It is often said that with slavery came a depletion in knowledge of hair maintenance. However, traditional African techniques of hair maintenance are actually being used as we speak! Here are some new and old favourites:
1. Rooibos Tea
In truth, I have not found evidence that Rooibos tea was used on hair traditionally in South Africa where it originates. It is certainly a popular caffeine free tea drink. Scientific studies have shown that rooibos tea contains antioxidants and even has antimicrobial effects. It is gaining popularity among naturals who want to use tea rinses on their hair for these reasons.
2. Marula oil
This is a traditional oil from Mozambique and South Africa. It is popular as a skin moisturiser but can certainly also be processed to a food grade standard and eaten. Like pretty much all natural oils, it contains a large amount of oleic acid and is not ideal for people with scalp problems (e.g eczema, dandruff). It is also known to contain antioxidants.
This is a traditional soap from West Africa and is commonly made from oil (shea butter commonly and plant ash. Some say it is gentler than traditional soap but it is important to remember that soap is soap and it will always have a high pH. If that is something you are sensitive to, then do not use it.
I will not harp on too much about these as they are pretty common knowledge. The one thing that is consistent across the continent is the use of oil to help maintain hair moisure. This is perhaps the bigger and more important story. If you are experiencing dry hair, do try to include an oil/butter within your moisturising routine.
I have previously talked about the use of butter (as in real actual edible butter) for hair care in Ethiopian communities. Thanks to a documentary on traditional people there, I have realised that the butter they use is what we refer to as ghee which is a type of clarified butter that you can find in Indian food stores. The butter is used to help moisturize and/or seal in moisture. Additionally, it’s used to strengthen hair which is possible in part due to the fat in butter, much like in coconut oil, is unsaturated
7. African threading
African threading is experiencing a renaissance thanks to youtubers such as Nadine of Girls love your curls who has featured a more modern interpretation that does not involve fully wrapping hair in thread and creates a more twisted style. This technique was used traditionally in West and Central Africa to wrap and protect hair as well as create intricate styles. Today, it is used in a similar manner and in addition is a way to stretch hair with no heat.
Intricate braiding is a feature of many traditional and modern African communities. There are many African women who traditionally (and in modern day) chose to wear their hair short as it is convenient and fuss free. However, from the Himba women of Southern Africa to Ethiopian tribes of Eastern Africa and even to the Nigerian women of Western Africa, there are many communities who traditionally (and in modern day) showcase long braided hair. Braiding long hair is as much for beauty as shown in the attention to detail as it is for maintenance of hair length. It is a protective style that has withstood the test of time.