April 01, 2016

Across Africa and long before shampoo was used for hair lathering, women used porcupine quills to loosen up cornrow braids. Before the advent of brushes, seashells were used to untangle hair, and many believe that hair brush evolved from people who adapted brushes used for painting, for hair combing.

Porcupine Quills

People eventually learned to attach bristles to holes drilled on a paddle, completed with a handle.

Excavations and discoveries made in ancient Egyptian tombs have revealed combs, brushes and mirrors along with paintings on the tomb walls that showed royals who had excellent wigs on their hair.  Archaeological digs around other places have shown flat combs that were made from ivory, and tortoise shell with vivid art ofAfrican print.   


Other ancient arts have shown combs that were presented as decorative accessories used to pin hair in a particular fashion. Others were used to remove lice and pick fleas out. An excavated Egyptian comb that was carbon-dated 5,000 years old was found to be decorated with snakes and elephants as commonly used in African mythology to depict the creation of the universe.

Many traditional comb types found across Africa have remained mostly carved and bear relics of the cultures that produced them in even in modern day. While some contain inscriptions of local deities, others are relics common to people who designed them.

Present Day Realities

African wooden carved combs are purely works of art today and not necessarily mass-produced to compete with technology-produced items of similar descriptions. Instead, what you find is that these hand-carved combs remain artifacts that can be bought at art or craft markets that litter the globe, just like hand-woven materials such as Ankara fashion.


While, most of the carved combs are seen as art works in other parts of the globe, across Africa, they are still used for the primary purpose they were meant for, in certain cultures and royal houses where it is the standing protocol to make use of such hand-carved combs that are African inspired.

While, in other places across the African continent, modernity has given the rein for hair combs and brushes to be used to massage the scalp, they are also used to smooth and untangle hair, remove dandruff and dirt, and apply natural fats down to the roots of the hair.  Perhaps more noticeable are the Afrochic styles that display long braids, which have become noticeable in major cities across the globe.

These processes are not found just in the modern hair dressing salons and shops, but also in the hinterlands, where ladies who are adept at hair styling, use combs to partition hair before braiding, twisting or styling as the case may be. All these are well represented in the paintings and works of art that show the bold print of African fashion on canvas.

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