Braiding in The Gambia

The trend of fashion today has become braids. In Africa, braids are not just a style; instead, a unique craft of Art. Braiding is traced back to 5000 years ago, and it is believed to originate in Africa. It was first discovered among the people of Namibia. Africans have been braiding their hair for many years, and it is rooted in the culture.

Narrations relay that cornrows are the oldest braiding style. According to history, a French ethnologist and his team discovered a stone-age rock painting depicting a woman with braids feeding her baby. Braiding styles and patterns were a unique way to identify a person’s tribe, age, marital status, wealth, power and religion.

Braiding was then a social art, and it still is in The Gambia and other parts of the world. Because of the amount of time some braids take to be made, women will take this time to socialize and help out each other. Two to three people can help make one’s hair. It first started with elders braiding their children. Later young girls begin to learn from their elders while watching them braid someone else. Young girls would start to practise on each others hair when they met on playgrounds or streams. (Playground in Africa is where young men and women use to meet to dance, sing and socialize. It was called the moonlight pay.) Braiding was also a traditional way of bonding, and it was carried out for many years.
Women have to endure sitting for hours to braid their hair. Some tribes have complicated hair, which makes braiding longer, and a person has to endure lots of pain during and after the braiding. Nevertheless, pain does not stop Gambian women from doing different and intricate hairstyles to look their best. Braiding is a form of pride to the Gambian women.
The different tribes of The Gambia have their different braids. The Mandinkas, the Fulas, the Wolofs, etc., can be identified according to their hairstyle. In the past, women with higher social status will have the most intricate braids donned with beads, cowries, or well-carved materials. Women from less privileged families will wear the simple style of their tribe with little cowries and wooden beads.

Today things have changed. Hairstyles are more or less a means of beautification. They don’t indicate a person status or tribe anymore. Mandinka can wear a Fulani braid, while a Jola can do a Serer braid. People wear hairstyles according to their preference, and every time people braid their hair, the style is different.

TYPES OF BRAIDS IN GAMBIA

CORNROW

When someone says I want to plait cornrows, it means they just want to braid simple cornrows with no extension or feed in. Children and school children mostly braid cornrows in different styles, from the ponytail to the zig-zag cornrows. This type of braids is allowed in many schools. Elderly women also love to do them because it is faster. In The Gambia, you don’t have to go to a hair salon to have beautiful cornrows. In every compound, one or two people know how to do them.

RAAWU

Raawu is the twist braids either with extension or natural hair only. This style of braiding is very well-loved by locals. It is also very expensive to do because of the unique technique involved in twisting the hair. Not many people know how to do this type of braid. It is mostly done at the salon, and it takes a longer time.

LIFE

Life is the box braid hairstyle. The braid can also be made with extension or braided using your own hair only. Many do this hairstyle with extensions. If you want to braid life, you can have good ones in hair salons or ask a Gambian friend or family to do it for you at a better rate.

TIBALÉ

It is a Wollof word meaning carry along. It is the cornrow feed in hair braiding. Because natural hair is braided along with the hair extension, locals began to call it tibalé. You can braid beautiful tibalé at salons. Sometimes you can find some people who know how to do this braid nicely as well. It is good to know that the tibalé is a painful braid because the hair is pulled together firmly to keep it tight. You might want to take it off the first few days because of the painful tension. It is always good to look for someone who doesn’t pull the hair tightly or ask the person braiding you to reduce the pressure. Gambian women will still do this hairstyle and bear the pain for the first few days.

TRADITIONAL BRAID (LÉTU CHOOSAN)

Traditional braids are not very common now. They are braided only during special occasions, events, ceremonies and performances. You can find people with traditional braids in cultural performances, wedding ceremonies, naming ceremonies, musical videos or beauty pageant contests. Many salons don’t have people who can braid the traditional braids, but you can find someone among the tribes who can braid their traditional hairstyle.

When in The Gambia, you might want to get it for yourself. It will be easy to find a lady with good braiding skills and fast hands, used to braiding for many years. If you can’t find her, we know some. Contact us at info@my-gambia.com, and we will be happy to help.

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