Natural Hair, Confidence, & African Tribal Hairstyle

Would you ROCK a Tribal Hairstyle?

[E1] Caribana 2014 - Toronto Carnival

[E1] Caribana 2014 – Toronto Carnival

Not many people can rock a bona fide African Tribal hairstyle. Working women need hairstyles which are easy to manage, maintain, and are not too heavy on the wallet. Lately however I’ve noticed a comeback (resurgence if you will) of natural hairstyles with the afrocentric look, driven in part by the definition of beauty that has become more inclusive and puts a premium on confidence, uniqueness, health, and color. The other driver to this is the willingness of African American women to quietly embrace their afrocentric origins, a non-quiet rebellion against the societal norms of styles based on long, straight hair.

Basic Continuum

Let’s start with the basic minimum/maximum look, with the minimum look gaining ground on the heels of the award winning performance of Lupita Nyong’o in 12 Years a Slave (2013) [1].

[E2] Trinidad & Tobago Carnival 2014

[E2] Trinidad & Tobago Carnival 2014

Very few women are daring enough to pull off either extreme.

[E3] Ally - Metropolitan Museum 2013

[E3] Ally – Metropolitan Museum 2013

Igbo Influence

The prize for the most visually stunning goes to versions stemming from the 1800’s to the early 20th century Igbo style.

[E4] Girls passing through Nkpu ceremony

[E4] Girls passing through Nkpu ceremony

In African Tribal art this hairstyle is represented by the Agbogho mmwo [2], or “maiden spirit,” masks worn by men at festivals that honor important deities. They represent the Igbo ideal of female beauty: small, balanced features, elaborate hairstyles, and delicate tattoos.

[E5] Maiden Spirit mask

[E5] Maiden Spirit mask

One of the fascinating aspects of the many variations currently in fashion is the wide options of micro-braid styles available to be used. I think this will grow in popularity in coming years.

[E6] Toronto Caribana 2014

[E6] Toronto Caribana 2014

[E7] TnT Carnival 2014

[E7] TnT Carnival 2014

[E8] Igbo Hairstyle

[E8] Igbo Hairstyle

[E9] Awka maiden circa 1921

[E9] Awka maiden circa 1921

[E10] Afrocentric Variant - TnT Carnival 2014

[E10] Afrocentric Variant – TnT Carnival 2014

Mende Perspective

“The top of every Sowo mask is carved to represent braided hair, and the style of hair braiding is one of the mask’s most individualized features. The hair crest always displays axial symmetry around the facial vertical line… the mask’s hairstyle is always grander and more distinctive”[2]

[E11] Mende carvings - "Sowo wui" helmet masks

[E11] Mende carvings – “Sowo wui” helmet masks


A variation of a Baule style that has a large following is the Bantu knot-out (aka China Bump)

[E12] Baule "blolo bla" (spirit wife carving)

[E12] Baule “blolo bla” (spirit wife carving)

Luba Style

One lesser known style was very popular among the Luba tribe and reflected in many different forms of Luba sculpture.

[E13] Luba Carving

[E13] Luba Carving

[E14] Luba Tribeswomen

[E14] Luba Tribeswomen

There are too many African tribes with identifiable hairstyles to mention (Mangbetu, Kuba). It is a fascinating aspect of Collecting African Tribal Art which can assist in learning one’s history and provide clues to cultural norms and values.

[2] Radiance from the Waters; Sylvia Ardyn Boone, p.184

[E4] Among the Ibos of Nigeria; Basden, G.T. 1921; p288/289

Collector’s Log : Star Date 12/07/11 3:00am

I purchased a BandSaw in the summer of 2011; actually I purchased a couple (both used), just a day apart. The first was a neat little Delta 1/5 HP piece of delicate machinery, a woodworking dilettante as it were, which I quickly figured was simply a life-lesson in bad spend. The second (at half the price of the first) is a Sears 1HP pugilist which has proven it can go the distance, while at the same time not requiring a PHD thesis to understand. The more astute craigslist reader would recognize the implication of referring to one saw using ‘was’ versus ‘is’.

The first eureka moment was being jolted awake with the realization that I could possibly create the mounting bases which I absolutely admire, (say eight degree bevel), by using the tilt head capability on the band saw. Now, while this leap of architectural creativity may seem miniscule to some, one should keep in mind that my workaround was to have a straight edge base with a beveled top edge, (yes, I had purchased a router with attendant tips). This is where the Mangbetu came in.

Mangbetu : Off-center beveled,mount

Having received several pieces of African Tribal Art and Statuary the prior week, it seemed strange that two pieces were (disconcertingly) not centered. My first idea of course was to cut (surgical gene, using the newly “discovered” technique) the offending side of the mount, sand, repaint, and gloss. Unfortunately the piece would then lose some character. The base itself showed some age, and wear, which I preferred to retain. The next option was to move the mounting pin a half-inch to the right, a simple but effective alternative. Truth be told I would have cut the base, but there are rules when living in an apartment building, and revving up the band saw at 3:30 am is never a good idea.

