Cornrows — Nothing New Under the Sun

I appreciate the fine folks behind the Michelle Obama Watch — they’re keeping their eyes on the media to make sure the Obama family is being fairly represented. For the most part, the attacks against Michelle O and the kids anger me tremendously. But a recent blog post about Malia Obama’s Access Hollywood interview actually made me LOL. Some simpleton that I don’t have the energy to even actually link to, so thanks to the MOW for doing it for me, wrote about Malia Obama’s hairstyle. And I quote: “i thought i might give the obama’s a tip. although hip-hop is more popular with suburban than urban youth in the u.s., no one in the apalachians gets cornrolls.”

To which I say: Cornrolls????? Oh Lordy.

Cornrows have been around for centuries. It’s a skill, an ancient tradition passed down from sub-Saharan Africa. This website traces the history of cornrow braiding, and what a fascinating history it is. Braids were even etched into the back of the Sphinx’s head. The site reveals statues from the ancient Nok civilization of Nigeria that reveal intricately braided cornrows from as far back as 500 B.C.

Cornrows are now commonplace in the hip hop community, and athletes like AI and Carmelo Anthony made the style popular on the basketball courts (especially a few years back. I don’t notice as many ballers rocking the intricate designs of late, correct me if I’m wrong, basketball fans). I guess a person who’d call them “cornrolls” pretty much think that the style is circa 1997, like AI and R. Kelly came up with it or something. To cultural outsiders, cornrows and braided hairstyles probably evoke images of tattooed thugs. But to me, they take me back to an innocent and more carefree time, where my hairstyle wasn’t up to me, when combing my hair meant the use of colorful clips, “woogies,” “wozzles,” and “bubbles”. Malia looks like I did as a little girl, like so many little black girls have. I think just about any black woman who grew up sitting between her mother’s knees, rat-tail comb, clips, and jar of grease at the ready will tell you, that little girl’s hair is adorable, neat, and entirely appropriate. The folks who don’t “get” that, probably aren’t rooting for Team Obama anyway. And I pity those fools.

The first lessons in hair braiding might come from your nana or your mama, but if you need to sharpen your skills, you should check out Kristen Lock’s DVD’s. Cornrows 101 is exactly what it sounds like — a super informative DVD that breaks it down for braiding newbies. Her other DVD, Tree Braids 101, gives lessons for aspiring hair experts. Kristen’s DVDs cost $39.95. Click here to check out her YouTube account and learn more about this talented sista.

If you’ve got a little one and you’re seeking cute, easy to maintain hairstyles for her, check out Snapaholics, a range of cute hair snaps and beads for kids (and the young at heart, if you are so inclined). Besides hair snaps, beads, and stretchy bands in every color, Snapaholics also sells pure coconut oil and shea butter to care for your little bella’s lengthening locks. It’s like a one-stop-online shop for styling your little bella! Two snaps up for Snapaholics!

What styles did your mama comb your hair in as a little one? If you’re a mama yourself, how do you most often style your little bella’s hair?

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Comments

  1. Believe or not, my mom had 6 girls and could not do hair. Luck for me, I’m the youngest so my big sister had a hand in braiding my hair. Sometimes twice a week she’d braid my hair. As for myself, I can clearly remember when my son went through a phase of wanting his hair braided…I thought to myself “Oh No!!! I prayed for a boy so I wouldn’t have to do hair” Thank God that phase didn’t last long. But every weekend he’d be on the floor getting his hair braided in some off-the-wall design.

  2. I remember when I was little my mother used to send me next door to my bff’s house and I would get my hair braided with the little gold foil balls on the end. It’s a part of our culture; a valued one. It’s a time of bonding and the porch steps with the radio playing and getting your knuckles tapped with the comb is an experience I think is one of the most priceless memories our community has.

  3. I had to set the record straight on an film blog when someone said cornrows were ghetto and similar to a white person wearing a mullet. sigh.

  4. Mrs.Mckinzie says:

    I was a blessed bella,because my mom has been braiding since she was 14.She made her spare change as a teenager braiding hair,and she still does.My mother would do the two french braids with one on each side of our head.She would cornrow my hair up into a ponytail.I remember wearing a style just like Malia,and the little bella in the picture.My siste ,and I would get our hair washed,and braided every Sunday for school.

  5. I love the fact that the Obama girls wear their hair in beautifully healthy, natural styles and are not made to look like anything other than their precious little black selves. What wonderful self esteem those girls must have. God Bless the Obama family.

