AFRICAN BEAUTY
TRADITIONS

African
Beauty & CULTURE

ACKNOWLEDGE • HONOR • EDUCATE

Style inspired by African heritage has recently received more attention and acceptance in the mainstream-especially with the resurgence of the natural hair revolution. Hair and fashion inspired by African traditions have always influenced modern culture from the runways in Milan to the streets of the Bronx, NY. The power of being a descendant of the diaspora is that many of the traditions and practices of our ancestors continues to live in the food, music, dance, hair and spirit of us as a people.

HAIRITAGE

Africa is the second largest continent in the world. Each country in Africa is comprised of many ethnic communities that have both unique traditions and some shared beliefs and practices. African dress and hairstyles played a significant role in ancient African civilizations. Because the head is the most elevated part of the human body, it is revered in many cultures as the closest thing to God and a portal for spirits to pass through the soul. The social implications of hair design meant that hair groomers had to possess unique skills that upheld local standards. Hair traditions aimed at creating a sense of beauty signified marital status, age, religion, wealth, and rank in pre-colonial Africa. Communal grooming also served as a social activity that strengthened familial bonds.
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The transatlantic slave trade of the 16th -19th centuries enslaved Africans and brought them to the Americas. One of the first dehumanizing acts was to forcibly shave Africans’ heads and erase the significance of their various hairstyles. Although chattel enslavement erased many of the languages and cultural traditions of Africans, Black people of the diaspora have shown their resilience, resistance, pride, joy and courage through the preservation, evolution, and reclamation of historical hairstyles. Hair expression has served as a powerful way to continue honor the story of the Black experience throughout the world.

AFRICAN DIASPORA & ACTIVISM

The African Diaspora describes the time between the 1500s and 1800s when Europeans took millions of people from West and Central Africa and dispersed them throughout North and South America to work as slaves to support plantation capitalism. While the trans-Atlantic slave trade was rooted in white supremacy, it is important to note that enslaved black people resisted bondage and held onto many of the fashion, music and hair traditions of the ancestors. In fact, enslaved Africans came from a rich history of kings, queens, scientists, astronomers, doctors, architectural innovators and this legacy is what connects their descendants from Brazil, Columbia and America all the way to the Caribbean islands like Dominican Republic and Haiti.

Some examples include but are not limited to:

  • The Benin Empire which is now considered southern Nigeria at it’s height between 1300-1700, was known for it’s wood and ivory craftsmen and had huge accomplishments in astronomy, town planning, artwork and architecture.
  • The pre-colonial Kush people (of south Egypt) were considered pioneers of early medical solutions like antibiotics. They mastered the mathematics and geometry that helped resurrect pyramids and helped tell time based on the position of the sun.
  • The Aksum or Axum Kingdom which dominated much of Egypt and Eritrea between 100-940AD is thought to have been the home of the Queen of Sheba who is an important figure in the Christian, Jewish, Islamic, Arabic and Yoruba religions. This empire was dominant and influenced the Roman Empire and India. The Axum Empire was known for minting their own currency.

For more information and resources, please visit the resources page.

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