Plus some interesting history behind the look.
While women of African descent all around the world have worn various braid patterns for many reasons and uses, tried and true protective styles have been popular for centuries. Enter fulani braids, a style of cornrows that have their roots in West Africa and said to be symbols of wealth and marital status. These days, women of all ages and backgrounds have adopted the use of fulani braids in their daily life. Below, we break down everything you need to know about the iconic hairstyle.
What Are Fulani Braids?
Fulani braids, also referred to as bo braids, braids with beads, or feed-in braids, originate from the Fula or Fulani people, a nomadic and pastoralist ethnic group that lives across West Africa and the Sahel region. The hairstyle aesthetics differ by region—the patterns can be intricate (with some braids coming forward towards the face), while others spiral to a ponytail or flow to the sides or back of the head. In its most traditional sense, fulani braids were plaited with at least five braids that either hung or looped on the sides, before becoming a bun in the middle of the head.
These braids were worn for centuries to symbolize ethnic origin, tribal groups, marital status, and social status. Women would also decorate their braids with various ornaments, including beads, cowrie shells, and metal accents. The little details played essential roles in various rituals and ceremonies, including weddings and coming-of-age practices. Some historians even say they were used to map escape routes for enslaved people throughout the Americas.
Flashing forward to today, fulani braids have come back into vogue throughout the 20th and 21st century, with celebrities like Alicia Keys and Beyoncé rocking it on red carpets and magazine covers. Modern hairstylists have also combined modern styles and patterns to create incredibly impressive designs.
How Long Do Fulani Braids Last?
Fulani braids typically last between 3 to 6 weeks, but this can vary based on how well they are maintained and how quickly your hair grows. It will take anywhere from 4 to 6 hours to complete a full head of fulani braids.
Another thing to remember? “If you braid or style too often, traction alopecia (breakage or hair loss due to consistent tight styles) may develop,” says Jenette Mark, a hairstylist with over 25 years of experience. “After removing the braids, I would recommend a good clarifying shampoo. Follow with a deep conditioner and a break in between the next style.”
How to Get Fulani Braids
If you’re an expert braider with nimble fingers, it is possible to do these for yourself and at home, but depending on how intricate or long your preferred braids are, a braiding salon may save you time in the long run.
Typically, fulani braids feature cornrows in the front and box braids in the back, with or without ornamental accents. Stylists make the cornrows in unique patterns containing thin-to-medium tightly plaited braids. A standard style includes a cornrow placed at the center of the head from front to back and the others originating from the center braid to the sides of the head. The braids are close to the head and taper into hair extensions of all lengths.
Whether doing it alone or in a salon, you’ll have to decide if you can achieve the look with your own natural hair. Depending on your hair length, you may want to add 3 to 5 packs of either natural or synthetic braiding hair. You’ll also want a styling gel to ensure clean parts and edges, rat-tail and wide tooth comb, rubber bands styling moisturizer or mousse, assorted beads, and hair jewels or shells.
How to Maintain Fulani Braids at Home
Proper care is essential to ensure your braids remain neat and healthy. Wrap your hair every night with a silk or satin scarf or bonnet. Hair wrapping prevents moisture loss, friction, and frizziness. It also stops your pillow (usually made of absorbent feathers or cotton) from drawing out the moisture in your hair.
With styles like these, people can go weeks without washing their hair. Between washings, keep your hair moisturized and clean. Try a leave-in conditioner to hydrate your braids and prevent dryness and breakage. If you work out a lot, swim, or will be exposed to environmental allergens that could settle on your hair, use protective caps, anti-itch sprays, and dry shampoo to maintain the look longer.
Relaxing treatments often expose the hair to stress, and braiding may cause more damage. If your hair is relaxed, consider getting fulani braids a few weeks before retouching the new growth. This will ensure that the hair at the root is thick enough to sustain the weight of the braids without breaking.
Lastly, keep in mind that tight braids may hurt initially, especially in sensitive areas of the head like the forehead and crown. The pain usually subsides after 2 to 3 days. If you feel intense itching or burning, you may be having an allergic reaction to the hair extensions or chosen products, in which case you should work with a stylist to remove the braids.
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