  6. I second sjay’s comment. How amazing is it to see these two beautiful, well-spoken natural haired little girls who might be living in the White House soon. And I’ve also seen them with their hair blown out and straightened in very pretty, age appropriate styles. I wonder if their grandmother braids their hair, Michelle probably doesn’t have a lot of time to do that nowadays-lol.

    I don’t have any kids, but lately I have seen so many little girls with gorgeous Soul Train afro puffs, cornrows and other lovely natural styles.

  7. Oh, thank you for this post! And what informative links :)

    Just wondering, does Kristen’s DVD show hair braiding on hair that hasn’t been straightened? It’s like looking for the Lost Ark or something when it comes to finding someone who will braid my hair without trying to straighten it first.

    Unfortunately, I’m one of those women who doesn’t know how to cornrow…but I plan to change that…

  8. Wow, people’s ignorance never fail to amaze me. Anywho…

    I love the look of a neat, stylish cornrows (or as we say here in the Caribbean “canerows”) on kids and adults alike. I remember I used to cry when I was little because my Mom was too busy to put the little beads or foil at the end. I though the beads were too cool. Then I got my hair straightened and I forgot all about these.

    I think when I have a baby girl I’ll let her choose whether she wants her hair straight or not (maybe when she becomes a teenager, definitely not before!). That way she gets to appreciate her natural looks more.

  9. Once again, you are right on time! My girl is three, and I cannot cornrow, but plan on learning soon – I think it is such an adorable look for little girls and she loves having them done.

    I usually style her hair in 7 or 8 twists and add balls and barettes. Last night and I washed and deep conditioned it, and did 24 twists – we both really like the results, and I’ll add that look to the rotation.

    Love the Obamas and their girls!

  10. In my feed reader, I thought this was a Racialicious blog post. This post would fit right in and is bang on with the point of view.

    Braids and cornrows (and, yes, they are referenced as “cornrolls” sometimes) have always evoked a sense of pride. It’s the math.

    Your link to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s Center for Cultural Design has always been a favorite of mine. What a big research project for such a small educational facility!

    Their focus on the intricacy of African braid design demonstrates that these types of hair styles are not ghetto fabulous but geometrically fantastic.

  11. Bklyn DreamZ says:

    I love love LOVE this post! My mom had three girls and every Sunday we’d all wait our turn with the grease, rat tail comb and a preferred style in mind (my favorite was half straight down in the back and the top half braided into a ponytail with three or four braids down over my forehead so i could imitate bangs after sleeping with sponge rollers lol) Back then we had no idea what a cornrow was, we called them ‘Kaska doo’ (St. Vincent thing I guess)

    Images of the Obama family always make me smile. They all seem so laid back and REAL.

    Once again, I Love It!

  12. I sported cornrows as a child and then again as one of my many styles when I went natural. I cornrow my locs sometimes! I have a little girl who is 9.5 months old and she’s already rocked cornrows!

    It’s funny, the folks on the Slate Gabfest podcast briefly questioned whether Malia’s cornrows would be considered “too Black.” I laughed and thought, “Only White folks will wonder about that.” I didn’t think it would actually be a big deal. But, true to form, White folks are trying to stir up stuff when there’s nothing there. When Alicia Keys was rocking cornrows, no one cared. Are they aware that a French Braid is just one big cornrow? I remember braiding the White girls’ hair on my volleyball team because they couldn’t do it by themselves but they admired the beauty and utility (keeps hair out of the face) of the style. And what about all the White folks visiting the Caribbean who sit and pay $20 a braid to get their hair cornrowed?

    This is ridiculous! Just shows what Whoopi said to Elizabeth: we DO NOT live in the same world! And where’s your post on that, BTW? Did I miss it?

  13. BTW, thanks for the websites. Can’t wait to find new styles for my baby girl!

  14. I’m saddened that black girls don’t have a hairstyle to transition into adulthood other than European styles. Childhood is the only time where black girls’ hair can be just that – and not have to be straightened in order to be accepted. Europeans transition from pig tails and pony tails to up-dos and buns. We need something natural that is respected as an adult style other than coil/loose curl/mixed race hair. But then again, we’d also have to simultaneously get rid of racism…

  15. And correct me if I’m wrong but isn’t there a picture of a french actress with braids (i believe Bridget Bardot) that is the epitome of sexy for white niddle age guys. She is normally mentioned when E News do stories on sexiest women alive.

