Africa, Around the World

Headwear in Africa

Headwear of African Cultures

The variety of hairstyles and headwear in Africa matches the diversity of the people who live on the continent. Different cultures have used hairstyles and headwear to show tribal association, gender, religion, job, and social status. In addition, the various cultures have created wigs, hats, hair ornaments, razors, and combs to aid in adorning the head. Dating back as far as 3000 B.C.E. in Egypt, North African artifacts and drawings can be found depicting shaven-headed men and women crowned with heads of tall hair, big jewels, and manmade ornaments.
The importance of headwear to African culture is witnessed by the many statues and masks of ancient Africa that show detailed hair ornamentation. Uses were beyond just the eye. To keep cool, to show their status of hierarchy, or to represent their tribe, hats, and headpieces were and still are a statement of worth, culture, style, and necessity.

In Africa braided hair has been transformed into an art form. Africans have developed a unique tradition of weaving both men’s and women’s hair into complex and intricate designs of braids, twists, and coils to express the wearer’s social and cultural identity. The head might be adorned with rows of tiny braids resting tightly against the scalp, or crowned with intricate coiled braids. Braids are beautified with beads, clay, or oil. Many of these styles require help to create. The Hamar people of Ethiopia and the Himba of Namibia are among the many Africans who style their hair with braids.

Some groups cut their hair very short or shave their heads completely. In these societies, the head is decorated in other elaborate ways; the ears and neck are often heavily ornamented, and the facial skin is painted or scarred. The Samburu women of Kenya wear headdresses of many-colored beads on their shaved heads. !Kung women of Namibia tie bead pendants onto the ends of their short hair.

Other groups completely cover the head. Many women throughout Africa, including the Xhosa of South Africa, wrap scarves around their heads. Berber women in North Africa and other followers of Islam cover their heads and faces with scarves and veils. Married Zulu women of South Africa wear large flat woven hats decorated with beads. The Turkana of Kenya and the Karamojong of Uganda coat their hair in clay to create elaborate hairdos, some of which are adorned with feathered plumes.

Hairdressing continues to be important in African societies. Many traditional hairstyles continue to be worn by groups living in remote regions and by others for ceremonies and special occasions. However, many Africans living in cities have adopted Western or eastern hairstyles and hats.

The variety of hats in Africa

protection from the rain, and diverts to animals, to attracting attention, expressing creativity, and showing status. By the 20th century the first forms of functional styles, by today’s definition, emerged in the majority of Africa reflecting the strong Islamic influence within the cultures, especially the Berbers of Morocco and other Saharan desert countries.
In West Africa, the traditional hat known for men is the kufi. A brimless cap usually made out of kente cloth, mud cloth, or a variety of knitted or crocheted yarns worn by many older men to symbolize their status as wise elders, religious people, or family patriarchs. In particular, it depicts one as showing pride in their culture, history, and religion. The kufi is also a sign of peace, mourning, renewal or protection of the mind. Hats like the kufi and kofia can be seen in almost every region of Africa and are actually a part of many official national African costumes. Other popular hats throughout Africa include the Karakul, Bargashia, fez, taqiyah, tupi, pakol, and many other variations of the brimless hat.
The popular hats we now wear today are all influences from Western and European style. Although these items were first combined with older African styles, by the twenty-first century it was not uncommon to see people in Africa wearing a fedora, bowler, pork pie, trilby, cowboy, flat cap, baseball cap and sun hats around that are all classic favorites in America and are still worn today.


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