How to Braid Hair

The art of braiding hair has existed for centuries in different cultures. It is arguably most prominent in African cultures, but was also practiced by cultures in Asia, Europe, and the Americas.

Braiding is a significant part of Native American culture in particular. For Native Americans, braided hair is more than just a coiffure - it is symbolic of their worldview. The three strands in a braid stand for the mind, the body, and the spirit - all three are intimately and inextricably linked to one another.

The Symbolism of the Braid: The Inside Scoop, a newsletter of the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR), interviewed Spero M. Manson, PhD., the head of the Centers for American Indian and Alaska Native Health at the University Of Colorado School Of Public Health and a member of the Pembino Chippewa tribe. In the interview, Dr. Manson explains the symbolism behind the traditional Native American three-strand braid.

Basic Braid Tutorial: eHow is a website dedicated to showing users "how to do just about everything." This link includes a step-by-step video that shows you how to braid hair.

Native American Braid Photographs: The University of Oregon has compiled hundreds of photographs and portraits of Native Americans of different tribes from the turn of the century. These photos clearly show how prevalent braiding was in turn-of-the-century Native American culture.

Descriptions of Hair Braiding in Native American Tribes: Northwestern University has copied Edward S. Curtis' book, The North American Indian, and uploaded it to its library's website. Curtis describes many aspects of life for the Piegan, Cheyenne, and Arapahoe tribes, including the specific ways in which each tribe practiced the Native American tradition of hair braiding.

For the Native American, teaching children how to braid hair is more than teaching them how to maintain their appearance. It is the passing down of Native American culture and worldview from generation to generation.

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