  16. OMG, I was just telling my friend today, that ugly stupid remarks are just coming out all over the place with Obama running. Cornrolls, give me a break!! Anyway, my mom usually had my hair in afropuffs when I was a little girl. Or she have braids in the front touching each other then pinned down and then have an afropuff in the back. I loved that style so much when I was little.

  17. i think cornrows are the most adorable thing on little women! my daughter will be two years old in november, and its always a big fight to comb her hair. but it seems the fight is only with me! she will sit perfectly still for anyone, except me, to get her hair combed. one of my friends found a lady that only braids little childrens hair, so i’m definitely going to check this lady out. when i was little, my hair was down to my butt, but it was so thick and curly, my mama or gramma would press it, then braid it up into four pigtails…lol

  18. lol that is too funny the cornroll remix hahahaha.
    majority of people in the uk call them canerow. dont know if its due to west indian culture. canerow /cornrow. anyway all the little girls i know whether they have oodles and boodles of hair or just a little they all have canerows/cornrows at some point in time. I loved the fact they did a fashion remix and all ages wear them now. ghana weave anyone.
    those books sound interesting

  19. trishket says:

    I think Malia looks gorgeous! So does the picture of that other little girl. Full disclosure: I’m a white girl. I was always so jealous of the little black girls in my elementary school class who wore their hair in corn rows. I wanted my hair like that SO BAD! I asked my mom to do my hair that way instead of in the usual pigtails and she just said, “Um, I don’t know how to do that.” So I thought (and still do, by the way) that black ladies have special powers when it comes to styling hair.

  20. LBellatrix says:

    I’ve heard black folks say “cornrolls” too, unfortunately. Cornrow and canerow both make sense because of their relationships to corn and (sugar) cane rows. When I think of “cornrolls” I think of single-strand flat twists (and corn muffins).

    Like Doris, I was one of 3 girls whose mom didn’t know how to do hair. We had little “dookie braids” for the longest…until our hair grew long enough for pigtails. Recently I saw someone with her hair in one of those popcorn-ball barrettes…I didn’t know they still sold those!

    Even though I find it uncomfortable at times, it’s interesting to see the kinds of discussions the Obamas spark. Whites who tend to look at black things only on the surface are getting an education.

  21. BlackHoney says:

    Blessed to have a mom and aunt who were masters of the cornrow. I actually used cornrows to transition from relaxer to natural. I think they are better for your hair than micros.

    That picture Afrobella posted of Kerry Washington in cornrows from the Last King of Scotland was a style inspiration. The style really showed off her beautiful skin and features.

  22. sho nuff says:

    oh bella! you are taking me back. i had older cousins who babysat me a lot (my momma was a nurse and on-call regularly)who braided my hair. those were some of the best memories of my childhood. the coconuset smell of the grease, the music on the stereo. pretty was easy then………………………………

  23. Kandee that is so true. Unless you have a looser texture of hair natural styles are seen as infantile. Its such a shame

  24. My mom used to cornrow my hair in all sorts of intricate ways when I was a child. She learned only when I was born. She had fine, curly ringlets as a child (and still does), so her mom never had to learn. When I had my daughter, I was determined to learn, but I’ve been spoiled by living in the same town as my mom-in-law, how loves to cornrow. I just don’t the patience, nor do I have the proper hand-eye coordination it requires. I can’t even part straight with rattail comb. LOL But I’m a big fan of cornrows. In fact, both my daughter and I are wearing them right now. :-)

  25. What a lovely post Afrobella, it takes me back to the long afternoons of childhood, listening to the women talking while the kids got their hair done.

    But gee whiz, when did corn-rows become ‘ghetto’? I’m sorry, that has to stop! Corn-rows are an ancient, African way of creating beautiful styles of hair, and Cicely Tyson created a huge stir when she was the first Western black woman to wear them proudly back in 1968. My gosh, don’t people know their history?

    Malia’s hair is beautiful and shows of the shape of her lovely face. her hair is natural, age appropriate and pretty.

  26. Just last week I took my little bella of 3 years to get her hair cornrowed. While I was having my locs twisted she sat and got her hair done in a beautiful upsweep. It was a bonding moment for us. She kept looking at me and it made her feel at ease that I was there with her. When she was finished we all told her how beautiful she looked. I will never forget the look on her face when the beautician held up the mirror and told her to look. She looked at herself with pride. I have locs, my daughter wears cornrows. There is a book called Cornrows by Camille Yarnborough that I cannot wait to pick up and read to my little girl. Fostering a postive self image is so important. No matter how you wear your hair as long as it is healthy that is what matters. Peace Bellas!

