Adventists and Hair Plaiting in Africa (2024)

By Sadiki Abraham Lukinga

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Sadiki Abraham Lukinga

First Published: March 18, 2021

Braidpatterns and hairstyles are an indication of a person's tribe or community, age, and marital status in many African cultures. Some Christians question whether braiding is compatible with biblical Christian lifestyle.

Introduction

A braid (also referred to as a plait) is a complicated structure or pattern formed by interlacing three or more strands of flexible material such as textile yarns, wire, or hair.1 The materials used have depended on the indigenous plants and animals available in the local area. They have been made for thousands of years in many different cultures around the world, for a variety of uses.

Braiding is traditionally a social art. Because of the time it takes to braid hair, people have often taken time to socialize while braiding and having their hair braided. It begins with the elders making simple knots and braids for younger children. Older children watch and learn from them, start practicing on younger children, and eventually learn the traditional designs. This carries on a tradition of bonding between elders and the new generation. In severalparts of the world,braidedhairdos are a unique way to categorize each community or tribe.Braidpatterns and hairstyles are an indication of a person's tribe or community, age, marital status, wealth, power, and religion.Braidingwas and is a social art.2

The Biblical View

In Paul’s first letter to Timothy, he seems to forbid a woman wearing her hair braided. What would be the reason behind this prohibition?

The full context of any passage, plus other relevant information elsewhere in the Bible on the same topic, must be employed to bring any ambiguous passage into clear focus. So, it is with reference to 1 Timothy 2:9-10. "Likewise, also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works."

Paul was here discussing how women should dress and carry themselves in times of public worship and in public prayer. In the days of the apostles, it was a custom among women in the world of Greek culture to exhibit extravagant hairstyles and other adornments. While it is true that Paul was literally talking about how a woman should dress, his overall point was not only that women should dress modestly, but that the adornment be not merely external. Internal in attitude, deportment, and obligations toward God were also important.3 The emphasis of this passage is upon the development of inner spiritual qualities, which could be obscured by outlandish attire. Paul is not condemning the items mentioned. What he is prohibiting is an excess that detracts from the woman’s spiritual attractiveness.

Origins of Adventists Involvement

Ellen White and other members of the evolving Advent movement were influenced by John Wesley’s Methodism and the Puritans in New England. Like Wesley, early Adventists objected to the grandiose styles of the wealthy, which seemed to vainly flaunt their economic status.4

A number of Methodists came from the lower classes and considered luxurious clothing and jewelry as a sign of vanity, pleasure, and worldly life style. Wesley warned his members to dress in the simplest style and not "to ape the gentlemen." Because hair style was a part of the fashion mode of the upper classes, men in the Methodist Church combed their hair straight down, and this style of combing came to be known as "the Methodist fashion.5 Methodists were easily identified by their way of dressing and their attire. Biblical texts, such as 1 Peter 3:3, 1 Timothy 2:8-9, James 4:4, and 1 John 2:15, became their support for simplicity and plainness.

The Way Forward

African Adventists disagree on the matter of hair braiding where styles are a part of tribal or clan identity. The opinions expressed by the individuals who were interviewed for this article illustrate the array of opinions.6

Adventists are called to be a godly people who think, feel, and act in harmony with biblical principles in all aspects of personal and social life.7 From the contemporary views on hair braiding, several lessons can be observed:

One of the lessons we can learn from the early Adventists is that their understanding of right and wrong was conditioned by factors of culture and era.Contemporary culture should still be considered when taking position on personal appearance and Christian standards. Carrying a literal reading of biblical instructions on dress could effectively create unhealthy legalism and focus attention away from the gospel. Ellen G. White suggested that we should practice temperance in all things, including fashions and styles.8 Nevertheless, she never forbade hair plaiting.9

Another lesson is the need to show respect and forbearance for differing opinions during discussion of the issue. The Apostle Paul admonishes Christians to bear one another’s burdens in Galatians 6:2. When Adventists discuss matters pertaining to Christian standards, like hair branding, feelings and emotions are prone to becoming intense. Therefore, members need to debate without fighting, educating one another in love.

