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Fulani Braids: The Tribal Origins of a Modern Trend

With the resurgence of the natural hair movement in the last decade, more elaborate cornrows and braided styles have made their way to the forefront of Black and mainstream fashion trends. Nowadays, cornrows and braids are beloved for their beautiful, Instagram-worthy aesthetic and their ability to protect curly and textured hair, as well as eliminate the need to constantly restyle; and for many in the Black community, they’ve been a familiar staple since childhood.

One braided style that’s been flooding social media for the past couple of years is Fulani braids— typically characterized by a cornrow braided “part” down the center of your head, cornrows braided along either side of your head in the opposite direction just above the ears, and cowry shell and beaded accents. This fashion-forward and culturally significant look has had shining moments in the past with Alicia Keys in the early 2000s during her Fallin’ debut, and even in the ‘70s with actresses like Bernnadette Stanis during the rise of the Black Power movement. More recently, the style has been seen on celebs like Missy Elliot, Taraji P. Henson and Kim Kardashian who somehow, erroneously referred to them as “Bo Derek” braids, referencing a white actress from the ‘70’s—cue an extra long eye roll. Take a look at beauty influencer LavishlyBritt's take on the trendy look.

Truthfully Fulani braids specifically have been around for centuries before their claim to fame on runways and red carpets. The style’s origins lie with the Fula people, a majority Muslim ethnic group who are dispersed across West Africa

and the Sahel region. The traditional hairstyle includes long plaits that women sometimes loop, decorated with beads, amber cowries shells and silver coins that represent their families’ heritage; but there is no one particular “look” as the group is spread out across many different countries. Watch the video below to learn more about the Fula people and their distinctive culture.

In fact, it is believed that the art of braiding originated with the Himba tribe of Namibia. In ancient African tribes, braiding styles were indicative of everything, from what tribe a person was from to their social status, age, marital status, religion, etc. In addition to being a personal identifier, it was a way to socialize and commune with others—not unlike the Black American experience of braiding hair.

A woman of the Himba tribe with red ochre covered braids.

Fulani braids are a perfect example of how braiding and cornrows will remain relevant even in the ever-changing world of beauty. Braids will continue to be a hallmark of Black hair styling due to their versatility, practicality and ability to make us feel connected to our roots.

Do you ever think of the tribal origins of your braided/cornrowed hairstyles? Leave a comment with your thoughts below.


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