  27. My daughters are grown now, but our tradition when they still “let” me do their hair was: take it down on Saturday night, they wore pony tails or twists with barretts (matching their outfits) to church on Sunday. After Sunday dinner, we washed hair and I braided 3 heads before baths and bed on Sunday night. Braids were beaded and hairdos tied up all week for school. When the local newspaper (Omaha, Nebraska) did an article on cornrows, my oldest baby was pictured.

    Sunday nights braiding was one of the times when I could give each girl my undivided attention, and each of them talked to me about things that daughters will confide in their mother before we become “the enemy”. Getting a little teary-eyed. I miss the innocence of those days.

  28. Bebroma says:

    I wish I’d seen that episode where Whoopi told Elizabeth that…Elizabeth gets under my skin really bad.

    It’s ridiculous that people are making remarks about something they obviously know NOTHING about. I thought her hair was cute and probably the easiest thing for the weather and playing outside and being on camera. Didn’t think twice about it, and never thought that someone would use even that to try to ghettoize the whole Obama thing. I have to get off this aspect of the topic because it makes me so mad I get tired and I still have to work some more this afternoon. I don’t like when people pick on the babies, the Obama girls or any kiddies, for that matter. I didn’t like when they picked on Chelsea way back in the day.

    OKAY. I have been cornrowing since I was a girl, and I enjoy it, it’s relaxing to make beautiful styles. I cornrow my own kids’ hair about twice a year, and have a fabulous time putting in cowrie shells and gold balls and these tiny gold leaf things and beads. I try to hold back, but it’s so much fun. Mostly it’s in 2-4 pony tails in varying designs.

  29. Bebroma says:

    Besides the fact that the blogger, if they’re going to go there and make digs, would want to take care that the punctuation and spelling was correct. Can we say plural possessive? Because “Obama’s” is not it. Probably no one in the “apalachians,” wherever that is, gets “cornrolls,” but quite possibly someone in the Appalachians has cornrows.

  30. katelynylyn says:

    Just wanted to step in and say hi.
    I was informed by the owner of Snapaholics.com that you had posted my daughters pic on your sight. (The little girl with the cornrows at the end of the article) As a white momma to 3 beautiful Liberian children I am glad you all enjoy my cornrows. I am by no means an expert (in fact I don’t hold my hands in the traditional position when I cornrow) but if anyone wants to check out my FREE youtube videos on hairstyling and cornrows, you are welcome too. The link is: http://www.youtube.com/Katelynylyn

  31. life2fullest says:

    Late on this, but I just got back from Myrtle Beach, S.C. and Asians on every corner have a corn-row, hair braiding booth and SURPRISE SURPRISE noone that looked like me was in there. Little white girls with blonde hair lined up to get the exact same hairstyle that little Obama is rocking. I should have asked how much for each braid as you paid per row.

  32. My mom cornrowed my hair as well as my sister’s hair. I can’t cornrow worth a darn.

    Thankfully, the Lord has placed me in his graces. He gave me two sons. : )

  33. LMAO @ cornrolls….oh my damn.

    Hey Bella!! ;-)

  34. timarasa says:

    ha ha! my previous roommate (who was white) also thought the term was “cornrolls”; when i told her “no, cornROWS”, she had this eureka/hallelujah look flash across her face and said “oh…that makes so much more sense!” bless her heart, she was so funny :o) all this talk of braiding makes me think of this book, “African Hairstyles: Styles of Yesterday and Today” by Esi Sagay, i first saw ~9 years ago. it’s not the most recent and all the photos are B&W, but the styles blew me away! the first portion covered traditional styles from all over the african continent, and the second section dealt with more modern styles of braiding and threading with step-by-step instructions. ahh…i’m thinking of cutting my dreadlocks so i can braid my hair again :o)

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  36. THanks for the history link!

  37. I’m from Africa south of the Sahara, and cornrows are the default style for little girls.

  38. I must say that when the (European) missionaries who brought Christianity to my part of the world came to Kenya, they used some scriptures to say that braiding was bad.

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Trackbacks

  1. [...] by the pic at Bitch PhD. Google turns up another good pic and discussion of this, and the infomercial also had some video with Malia’s hair in [...]

  2. [...] suit while dropping her kids off at school, gets a press-n-curl like many of us, or braids up her daughter’s hair so she doesn’t have to fuss with it every morning. But, on the other hand, average working [...]

  3. [...] love that the Obamas have encouraged their children to wear natural hairstyles like twists and cornrows. I love that natural black hairstyles are coming to the forefront. I just wish that people could [...]

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