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Editorial News of Wednesday, 7 July 2021


History around cornrows, did you know they were used as an escape map from slavery across South America

Cornrows Cornrows

In the recent decade, cornrows have become a popular hairstyle among women of all cultures. Originally worn by children, particularly young African and African American girls, the style has grown in popularity among women of all ages.

However, many people are unaware of the long and illustrious history of the hairdo that has saved countless lives. Furthermore, they are unaware of its significance in the liberation battles that have led to the privileges we currently enjoy.

Cornrows have been a part of African beauty and life for a long time. Braid patterns and hairstyles are used to represent a person's community, age, marital status, income, power, social position, and religion in many African communities. The pattern is sometimes referred to as "cane rows" in the Caribbean to resemble "slaves growing sugar cane," rather than corn.

The cornrow is created by braiding the "hair extremely near to the scalp in an underhand, upward motion in order to create a single line of raised row."

“Women with cornrows have been seen in Stone Age paintings on the Tassili Plateau of the Sahara, dating back to 3000 B.C. Cornrows as a hairstyle have also been seen in Native American paintings dating back over 1,000 years. This custom of female cornrow styling has persisted across Africa, especially in the Horn of Africa and West Africa.

Male cornrow styling can be traced back to Ethiopia in the early nineteenth century, where soldiers and kings like Tewodros II and Yohannes IV were shown wearing cornrows.”

 • Now, let's look at its participation in the Transatlantic Slave Trade:

Many slaves were compelled to shave their heads to be more sanitary and to distance themselves from their culture and identity during the Atlantic Slave Trade.

However, not all enslaved Africans refused to have their hair chopped. To "keep a neat and tidy appearance," many braided their hair tightly in cornrows and other styles.

Cornrows were also utilized by enslaved Africans to move and draw maps in order to escape plantations and their captors' homes. This practice of utilizing hair as a weapon of resistance is claimed to be widespread in South America.

It is well known in Colombia, where Benkos Bioho, a King abducted from Africa by Portuguese slavers, constructed San Basilio de Palenque, a hamlet in northern Colombia, around the 17th century. Bioho invented his own language and intelligence network, as well as the concept of having women draw maps and deliver messages using their cornrows.

“Because slaves were rarely given the privilege of writing material, and even if they were, such messages or maps falling into the wrong hands might cause a lot of difficulty for the persons concerned, cornrows were the ideal way to go about it.

No one would question or believe that a person could conceal full maps in their hairstyle, thus it was simple to distribute them without anybody noticing.”

Afro-Colombian women braid messages of independence in hairstyles, as Ziomara Asprilla Garcia revealed to the Washington Post in the article:

“Hair braiding was utilized to communicate messages in Colombia during the slave era. Women, for example, would braid a hairstyle called departes to indicate that they planned to flee. It had thick, tight braids on top that were braided close to the scalp and wrapped into buns.

Another form had curved braids on their heads that were securely braided. The curving braids would be the roads they'd use to get away. They also kept gold and hidden seeds in the braids, which helped them subsist once they escaped.”

In recent years, there has been a rebirth of braided hairstyles in Colombia, according to Garcia. This reality, however, is not limited to Colombia; it can be found all around the world.

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