When reading directions on how to make cornrows, you will quickly begin to appreciate this fine art really is. Even the simplest styles can take hours to complete because it must all be done by hand. The basic motion is that of an upward, underhand technique that results in tight braids that start very close to the scalp. Altogether, of course, you end up with a series of rope-like cords of hair that rest in rows.
Cornrows are an age old tradition that is still alive today thanks to a great couple of surges towards preserving African culture. They can be traced back to ancient civilizations, as they are depicted in Egyptian, African, and Nigerian hieroglyphs and sculptures from as far back as 500 B.C. Of course, the most notable sculpture in history in which you might cornrow type depictions is on the back of the head of the majestic Sphinx.
The cornrow hairstyle is really just a basic building block that can take you to much more elaborate designs. In fact, these same tribal communities which used to practice doing hair in this manner would actually distinguish themselves from each other through their hairstyles. It might involve more curvilinear patterns rather than straight lines. Some communities also used shells or beads in their particular designs because these things were common to their landscape.
These hairstyles were introduced to America by African slaves who were brought to North America centuries ago. These people brought with them their ancient cultures and although it took many more decades before they were able to appreciate the freedoms of America, the Black Pride and Civil Rights Movements of the 1960s saw an awakening of more traditional African culture, including hairstyles.
There was another similar awakening at the end of the last century as African American entertainers started to come to the forefront. Both men and women started wearing their hair in more traditional ways. Part of this was to maintain some contact with their deep roots, but cornrows can be altered to fit any personality and style, which is what also made them appealing to many superstars looking to carve a niche in their particular markets. This is also why you see many salons and beauty shops of the African American persuasion: because this kind of hair styling requires the personal touch of a passionate artisan, and since many people are looking for that kind of service, it only seems natural that beauty and barber shop businesses would boom.