Cornrows have a long history. They hold a lot of significance in African culture. It is worn by children, men, and women all around the world regardless of their ethnicity. Originally from the Sahara region, paintings show that this hairstyle has been worn even in 3000 B.C.
The most known way to wear it is straight down, which each cornrow paralleling each other. But it also can be worn uniquely in zig-zags or by mimicking the form of a snake.
In the Carribean region, it is called “canerows”. They do this to respect all of the slaves that planted sugar cane. What many World History classes won’t teach you, is that cornrows are lifesavers.
Cornrows Were Used As A Map To Escape
In many African communities, cornrows convey a person’s social status, age, marital status, and even their amount of wealth. Blackdoctor.org has written this about cornrows: “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. There are also Native American paintings as far back as 1,000 years showing cornrows as a hairstyle. This tradition of female styling in cornrows has remained popular throughout Africa, particularly in the Horn of Africa and West Africa. Historically, male styling with cornrows can be traced as far back as the early nineteenth century to Ethiopia, where warriors and kings such as Tewodros II and Yohannes IV were depicted wearing cornrows.”
When the Atlantic Slave Trade occurred, millions of innocent civilians were stripped from the Motherland against their will. Some rebelled by jumping off the slave ship before they even arrived on the land. They viewed death as a better option than a life of being treated as property. Others who fought back where terminated immediately. And some cleverly used another approach.
Upon arriving on North/South American soil, slaves were forced to shave their heads. Slave owners claimed that the shaving of their heads was just for sanitary purposes, but it was more behind it. Thick African hair has a lot of weight to it. Some slave owners would say that our hair was “unruly” and a distraction. This was a tactic used by Whites to strip Africans of their identity and culture. But not every slave would keep their hair cut. Some would grow their hair out because they had a masterplan in mind.
Cornrows are styled in a neat and tidy way. The creative geniuses amongst us used this beautiful hairstyle as a map with directions to escape plantations. All across North and South America paintings have been seen of zig-zag cornrows. A story that proves this is the story of Benkos Bioho.
The Brave Benkos Bioho
Benkos Bioho was a King that was captured from Africa in the 17th century. He managed to find a port city on the Colombia Carribean coast. It took several attempts to escape from his masters. One day he finally managed to escape. He then proceeded to build San Basilio de Palenque.
This King strategically built a walled city within a foreign land that he was forced to be in. It was with the intent of saving slaves and giving them a place of refuge. A place that they can experience freedom while getting their lives together.
After building a village, he invented a new language. Then he got an army to assist others to freedom. He came up with the idea to create maps in cornrows.
Most slaves did not know how to read or write. And even if they did know how to read or write, if they were caught writing messages of escape, they would have to bear extreme punishment.
Cornrows were a way to communicate without getting caught.
Braids And Gold
Another informative fact that many do not know is that gold and seeds were hidden in slave braids. After escaping, to survive you needed food and money. So the seeds were used to plant their own crops. The gold was preserved so they could make transactions on their own land. Today San Basilio De Palenque still stands. It has a population of about 3500 people.
In this modern age, from West Africa to North Korea you can see humans showing off their own version of cornrows. We no longer have to hide gold in our hair. We can proudly intertwine them over our braids. The tradition of wearing this hairstyle will be popular for years to come.