I actually went to school when the desks had holes for inkwells reminding us of a time when the naughty boys would dip the innocent girls braids in ink while in class. And I have a black silhouette cutout of Mary when she was in second or third grade, where her braids are prominent in the silhouette. I asked for her memories of those times and she remembers her mother braiding her hair in the morning, almost as a ritual.
|Venus of Brassempouy - circa 25,000 BCE|
Braiding is a very old custom, and one which was geographically and culturally specific. The earliest history of braiding would indicate braids were fashionable for women as early as 25,000 BCE. Fashion was only one of the distinctions through the ages. Others included materials incorporated in the braids: Native Americans used Bison, Australians used kangaroo, and through the years fashion has dictated the use of feathers, bone, beads and jewels to distinguish class, marriage availability, and financial status.
Even the size and style of braids reflected cultural and status diversity. We all have some sort of memory of the Brunhilda Germanic character with long, blonde, braids, or Rapunzel, whose tresses were recently paramount in the film Into the Woods or in the “Double Check” commercial where Aaron Rogers is exercising. The strength and length of the braids was recognized in a more commercial fashion when braiding rope was used to increase the strength and utilitarianism of the product.
Going back to Mary’s go-to-school braids: one fact helps explain why in America the custom has perhaps lapsed: braiding is best done by someone other than the person whose hair is being braided. So, in most cultures it was a servant or a mother who did the process on the child, often with another child watching and learning. As demands on both the mother’s and domestic help’s time has become more demanding, the process has become one for special occasions. For instance, a visit to a Caribbean Resort often includes a braiding session, as might a Prom or wedding. A friend of mine made a serious splash a few years ago, braiding feathers into young girls’ hair.
Male athletes a few years ago revived the African fashion of braiding hair into intricate Corn Rows. Ornamental braiding, of which corn rows are one example was popular even in the time of Solomon. Recently athletes seem to prefer either unbraided hair long enough to braid or no hair at all. At the recent Golden Globes Award Show, I saw only one female actor with braided hair. I saw more male actors in braids, though not by much.
Historically, there are two other braids of consequence: the Topknot of Chinese culture and the Hindu, Sikh, or Moslem hair kept long for religious reasons and often loosely braided for convenience. In both these cases, the hair is often sacrificed by enemies, not so much as a trophy, as scalping by both sides was in the Indian Wars, as for the humiliation gained by knowing regrowth would take years.
Who would have guessed braiding could be so interesting?
There was much interest and concern recently when Sony Pictures was hacked and emails were made public. There also is major general concern over hacking personal information, which may be used for financial gain. In my next post I will share some observations on “hacking” that you may fine both interesting and useful. I hope you will join me.