As early as the 15th century, Africans – male and female – have used artistically designed hairstyles as symbols to indicate their marital status, age, religion, ethnic identity or even social status in terms of wealth and influence. Moreover, the strict adherence to hair maintenance among African societies was not only an expression of natural beauty but also a supernatural means of communicating to gods and ancestors.
Cases of slave owners and colonial masters shaving the heads of Africans underscores the symbolic power of African hair: arguably, such acts were part of the process of erasing the slave or colonial’s subject’s culture and traditional beliefs, at least externally.
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Hundreds of years on, these unique African hairstyles may have fallen out of popular fashion, but they continue to tell the uniqueness of being African. Behold six such hairstyles on the next few pages.