group from which it came, the style of the cornrow…helped to express the identity of its wearer: kinship, status, age, religion, and ethnicity.” In ancient Egypt, braids were popular but held no significance “unless a man’s rare beard was braided as a symbol of divinity. If you look closely at the beard on Tutankhamun’s gold mask, it’s long, narrow — and braided.” Ancient Grecian women of leisure had long hair that they would “braid, twist and arrange into ornate styles to wear at important public functions, reflecting their status and rank in society.”

More than 500 Native American tribes in North America had different relationships to braids and their meanings. “Quapaw married women used to wear their hair loose, while single women wore their hair in braids, sometimes rolled and worn behind their ears and adorned with decorations.” Celtic men and women wore their hair long, and the noble class had “elaborate braids that were often decorated.”

During the high and late Middle Ages, “modesty was a virtue, and displaying flowing locks (unless you were a girl or young woman) was verboten.” In fact, if you left your hair down and uncovered, you could be accused a witch. In Mongolia during the 13th century, “the two large hair “wings” were supposed to evoke a mythical beast. The ends of the hair were covered with braid sheaths, which were supposed to give the illusion of prized long hair.”

The “queue” braid was worn exclusively by male Manchus of Manchuria during China’s last imperial dynasty, the Qing dynasty (1644 – 1912). “Men shaved off all the hair above their temples and tied the rest into a long pigtail that went down their back, often topped with a hat. It was considered treason not to wear the queue, and men who disobeyed even faced execution.”

Then we come to full circle in the 1970s when African-Americans wore cornrow braids during the Black Is Beautiful movement “to embrace their roots and natural hair texture by wearing Afros and cornrows in lieu of chemically straightening their hair.” Eight years later, YouTube began and now hosts “more than one million braiding videos. That’s not counting thousands of Pinterest braid boards, blog tutorials, and Instagrammed shots of pretty plaits, making braids more popular than ever.”

As you can see, braids have communicated status and relationships in many civilizations, and so it isn’t far-fetched that a race, the Nadirians, would have such a custom. Join me on Pinterest to see the over-100 braids, knots, and updos possible for your beautiful hair–all in knots. And don’t forget to check the stealersaga boards that show setting and characters of my novel, Daystealer.

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