The History Of Braids Part 2: Cornrows

By Amanda Hawker

We’re back with part two of our journey into the history of braiding, breaking down some history on a style that is classy, edgy and yet neat and versatile as well. I’m talking, of course, about cornrows.

In researching this article, I've realised that the African obsession with hair is a hereditary thing that goes back all the way to our first forefathers. 

In ancient times – just as in modern times – hours were spent creating intricate hairstyles for daily wear and special occasion alike.

Cornrows (or cane rows, as they are known in the Caribbean) have literally been around for centuries. This traditional way of styling the hair is popular throughout all of Africa, especially in North and West Africa, where you will find some of the most intricate styles adorning the heads of men, women and children alike.

One of the oldest historic depictions of cornrows is a clay from the Nok civilization which existed in Nigeria almost 500 years before Christ was born.


The most common and straightforward type of design for cornrows are the simple, straight lines, usually running from the forehead to the nape of your neck (if you've ever had these done at a hairdresser, they’re usually called a “straight back.”). Then, there are the more complex geometric or spiral designs – a beautiful declaration of individuality, class or social standing.

In Ethiopia, warriors and kings wore cornrows as a symbol of their exalted standing. Cornrow braiding was also popular in the Middle East with many sheiks and kings also rocking rows.                                              

When hundreds of thousands of Africans were abducted and sold into slavery, their knowledge of cornrow braiding crossed the oceans with them, which is how the style reached the shores of North America and the Caribbean. Slaves would often braid their hair to keep it neat and tidy. Of course, times changed and chemically straightened hair became the new norm. While cornrows never completely went out of style in Africa, there definitely was drop in their popularity, especially as many Africans looked to America for style inspiration.  Cornrows became the mainstay of socially rebellious adults and little children. But they never truly died out here in Africa.

Fortunately, thanks to the Black Consciousness and Civil Rights Movements, the wheel has turned once again.  Cornrows can now be seen in many shapes and styles on many heads and are now worn by many cultures and races. You can plait them into your hair with synthetic extensions and even add beads, ribbons or bows.
Cornrows are cool and trendy, worn by everyone from Hollywood It-girls to football stars, hipsters and neo naturals. But their roots and origins, remain strongly entrenched on African soil.

  Images courtesy of Wikimedia
Previous Post Next Post

Contact Form