Left: Fulani woman wearing large Kwotene Kange earrings and other gold accessories. Right: PYT rocking Cuban links and large hoop earrings.
For a long time our society has demeaned Black styles particularly when it comes to hair and the extravagance of gold jewellery which we flaunt – large gold jewellery has been misinterpreted as ghetto and having it’s origins in Hip Hop, likewise many Black hairstyles have been deemed ghetto and ‘unprofessional’ for working Black women. This article seeks to show how far back ornate loud gold jewellery styles and Black hair styles from extensions to bantu knots (no mini buns roun’ ere Gee)go and the symbolic, cultural importance of certain styles. It’s a testament to our strength as a people that so many aspects of African culture have survived the brutality of slavery and society’s Eurocentric ideals of beauty and formality.
Earrings in West Africa
Kwotene Kange are an example of early Black feminine expressions of wealth worn mainly by Fulani women in West Africa, the earliest description of Kange earrings I know of are from The British explorer Mungo Park in 1797, but they are likely more ancient. These earrings can weigh up to 300 grams and often feature patterns along the spiralling edges( so you can see Sistas been stunning from early), it can take the jeweller up to two weeks to make these gold plaited earrings.
Kanges were passed on either from Mother to daughter after death or was given to women by their husbands. Hooped earrings feature quite a lot in Sahelian jewellery, if yuh ask me Kanges look similar to door knockers-earrings, at least in scale and extravagance.
West African jewellery is known for it’s monumentality, it’s been suggested that women wore large jewellery to go well with their majestic clothing, likewise Black women today dress up knowin dem errings affi match dem clothes, AWOOAH!
Gold wasn’t just used for fashion – it was also a pathway to feminine empowerment, women on the West African coast in places like Senegal controlled the trade of gold to Europeans traders from the 1500’s onwards. There is also evidence that twisted gold earrings and rings, at a standardised weight, were used as currency in certain parts of Africa and worn as jewellery for convenience.
Images depicting Ancient Nubian women likewise show how Black women have used extravagant gold jewellery in ancient times in east Africa, though I don’t have much info on these, it isn’t hard to see how ancient ideas of style have survived.
Gold, Royalty and Spirituality
Here’s a description of African royalty 800 years ago in the ancient Empire of Ghana – modern day Mauritania…
The emperor ‘adorns himself with gold embroidered caps, on his right are the [vassal] kings, their hair plaited with gold, on guard at the door are dogs wearing collars of gold’
Ashanti king wearing rings in the Adinkra pattern ‘Funtunfunefu’ , a symbol of democracy and unity
2Chainz following tradition
The Ashanti are an Akan ethnic group found in modern day Ghana. The empire of Ashanti rose to prominence in the late 18th century, due to it’s many gold deposits and sophisticated system of government, this wealth is illustrated through gold ornaments in adinkra symbols(patterns used to illustrate Akan proverbs)
The Akan had unique ideas about the inner -spirit which they call ‘Kra’. The spirit was represented in many ways. The spirit of Ashanti for instance is represented using a golden stool. The Golden Stool was so important to the Akan that when a British Governor suggested that he should have the right to sit on it (even though the mightiest of kings were prohibited from doing so) it started the fourth and final war between the British and the Ashanti in March 1900AD. The image on the right shows a modern Ashanti king and the Golden Stool on it’s own chair!
How does that relate to man like Nina with de Nina or you and I ? Well Jamaican culture has been the main dictator of British youth culture for a long time and people of Ashanti/Akan origin were one the main contributors to Afro-Jamaican/caribbean culture. Some of biggest slave revolts in Caribbean history were initiated by people of Akan descent, bearing Akan names such as Cudjoe,(kojo in Akan) a Maroon general 1680AD- so it’s likely that Akan and other African ideals of aesthetic and stunting have survived in our culture today.
some more similarities or coincidences if yuh waan call dem that…
Right: Mbalantu women wearing extension 1940’s. Left: Beyonce flexing
Becky Brianna with the long braids
Black people have throughout history braided their hair, images of this can be seen on the walls of Ancient Egyptian monuments, in fact in certain societies you would have been seen as an outcast, mentally disturbed or dirty to not have your hair braided. In our society braids and cainrows are more common among younger Black youth, the trend usually dies out around thirteen when we’re conditioned (see what I did there 😀 ) into thinking that our hair needs to be straighter and natural hair isn’t manageable e.t.c.
In Ancient Egypt braided black wigs were a popular style worn by wealthy and royal women and men to express beauty, and offered protection from lice. Interestingly women also wore wigs which were green, blue or red in certain ceremonies(shit sounding familiar alieee) . The earliest Egyptian wigs date back to 3000 BC – that’s 5000 years ago!
here’s a small collection of Egyptian hairstyles including braided wigs
to be continued…