If you are familiar with the many cornrow styles for men, then you likely know where they came from. If not, though, then you might be interested to know that they originated in ancient civilizations dating back as far as 500 B.C. Evidence suggest that indigenous tribes in Africa, Egypt, and Nigeria all wore their hair in this particularly ornate way. You can even find detailed braiding flowing down the back of the head of the great Sphinx!
If you have seen these hairstyles before, then you also likely know how much work goes into creating them. Indeed these tight braids start close to the scalp and work outward as the stylists uses an upward, underhand method to group the hair together. Typically, the end result resembles rows, but you can also use any form a shape that you wish. In fact, there was a time, centuries ago, when you would have been able to identify which tribe or region a person came from because of the way they styled their hair.
Along with these styles, regional designations also may have included shells or beads. Depending on your geographic location, it might be common for a particular tribe to braid these other materials into the hair for reasons of ornamentation, but also for differentiating their people from the members of other tribes.
Ironically, cornrows are very practical. While they can take hours to complete, they help to make African hair more manageable. You can wash cornrows like normal hair, as they do not require extra special treatment. However, you should apply oil to the hair and scalp to prevent them from getting too dry.
Although these hairstyles are indeed very ancient, you may already be aware that they are very popular these days. Much of this has to do with the progression of civil rights over the past fifty years or so. For instance, the Black Pride Movement of the 1960s awakened many Americans of African descent to embrace their cultures, which lead in part to more African-Americans wearing their hair in more traditional, natural ways.
After the Civil Rights Movement helped to establish equality for blacks in America, they used their skills and passion for their culture to start businesses that would further embrace it. Hence, many beauty shops were developed that took advantage of the skilled trade and the growing interest in the hairstyles as a way to stay in touch with their culture.