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African-American shotputter wearing box braids
Box braids in Ethiopia

Box braids are a type of hair-braiding style that is predominately popular throughout African, African-American, and African Diaspora culture. This type of hair style is best described as “boxy”, consisting of square-shaped hair divisions. Box braids are generally created by using synthetic hair to add thickness as well as length. Because they are not attached to the scalp like other similar styles such as cornrows, box braids can be styled in a number of different ways. The installation process of box braids can be lengthy, but once installed they can last for months. They are known for being easy to maintain.[1][2]



Hair-braiding styles were used to help differentiate tribes, locations, and also possibly a symbol of wealth and power because of the amount of effort that went into styling braids.[3] Box braids were not given a specific name until the 1990's when popularised by Janet Jackson, but have been used for centuries. This style of braiding comes from the Eembuvi braids of Namibia or the chin-length bob braids of the women of the Nile Valley from over 3,000 years ago.[3] The elders in the tribes would teach the young children how to braid each other's hair, and this became a social activity for the tribes.[4] In Africa, braid styles and patterns are a way of distinguishing the different tribes, marital status, age, wealth, religion and social ranking. In some parts of Africa, the braids were a form of communication. In some Caribbean islands, braids were used as a way to escape slavery by forming intricate braid patterns that signified a map. To achieve the braids, the tribes would typically use thick layers of finely chopped tree bark and oils to base and uphold the hairstyle. Human hair was at one point wefted into fiber skull caps made of durable materials like wool and felt for reuse in traditional clothing as well as various rituals.[3] Cowrie shells, jewels, beads and other meaningful items adorned box braids of earlier women alluding to their readiness to have children, emulation of wealth, high priesthood and various other classifications.[3]

Cultural association and valueEdit

Hair was a very important and symbolic part of African and ancient communities. Ancient communities believed that hair could help with divine communication as it was the elevated part of one’s body. Hair styling was entrusted only to close relatives, as it was believed that if a strand fell into the hands of an enemy, harm could come to the hair’s owner.[5] Members of royalty would often wear elaborate hairstyles as a symbol of their stature, and those in mourning, usually women, would pay little attention to their hair during the period of grieving. Hair was seen as a symbol of fertility, as thick, long tresses and neat, clean hair symbolised ability to bear healthy children.[5] Elaborate patterns were done for special occasions like weddings, social ceremonies or war preparations. People belonging to a tribe could easily be identified by another tribe member with the help of a braid pattern or style.[6]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Cosmetologist, Terryn Kelly Licensed. "What Are Box Braids?". LoveToKnow. Retrieved 2019-05-14.
  2. ^ "20 Badass Box Braids Hairstyles That You Can Wear Year-Round". HuffPost. 2015-08-31. Retrieved 2019-05-14.
  3. ^ a b c d "6 POPULAR BRAIDING STYLES & THEIR TRUE ORIGIN". ONCHEK. Retrieved 2019-05-14.
  4. ^ Nxumalo, Lethabo (2018-01-14). "Your all-you-need-guide on How to do Box Braids". Black Hair Spot. Retrieved 2019-05-14.
  5. ^ a b Matshego, Lebo (2017-05-30). "A History Of African Women's Hairstyles". Retrieved 2019-05-14.
  6. ^ Venkitesh, Deepa (2011-07-09). "African Tribes and the Cultural Significance of Braiding Hair". Bright Hub Education. Retrieved 2019-05-14.