Beyond Beauty: The History of Bantu Knots

Bantu knots allowed enslaved African women to maintain cultural identity, express pride in natural textures. Now protected against hair discrimination, the style empowers Black women globally.

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The History of Bantu: An African Hairstyle Tradition
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The History of the Bantu Knots, a striking African hairstyle, consisting of twisted knots across the scalp, can be traced to the Bantu ethnic groups of Southern Africa centuries ago.

“Bantu” refers to the 300-600 ethnic groups within southern Africa that speak the Bantu family languages. However, the Bantu people originated in what is now Nigeria and Cameroon. Also, “Bantu” was once used with derogatory intention by colonizing communities to marginalize the people of South Africa during its Apartheid, but it has been reclaimed once again and reflects the original meaning of “people” in languages like Zulu.

The History of Bantu: An African Hairstyle Tradition

Historically, hairstyles in African societies were a form of cultural expression. For the Zulu Kingdom and other Bantu peoples, Bantu knots held important symbolic meaning. It was used in coming-of-age rituals and ceremonies, and the number and pattern of knots could indicate a person’s marital status, age group, or milestone events

Outside of its representations, the knotted style helped to keep hair neat, tidy, and moisturized in hot, humid climates. The knots also protected fragile hair ends from breakage, making Bantu knots an early forerunner of modern protective styling alongside well-known braiding styles.

As the transatlantic slave trade forcibly dispersed Africans across the Americas and Caribbean, the Bantu knot tradition crossed the ocean with its people. The iconic hairstyle allowed enslaved women to maintain their cultural identity and express pride in their African roots and natural textures.

Image: hair.com

However, like most style influences in the Black community, Bantu knots’ deep cultural significance has sometimes been obscured. The style is misappropriated as a “new trend” by the mainstream fashion industry or even accredited to non-Black influence. Such associations reinforce the need to honor and preserve these styles and traditions.

Moreover, Bantu knots are defended under The CROWN Act, a bill passed in seven states to protect people from race-cased hair discrimination in educational and employment opportunities. 

Whether worn for traditional reasons or to create striking, defined curls, Bantu knots remain a gorgeously empowering style for Black women globally.

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