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Why Do Native American Men Wear Braids?

Why Do Native American Men Wear Braids?

Posted By Paul G March 7th, 2016 Last Updated on: January 10th, 2022

There are numerous practices and teachings within Native American tribes that encourage the representative of cultural identity. These can be found through music, dance, language, food, and more. One significant way that Indigenous men and women celebrate their culture is by the way they wear and take care of their hair. To tribal individuals, hair is considered a core part of who they are as people and how they represent themselves and their ancestors.

Why do Native American Men Wear Braids?

Historically, American Indian ancestors wore their hair in long, flowing hairstyles as well as in long braids. While individuals of specific tribes wore their hair short, some only cut their hair in times of grief or shame. The braiding of hair as well as the reasons behind the style varied from tribe to tribe. Wearing two braids or three was the tradition, and this has been passed on to future generations. 

Today, wearing a braid (or more than one) continues to be meaningful within the Indian nation. Even the process of braiding hair is something special and brings about connection and encourages a nurturing relationship between family and tribal members. In addition to creating a simple braid, “some families will paint their hair depending on the ceremony or their family’s distinction. Women and men will adorn their hair with fur wraps, woolen wraps, feathers, fluffs, and beadwork for war dancing and ceremonies.” 



The significance of men braiding their hair within the Indigenous culture differs from person to person and tribe to tribe. The level of importance on this topic depends on generational influence, history, storytelling, and encouragement. While some American Indian men and women choose to only braid their hair for ceremonies and celebrations, others prefer this hairstyle all the time. Depending upon the culture within a tribe, members might only choose to cut their hair when they have lost a loved one. 

For those who deem hair-braiding to be an essential part of their daily lives, they believe it is a form of self-expression and brings them closer to their family, tribe, and ancestors. 

These are some of the reasons why Native American men choose to wear braids: 

  • To honor their ancestors and culture.
  • To encourage a stronger connection to the earth.
  • To represent strength, family, and culture.
  • To create a bond. 
  • To practice patience and care. 
  • To carry memories. 
  • To celebrate and dance.  
  • To represent mind, body, and spirit.

In an interview with CBC, two Native men share why they braid their hair or that of others.

“I get my hair braided before I powwow dance or are in ceremony. Prayers are said while my hair is being braided, and this positive energy is transferred in everything which I do, and gives me the strength, to carry the medicine and strength, which was passed down to me, by our elders and ancestors,” says Arnie Leon.

Daniel Garcia says, “I love the process of braiding my son's hair. It's a beautiful way to bond with him. While braiding it I offer prayers, giving thanks for his kind heart, kind mind, and kind spirit.”



The process and purpose of braiding the hair of men and boys within the Native American community are symbolic. Braids are an enormous part of the Native cultural identity, and the hairstyle is meaningful and powerful.

The next time you meet a Native man with braids, ask him what his braids mean to him.  

For inspirational pictures and stories, follow #boyswithbraids on Instagram.CBC recently interviewed several Native men to find out why they wear braids.  Some it was a symbol of strength.  While for others it was a link to their culture.

Be sure to also read our article on caring for braids.

 


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Marcia

I date a 66 year old Native American man who still wears his hair long and in braids. I want to help him to take care of his hair (condition, stop breakage, slow down hair loss), but am not sure what to tell him. Does wearing it in braids at night cause breakage? Should he not braid it all the time to keep it from breaking? How can he prevent hair loss? Just general suggestions? Any advise?

Bahama Wynters

What is this magnificent soundtrack to the video?
Wow!

richard courchene

I remember as a kid wishing I could have long hair. I would have definitely wore braids. A part of my culture I will never get to experience.

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