Cornrows or canerows[1] are a traditional African style of braids in which the hair is braided very close to the scalp, using an underhand, upward motion to make a continuous, raised row. Cornrows are often done in simple, straight lines, as the term implies, but they can also be styled in elaborate geometric or curvilinear designs.

Woman with cornrows

Depending on the region of the world, cornrows are worn by all genders, and are in few occasions adorned with beads, hair cuffs or cowry shells. The duration of weaving cornrow braids may take up to about 5 hours, depending on its quantity and width.[2] Often favored for their easy maintenance, cornrows can be left in for weeks at a time if maintained through careful washing of the hair and natural oiling of the scalp. Braids are considered a protective styling on African curly hair as they allow for easy and restorative growth. Braids pulled too tight or worn for longer lengths of time and on different hair types can cause a type of hair loss known as traction alopecia.[3]

Depictions of women with cornrows have been found in Stone Age paintings in the Tassili Plateau of the Sahara, and have been dated as far back as 3000 B.C. As well as the cornrow style is seen in depictions of ancient Cushitic people of the horn of Africa wearing this style of braids as far back as 2000 B.C.[4] The traditional hairstyle of Roman Vestal Virgins incorporated cornrows.[5]

The tradition of female hairstyling in cornrows has remained popular throughout Africa, particularly in the Horn of Africa and West Africa and the rest of Africa as a whole. Modern male depictions occur in the 19th century Ethiopia, where warriors and kings such as Tewodros II and Yohannes IV were depicted wearing cornrows.[citation needed]

The name also refers to either the corn fields or sugar cane fields in the Caribbean.[1] It is most commonly held that this idea originated from Benkos Biohó during his time as a slave in Colombia.[citation needed]

Téwodros II wearing cornrows

Cornrow hairstyles in Africa also cover a wide social terrain: religion, kinship, status, age, racial diversity, and other attributes of identity can all be expressed in hairstyle. Just as important is the act of braiding, which passes on cultural values between generations, expresses bonds between friends, and establishes the role of professional practitioner.[6]

Cornrows have made a comeback in the United States in the 1960s and 1970s, and returned again during the 1990s and 2000s. In the 2000s, some athletes wore cornrows, including NBA basketball players Allen Iverson, Rasheed Wallace, and Latrell Sprewell.[7] Many female mixed martial artists who have more than jaw-length hair choose to wear cornrows for their fights as it prevents their hair from obscuring their vision as they move.[citation needed]


A Nuba woman wearing cornrows in a traditional styling

Over the decades, cornrows, alongside dreadlocks, have been the subject of several disputes in U.S. workplaces, as well as universities. Some employers and educational institutions[8] have considered them unsuitable and banned them.[7] Employees and civil rights groups have countered that such attitudes evidence cultural bias, and some disputes have resulted in litigation.[9]

In 2011, the High Court of the United Kingdom, in a decision reported as a test case, ruled against a school's decision to refuse entry to a student with cornrows. The school claimed this was part of its policy mandating "short back and sides" haircuts, and banning styles that might be worn as indicators of gang membership. However, the court ruled that the student was expressing a tradition and that such policies, while possibly justifiable in certain cases (e.g. skinhead gangs), had to accommodate reasonable racial diversities and cultural practices.[10]

In the US state of California, the CROWN Act was passed in 2019 to prohibit discrimination based on hair style and hair texture.[11]


See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b Charlotte Mensah (29 October 2020). Good Hair: The Essential Guide to Afro, Textured and Curly Hair. Penguin Books Limited. p. 42. ISBN 978-0-241-98817-6.
  2. ^ "Cornrow Braid Styles". Africanamericanhairstyling. Retrieved 11 August 2018.
  3. ^ "Braiding 'can lead to hair loss'". BBC News. 24 August 2007. Retrieved 30 April 2010.
  4. ^ Willie F. Page, ed. (2001). Encyclopedia of African history and culture: Ancient Africa (prehistory to 500 CE), Volume 1. Facts on File. p. 36. ISBN 978-0816044726.
  5. ^ "Oldest Roman Hairstyle Recreated for First Time". LiveScience. Retrieved 13 February 2019.
  6. ^ "History of Cornrow Braiding: African Origins 1.b". Archived from the original on 23 June 2015. Retrieved 20 June 2015.
  7. ^ a b Sherrow, Victoria (2006). Encyclopedia of Hair: A Cultural History. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 97.
  8. ^ Harris, Sherry. "Cornrows: History, Controversy & Freedom of Expression". Sherry's Life. Retrieved 28 August 2016.
  9. ^ Alison Dundes Renteln (2005). The Cultural Defense. p. 143. ISBN 9780195154030. Retrieved 10 August 2011.
  10. ^ "School braids ban 'not justified'". The Independent. 17 June 2011. Retrieved 17 June 2011.
  11. ^ July 4, CBS News; 2019; Am, 8:48. "California becomes first state to ban discrimination against natural hair". Retrieved 13 May 2021.CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)

External linksEdit

  •   Media related to Cornrows at Wikimedia Commons
  •   The dictionary definition of cornrows at Wiktionary