Unity in diversity is also an important lesson from the discussion. Africa is constituted of many tribes, each with a culture different from another. Members are united in the word of God and in the mission of the Church, while able to embrace individual differences.

Sources

Ashe, Bert. Twisted: My Dreadlock Chronicles. Chicago: Agate Bolden, 2015.

Andrews, Edward D. First Timothy 2:12: What Does the Bible Really Say About Women Pastors/Preachers? Cambridge, OH: Christian Publishing Press, 2019.

General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists Ministerial Association. Seventh-day Adventist Believe: A Biblical Exposition of Fundamental Doctrines. Boise, ID:

Pacific Press Publishing Association, 2005.

Robinson, D. E. “Is Plaiting or Braiding of Hair Forbidden by Divine Commandment?” Ellen G. White Estate. N.d. Accessed March 3, 2020, http://dev-egw.ellenwhite.org/media/document/9045.

White, Ellen G. Child Guidance. Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1954.

Wheeler, Gerald. "The Historical Basis of Adventist Standards." Ministry. October 1989.

Notes

  1. Wikipedia contributors, "Braid,"Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia,April 11, 2020, accessed April 14, 2020, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Braid&oldid=950246812.

  2. Bert Ashe, Twisted: My Dreadlock Chronicles (Chicago: Agate Bolden, 2015), 13.

  3. Edward D. Andrews, First Timothy 2:12: What Does the Bible Really Say About Women Pastors/Preachers?([Cambridge, OH]: Christian Publishing House, 2019), 16.

  4. Gerald Wheeler, "The Historical Basis of Adventist Standard,” Ministry, October 1989, 8-11.

  5. Ibid.

  6. Addressing the issue of braiding, Habi Machiru says, “The important thing is your personal relationship with God and also how you live your Christian life. Is your light shining in your community for others to see Jesus? Or you are the source of problems and chaotic pressures of the community and the church” (Habi Machiru, interviewed by the author, March 5, 2019, Misufini, Morogoro); Kigaba Mwaipaja says, “It seems everyone is getting something done to their hair at one time or another, black, white, alike. I buy hair clips to add to my hair. I don't really have an answer. Women always want to look at their best. Sometimes it just for themselves. . . It is a sensitive topic for sure” (Kibaga Mwaipaja, interviewed by the author, March 5, 2019, Misufini, Morogoro); Amina Mwimo suggests, “I don't have an issue with braiding my hair as I am able to do it myself to cut costs. What I can't understand is why this always comes up as an issue! I know there are Bible texts that people use to support the non-braiding of hair, but as women I feel we are to look our best (Amina Mwimo, interviewed by the author, November 9, 2019, Kwembe, Dar es Salaam); Citing the Bible texts of Romans 12:2 and I Peter 3:4, Toto Kusaga says, “Be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God.” Peter writes concerning the apparel of women, saying, "Whose adorning, let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; but let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price. For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves (Toto Kusaga, telephone interviewed by the author, January 12, 2019, Ipagala, Dodoma).

  7. General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists Ministerial Association, Seventh-day Adventist Believe: A Biblical Exposition of Fundamental Doctrines (Boise ID: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 2005), 311.

  8. Ellen G. White, Child Guidance (Washington, DC: Review and Herald Publishing Association,1954), 936.

  9. D. E. Robinson, “Is Plaiting or Braiding of Hair Forbidden by Divine Commandment?,” Ellen G. White Estate, n.d., accessed March 3, 2020, http://dev-egw.ellenwhite.org/media/document/9045.

Adventists and Hair Plaiting in Africa (2024)

FAQs

Is braiding your hair good for growth? ›

Though braids don't have a direct impact on hair growth, they have an impact on hair health. They can help growing hair stay healthy and strong, keeping it moisturized while it continues to grow. For more information on hair braiding and health, visit a hair Pro in your neighborhood and discuss your style options.

What does braided hair symbolize? ›

Braiding was and still is an important cultural tradition among many Indigenous American tribes. While each tribe has its own relationship to braids, many see braiding as a spiritual act, with the three strands representing the body, mind and spirit.

