The Cultural Significance of the African Headwrap



The African headwrap has become a symbol of exoticity and a cultural fashion statement for decades here in the U.S. Beautiful and versatile, each headwrap gives someone a chance to express their heritage and their love of African fashion. However, there is much more to the headwrap than the beautiful colors and fascinating style; there is a rich cultural history.

The Origin of the Headwrap: The headwrap originated in sub-Saharan Africa, and was often used to convey modesty, spirituality and prosperity. Even men in Africa wear head wraps to symbolize wealth and social status. Head wrapping is literally a way that African's for centuries have been able to non-verbally communicate their place in life. The headwrap of a woman walking down the street will tell you if she’s a widow, a grandmother, or if she’s a married young woman. It’s an element in the daily living of an African woman. Headwraps also serve a practical function in protecting the head from the rays of the sun. In West Africa, head wraps are referred to as ‘gele’ in Yoruba or ‘ichafu’ in Ibo.

Headwraps In U.S. History During slavery, white overlords imposed the wear of headwraps as a badge of enslavement. Later it evolved into the stereotype that whites held of the "Black Mammy" servant. The enslaved and their descendants, however, bravely regarded the headwrap as a helmet of courage that evoked an image of their true homeland - that ancient Africa - or the newer homeland; America. The simple head rag worn by millions of enslaved women and their descendants has served as a uniform of communal identity; but at its most elaborate, the African American woman's headwrap has functioned as a "uniform of rebellion" signifying absolute resistance to loss of self-definition.' As you can see, the headwrap is much more than a fashion statement. It is a symbol in Africa of one's life and social status; and in America of survival, courage, and cultural identity. 

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