Black Women Bridging the Continental Gap thru African Hairdos

by Kofi Ayim 

Beauty trends come and go, but one style that never seems to get old is hair braiding. In Africa, the history of hair braids goes back as far as 3,500 B.C., with braid patterns and hairstyles being an indication of a person’s tribe, age, marital and social status. Hair braiding was and still is, a weaving of art and socializing.

For the past several years, some cultures of African immigrants have gradually and painstakingly influenced other black people outside of Africa.

Prominent among the lines of goods and services in which this is happening are those affecting appearance, such as fabrics and hairdos.

Grace Nagbe has been weaving and braiding hair professionally for the past nineteen years. Originally from Liberia, Grace learned different kinds of hairdo at a school in Accra, Ghana. After working for some shops, she eventually opened the Diamond African Hair Braiding on Springfield Avenue in Maplewood, New Jersey in 2009.

In an interview at her outfit on a break from working on a client’s Two Strand Twist (a.k.a. Two Finger Twist), Grace Nagbe pointed out the basic difference between weaving and braiding. She said while the scalp cannot be seen in a weave hairdo, the opposite is true for a braid.

She added that weaving requires sowing or gluing artificial hair unto the natural hair. Braiding, on the other hand, is a process of adding or attaching a synthetic hair to a natural one and twisting and turning them into a style. She said braid lasts longer, facilitate natural hair growth, and protect hair from breaking. “Braids are more natural and African than weaves,” she adds.

Besides the Two Strand Twist braids come in other styles such as Boxbraids, Senegalese Braids, Kinky Twist, and Tree Braids, among others.

In Harlem, African Hair Braiding shops are mainly concentrated on 125th Street from Morningside to Lenox Avenue.

At Lenox and 116th Street is the Malcolm Shabazz Harlem Market, where Fatima’s African Braiding and Boutique is sandwiched between stalls of African wares. The proprietress Fatima pointed out different styles of weaving – Straight, Extension, and Curly hairs – on mannequins. She contends that hair weave has a more professional touch than braids, and some corporate cultures frown on braids.

Fatima says she has thirteen years’ experience in professional hairdos. She said she learned to braid in her native Gambia but studied weaving in a New York City school. Besides hairdos, Fatima also carries African fabrics.

She is an expert in Gele or headgeardo, which she says she learned from a Senegalese friend. She sells fabrics for headgear and headwrap. “Elaborate Gele is associated with mostly Nigerian and Ghanaian women,” she explained.

In Orange, New Jersey, Bibi African Hair Braiding is never short of clients. On a typical Saturday all swiveling chairs are occupied almost all the time. Bibi says she’s been in the business for over twenty years. The Burkinabe (a Burkina Faso indigene) operates two shops on Main Street, in Orange. The annex was opened in 2004. Bibi does several braids including Goddess, Flat, and Micro, among others.

While it takes an average time of two hours to complete a Cornrow Braid, the Tree Braid takes anywhere between four and eight hours to complete. The tedious and tasking work of Tree Braid does not come cheap; it may cost between $150 and $400 but could last up to four months.

Perhaps the greatest disadvantage of hair braids is that, unlike European hair styles, they usually have to match with specific clothing and/or dressing styles.

Janette McDermott a client of Grace Nagbe, observed that Africa hairdos used to be looked down upon in places of work with disdain, but that has changed in the past few years. “Society is now accepting African natural hair styles,” she commented.

For some, though, there’s a downside. A male friend opined to this writer, when he became acquainted with this story, “I wished our wives would quit going under hair dryer machines. Anytime my wife comes home from under a hair dryer, she easily gets agitated and picks a fight with me. I think that thing heats up their brains too much.”

“Too many chemicals seeping through their scalps,” he added.

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Posted by on Jun 14 2018. Filed under top stories. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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