What does the Bible say about plaiting the hair? ›

Studies of the instructions about women and wives in 1 Timothy and 1 Peter have acknowledged that the exhortations not to braid hair, wear gold, pearls or expensive clothes are consistent with the general Graeco-Roman male emphasis upon female modesty and criticism of female adornment.

What is the significance of hair braiding in African culture? ›

In many African tribes, braided hairstyles were a unique way to identify each tribe. Braid patterns and hairstyles were an indication of a person's tribe, age, marital status, wealth, power, and religion. Braiding was and is a social art.

What are the benefits of braiding your hair? ›

Let's take a glance at the top benefits of hair braiding:
  • Braids Lock In Hair Moisture. ...
  • Protect From Frizziness. ...
  • Scalp Protection: ...
  • Braids Are Low Maintenance. ...
  • Variety of Styles. ...
  • Reduce Split Ends. ...
  • Long Lasting Benefits.
Nov 22, 2023

What are the disadvantages of braiding hair? ›

This tension can lead to breakage, especially if the hair is already fragile or damaged. Scalp irritation: Some individuals may experience scalp irritation or discomfort when their hair is braided. This can happen due to the pulling and tugging on the scalp, which may cause itching or soreness.

Do African braids damage your hair? ›

One of the biggest factors that can contribute to hair damage when braiding is improper braiding techniques. If the braids are too tight, for example, this can cause traction alopecia, which is a type of hair loss that results from pulling on the hair.

What is the spiritual meaning of hair? ›

Protection and intuition: In some spiritual beliefs, hair is believed to provide protection and intuition. It is seen as a shield against negative energies or influences and a source of heightened awareness and intuition. Ancestral and family connections: Hair can serve as a symbol of ancestral and family connections.

Why are braids sacred? ›

"Across all tribes, pretty much, we all have the belief that the three strands in a braid represent the body, mind, and spirit," said Whisper, noting that hair overall connects you to Mother Earth.

Where did plaiting hair come from? ›

One of the earliest depictions of braided hairstyles hails from the 3,500 BC Saharan desert. Ancient African cave paintings depicted images of women with intricate braids weaved close to their scalp, or, as we know them now, cornrows.

Are dreadlocks biblical? ›

It is just a common characteristic among Rastas, symbolizing deep devotion to the Holy God. Rastas view locks as having biblical origin. In the Old Testament, there are many references to "locks."

What does Corinthians say about hair? ›

Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering. If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no other practice--nor do the churches of God.

Who invented dreadlocks? ›

The first people to wear dreads were probably cavemen. We researched the first evidence of the use of dreadlocks: The first piece of written evidence dates back to 1500BC; it is brought to us by the ancient holy Hindu texts called the “Vedas”.

What cultures braid their hair? ›

During the Bronze Age and Iron Age many peoples in the Near East, Asia Minor, Caucasus, East Mediterranean and North Africa are depicted in art with braided or plaited hair and beards. Similarly, the practice is recorded in Europe, Africa, India, China, Japan, Australasia and Central Asia.

Why do guys braid their hair? ›

The Beauty of Self-Expression

Men opting for braids isn't just about looking good; it's about feeling confident and connected to a broader cultural narrative. It's a celebration of diversity and personal choice.

How often should I braid my hair for growth? ›

Talk to your stylist to determine how long your specific braids should be in to maintain the health of your hair and scalp, but as a general rule, try to keep your braids in for no longer than eight weeks at a time for optimal scalp and hair health.

Does braiding hair make it healthier? ›

Braiding minimizes this friction, protecting your hair. It's a simple yet effective way to keep your hair strands healthy, making them stronger and less likely to split.

Which hairstyle is best for hair growth? ›

Contents: Hairstyles for healthy hair:
  • Low bun.
  • Pulled-out dutch braid.
  • Half up, half down.
  • Messy bun.
  • Low ponytail.
  • Half top knot.
  • Space buns.
  • Braided bun.
Mar 23, 2022

Does natural hair grow faster in braids? ›

With all of these things in mind it's safe to say that braids are great for helping protect your growth. But, with our own experience, we can't say that braids can make your hair grow. In short, braid hair styles are a great protective hairstyle for anyone who wants to make their hair grow longer and stronger.

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