Mangbetu Statue : Female

Fortunately I did spend some time looking over, and cleaning the Mangbetu. I discovered a couple filled-in spots, which were fine, not detracting from the general appearance. What was surprising was that I began to tick off a couple “art appreciation” points. To be brief, the feet, calves, and legs are thick in the cubist style, nice mature figure and stomach, broadening of the upper arms and shoulders, thick neck, contoured chin, proud uplifted heaven directed stance. The other main observation was that most of the extensive Mangbetu scarification was cut or “grooved” versus keloid “raised”, (see Dengese). From the following description this is a painful process.

In the Bamileke country, in southern Cameroun, the artist uses three instruments: a long iron needle, a knife with a wooden handle and a curved blade, and a triangularly shaped native razor. The design is first traced lightly with the knife, then touched up with the razor or needle; the needle is inserted into the marked area of the skin to raise it, and the necessary amount of flesh is then cut away with the razor.

6:45am time to get moving.

Five things one should know about the Mangbetu

The statuary of the Mangbetu tribe is outstanding if only from the questions they generate, and their unique looks, incorporating full body scarification, and aspects of head elongation. On a personal note Collecting African Tribal Art goes beyond simply hoarding, and trading, In this case, the piece below led to research which introduced me to the music of Nina Simone, her life story, her contribution to the civil rights movement, and her commitment to developing her musical ability.

Mangbetu Statuary (


The Mangbetu are located in the northeast area of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Head Elongation

The Mangbetu had a distinctive look and this was partly due to their elongated heads. At birth the heads of  babies’  were tightly wrapped with cloth in order to give their heads the streamlined look. The practice began dying out in the 1950s with the arrival of more Europeans and westernization. Because of this distinctive look, it is easy to recognize Mangbetu figures in African art. [1] Cranial deformation may have played a key role in Egyptian and Mayan societies. Queen Nefertiti is often depicted with what may be an elongated skull, as is King Tutankhamen.

Nina Simone Rocked the Mangbetu Hairstyle [3]

Mangbetu Hairstyle 

”] Language 

The Mangbetu language is phonetically distinct from other languages in that it possesses both a voiced and a voiceless bilabial trill. [4]


The Mangbetu have a good reputation for the quality of their art, and music (see for example the Mangbetu harp).






African Tribes, Demographics, & The Slave Trade Map

Information on African Tribes – Demographics, Politics, Religion, History, Economy, Tribal Art, Neighboring Tribes, Culture, Language.

Aka Akan Akuapem Akye Anyi Aowin
Asante Babanki Baga Bali Bamana Bamileke
Bamum Bangubangu Bangwa Baule Beembe Bembe
Benin Kingdom Berber (Amazigh) Bete Bidyogo Biombo Bobo
Bushoong Bwa Cameroon Grasslands Chokwe Dan Dengese
Diomande Djenn� Dogon Ejagham Eket Ekoi
Esie Fang Fante Fon Frafra Fulani
Guro Hausa Hemba Holoholo Ibibio Idoma
Igala Igbira Igbo Igbo Ukwu Ijo Kabre
Karagwe Kassena Katana Kom Kongo Kota
Kuba Kurumba Kusu Kwahu Kwele Kwere
Laka Lega Lobi Luba Luchazi Luluwa
Lunda Luvale Lwalwa Maasai Makonde Mambila
Mangbetu Manja Marka Mbole Mende Mitsogo
Mossi Mumuye Namji (Dowayo) Ngbaka Nkanu Nok
Nuna Nunuma (Gurunsi) Ogoni Oron Owo Pende
Pokot Punu Salampasu San Sapi Senufo
Shambaa Shona Songo Songye Suku Swahili
Tabwa Tuareg Urhobo We Winiama Wodaabe
Wolof Woyo Wum Yaka Yaure Yombe
Yoruba Zaramo Zulu


Destinations of Slaves and their Origins

Senegambia (Senegal-Gambia) * 5.8%
Sierra Leone 3.4%
Windward Coast (Ivory Coast) * 12.1%
Gold Coast (Ghana) * 14.4%
Bight of Benin (Nigeria) * 14.5
Bight of Biafra (Nigeria) * 25.1%
Central and Southeast Africa (Cameroon-N. Angola) * 24.7%
SENEGAMBIA: Wolof, Mandingo, Malinke, Bambara, Papel, Limba, Bola, Balante, Serer, Fula, Tucolor
SIERRA LEONE: Temne, Mende, Kisi, Goree, Kru.
WINDWARD COAST (including Liberia): Baoule, Vai, De, Gola (Gullah), Bassa, Grebo.
GOLD COAST: Ewe, Ga, Fante, Ashante, Twi, Brong
BIGHT OF BENIN & BIGHT OF BIAFRA combined: Yoruba, Nupe, Benin, Dahomean (Fon), Edo-Bini, Allada, Efik, Lbibio, Ljaw, Lbani, Lgbo (Calabar)
CENTRAL & SOUTHEAST AFRICA: BaKongo, MaLimbo, Ndungo, BaMbo, BaLimbe, BaDongo, Luba, Loanga, Ovimbundu, Cabinda, Pembe, Imbangala, Mbundu, BaNdulunda
Other possible groups that maybe should be included as a “Ancestral group” of African Americans:
Fulani, Tuareg, Dialonke, Massina, Dogon, Songhay, Jekri, Jukun, Domaa, Tallensi, Mossi, Nzima, Akwamu, Egba, Fang, and Ge.



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