3 March 2012

African Head Wrap ~ PART 1: An Introduction - More than a fashion statement

This post is the first of 3 on Head wraps/Head ties.

PART 1, I will discuss the story behind the African head wrap through my eyes and share interesting but very relative facts about this symbol of African culture.

PART 2 will showcase the ornateness that is an African head wrap.

PART 3, I will discuss how the head wrap is tied, post aids to help anyone interested in learning how to tie a traditional African head wrap.

So whether you term it a head tie or a head wrap, keep reading!!!

If you are a regular to the sister page of this blog, Facebook Fanpage Naturaleza Chronicles, then you would see that I have dedicated a folder to the art and beauty of head wraps. I love to see local women wearing their head wraps, whether to church or on any occasion for that matter. It accentuates any outfit. I don't own any, yet. But, I will so I will keep you posted.
In West Africa, African head wraps are referred to as 'gele' (Yoruba) and 'ichafu' (Ibo). It is
also called a 'dhuku' in some African countries.

Internationally, it would seem that there has been an increase of ladies wearing head wraps over the last two to three years. 

You see, wearing a head wrap is something that I have seen from infancy as my maternal granny (Gran, as I called her), often wore a head wrap. Actually, here is where we (Barbadians) might call it a 'head tie'. It was not one of the stylish wraps seen nowadays; nor was it as a fashion statement. It was about practicality, as many of the women of her era were field labourers who toiled from sun up to sundown. So the daily head wrap protected their hair and head from the sun's rays. Wearing a head wrap was and still is, I believe, a cultural norm that dates back to our ancestral roots. 

Head wraps can also be used to cover up the onset of hair loss or illness. As regal as the head wrap is, it securely covers and fits nicely on the head so any evidence of hair loss can be hidden from public view. 

As mentioned above, head wraps are worn at any occasion, by the young and the old; in many shapes, styles, colors and fabric choices. More formally, they will be worn with traditional African kaftans or dress and jacket style clothing. Not all that I have seen here are made from Brocade or traditional original Kente or Kuba fabric, as many will probably not be able to source nor purchase it here; so they use what they can (could) to make as beautiful a head wrap as possible. But even this practical but interesting fact made a serious connection back to the days of old, where it is said, that head wraps were once worn primarily by the African well-to-do as they were the ones with the means to purchase the beautiful traditional fabrics to make the head wraps. 

The Yoruba garment called the Asooke consists of 1) Buba, the Yoruba blouse; 2) Iro, the wrap skirt; 3) Gele, the head wrap; 4) Iborun or Ipele, the shoulder sash. The men's
cap is called the Fila.

  • It has its origins in Sub-Saharan Africa
  • Is rather ornate and is usually tied in such a way to reveal a woman's neck, for some, the hallmark of a woman's beauty
  • For some today is a symbol of social status, wealth, class, spirituality and religious practice
  • However during slavery, it was a symbol of subservience as black female slaves had to wrap their heads. It became a symbol of poverty
  • Different materials/fabrics will create different looks. Try silk, Vlisco Super wax, Vlisco Java, Kente cloth, Khanga cloth, Aso oke fabric (Nigeria), Mudcloth (Nambara tribe) or Kitenge (Kenya)
  • Aso oke (pronounced ah-SHOW-kay) means 'top cloth' in English
  • Used as a protective styling accessory
  • Can be as ornate, as wide, as high or as colourful as you desire

Stay tuned for PARTS 2 and 3!

In Barbados, you can check Abeds Fabric
Tenuci: Online store for African fabrics and accessories 

I know that there is so much more that can be shared about African head wraps.
I look forward to any additional information that you might have on the topic. 
For local readers (Barbados), if you personally know someone or another store that sells original Kente fabric, etc, drop us the information in the comment box so that others might become informed.

Thank you so much!

Dedicated to my Gran
August 23, 1918 - April 23, 2011
Love you ALWAYS...dearly, missing you still


  1. this is very interesting Tash--lots of stuff I didn't know! I just came along seeing Granny wrap her head and I do it without thinking when I am at home! wow--a symbol of poverty--interesting...Love you granny always....sigh

  2.  Seeing that pic of Edna brought tears.  Edna passed on that love for the head tie. Still have all hers:). Love you granny. Great post Tash.


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