Before slavery and the colonisation of Africa, hair was a cultural statement, a sign of identification. In each country, it reflected personal and social values; it was a sign of status in a community, sometimes even what immediate family to which one belonged. It has been documented that since the 15th century, different hairstyles reflected different tribes.
Women of the Nigerian Yorùbá tribe traditionally wore three distinctive hairstyles; Irun Kiko (hair knotting with thread [threading]), Irun Didi (hair plaiting, without thread), and Irun Biba (hair braiding). These styles left many unable to decipher each woman's status. These styles even went as far as to send messages to outsiders and other family members (Juliana Kasumu, 2016). This tradition has been a part of hair care in many Subs Saharan African societies for generations and is called Nywele in regions where Swahili is spoken (Naturally Curly, 2017). African hair threading, commonly known as Irun Kiko to the Yorubas in Nigeria — “Irun” translates to “hair” in Yoruba and “Kiko” means to “gather“ (Busayo Olupona, 2019), originates from Sub-Saharan African countries.
How It Is Done
The threading is done with a thread. The thread is wrapped around a pencil-sized section of strands from root to tip in a corkscrew manner. The hair is not completely covered as with a fun thread wrap. Instead, you'll see it 'poof' out from the thread as it spirals downwards (Naturally Curly, 2017).
An interesting fact about the style options is that once the hair is wrapped with thread, the infrastructure can be manipulated into any shape and other threads sculpted into architectural specimens of all sorts. The style names are limitless, there is the pineapple; hair is sectioned into smaller parts wrapped with thread and bent to look like pineapple skin. The basket starts similarly to the pineapple, but the hair is gathered together and woven into a basket. Onile-Gogoro refers to a skyscraper and describes the style of Irun-Kiko that resembles a skyscraper (Busayo Olupona, 2019).
Its Uses And Benefits
People choose this styling method for protection and the ability to help retain length in mind. When hair is wrapped in thread, it leads to less manipulation, which is excellent for the strands. Since the hair isn't exposed to as much breakage from overhandling, one can also get length retention as a sweet bonus.
African threading can also be used for stretching the hair to avoid shrinkage, and if you want to be bold, it's also a great way to create an effortless style (Naturally Curly, 2017). Threading encourages the hair to grow faster because of the traction, but constant threading tends to make the hairline recede, especially from the temples. It is advisable, therefore, to alternate between cornrowing and threading from time to time (Doria Adouke, 2022).
Its Place In Modern Fashion
African hair threading has been seen on runways and in editorials. Some celebrities such as Kim Kardashian, Adwoa Aboah and Deborah Owusu-Bonsu, also known as Sister Derby – a Ghanaian TV presenter and artist have been spotted with this hairstyle. Photographers such as Juliana Kasumu and JD Okhai Ojeikere have created projects to pay homage to African hair threading and investigate the contemporary African symbology of African hairstyles. By exploring identity issues and looking at the translation of traditional African hairstyles within modern society, predominantly within fashion and pop culture (Juliana Kasumu, 2016). Charlotte Mensah and photographer Lily Bertrand-Webb in collaboration with Refinery 29 UK, also created a series of stunning images that honours the art form of Afro hair threading.
There's no hard and fast rule about wrapping hair in a neutral colour, and in fact: many intricate styles can be created by using coloured thread instead! The stiffer "locks" that the threading makes also lend a buildable property to the hair and allow for a wide variety of gravity-defying looks (Naturally Curly, 2017).
By Deborah Kester, Africa's Young Fashion Leaders Fellow (Project Management) at the Council for International African Fashion Education
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Image Credits: Busayo Olupona