Why I’m suspicious of crochet braids6 minute read

I am very suspicious of crochet braids. Not the faux dreadlocks, I love those! I’m a huge fan of dreadlocks but I can’t commit to real ones because I love changing hairstyles and letting go of dreadlocks would mean chopping all my hair off, and I have a strangely shaped skull that is not very ‘twa’ (teeny weeny afro) friendly.

What is crochet braiding you may ask? Well, the first step consists of styling your own hair into several cornrows. Once that is done, synthetic hair is grafted into the cornrows using a latch hook. The process usually takes 2-4 hours depending on the style. You can get various hairstyles done, you may attach strands of straight or curly hair, and you can also attach faux locs or faux braids. For the two latter styles, the advantage is that it is less time consuming than traditional methods, because you no longer have to braid or loc the hair strand by strand, it is already styled and you just buy the style or color you want.

Youtuber Kitanaxo teaches crochet braiding to her audience

When I get my hair braided I feel beautiful but I also feel incredibly proud, proud because I’m wearing artful craftsmanship. The results of millennial traditions passed on and still carried out to this day. I cannot braid hair, and whenever a non-African person asks if I do, I can’t help but feel like they are being slightly blasphemous towards the skill. It’s not ordinary, not everyone possesses it and it can’t be learned that easily; you have to rely on expert hands.

“As someone who hasn’t grown up on the African continent I have to recognize that I am at risk of exoticizing my own roots”

I’m afraid that we’d lose craftsmanship through simplified braiding techniques. In colonial times, Africans couldn’t actively engage in innovation because technological advancements were imposed on them, and were not meant to advance their own lifestyles. Maybe that’s why I’m overprotective of traditions; to me, they reflect our potency to create, which was minimized by foreign interference.

Is my refusal to accept advanced technology revealing something else? As someone who hasn’t grown up on the African continent, I have to recognize that I am at risk of exoticizing my own roots. A bit like hipsters who believe that anything Vintage is more authentic than modern lifestyles.

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Hair Update: Crochet Twists 💁🏾 Honestly, I have avoided getting my hair braided (its been like 1 year and a half or 2 years) because I've had traumatic experiences with people braiding or twisting my natural hair using extension. I heard about crochet twists/braids and I figured it would be a nice alternative so i tried it on myself a couple weeks ago. I love it! it was pretty straight forward and didnt hurt 🙌🏾 📸@davedreams57 #protectivestyle #healthynaturalhair #naturalhair #natuallyshesdope #naturalhairstyles #healthyhairjourney #hair #hairdo #blackhair #pineapple #4chairchicks #4cnaturalhair #curlyhair #kinkychicks #teamnatural #selfie #4chair #afrohair #afropuff #luvyourmane #naturalhairloves #nhdaily #naturalhairdreams #itsthatezi

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Instagrammer ‘Its That Ezi’ models her crochet twists

I’m also scared that we’d lose the social aspect of the hair salon. Going to the salon is about more than getting your hair done. It’s a social experience. I’ve heard women empower others to leave toxic relationships, and bond over stories of first dates gone wrong. I’ve had debates about diet tips, racism, skincare and African dictators. All with women that I’d have just met and to whom I’m not even related.

During one of my last visits, I witnessed a 6-year old boy getting his hair braided in cornrows for the first time ever. He was talking to his reassuring aunty over the phone, telling her, he was thrilled that he looked just like Karate Kid (he had brought a picture of Jaden Smith as a reference). It was beautiful to watch him marvel  at something so new to him, yet very traditional.

For Afro-descendants in Europe, the salon is also a great place to get acquainted with other African cultures. My hairdresser comes from Senegal, and her client base is diverse. In her salon, you hear clients speak Lingala, French, Wolof, and Kinyarwanda while Mbalax music plays in the background.

A walk through ‘Matonge’, Brussels, the famous African commercial district

Those moments are precious to me; it’s very rare to find a setting that allows you to find common ground so easily with strangers. I’m an introvert and I struggle to start conversations, but not that much at the salon. Does quicker hairstyling mean we’d lose those moments of sisterhood? These exchanges take place because of the amount of time required for our hairstyles, that’s how we naturally socialize. What if braiding became an extinct skill because everyone preferred the ease of crochet braiding? Imagine a future where you walk into a salon and nobody knows how to braid by hand anymore.

Braiding trends, like all fashion styles, come and go, and some styles can never be crochet braided anyway. The trendiest style this summer was cornrows with wooden beads at the ends, which is nothing but the revival of a style made popular by Stevie Wonder in the 70’s, and again by Alicia Keys in the early 2000’s. But if we’re to compare present times to the 70’s, it is important to acknowledge the improvement in hair care routines. When my parents wore an Afro, they didn’t know about Aloe Vera or Shea butter, they thought mineral oil filled Dax was the best solution.

When I stopped relaxing my hair, 8 years ago, I had nowhere to turn to for advice, we had no knowledgeable hairstylists, and hair products for natural hair were scarce in Belgium and France, so I did what anyone in the 21st century would do, I searched the internet.

I joined this francophone Facebook page called « Beauté Afro », where women exchanged tips on what concoctions worked best for them. It turns out that most of the information we shared was just about hair secrets that we had collectively forsaken for innovative cosmetics, which were seemingly a better option.

In that sense, innovation and technology have empowered and reconnected me with long lost things, that even previous generations were unaware of. In my mind, technology equated to the loss of traditions and culture but I was proven wrong. The information age has provided Afro descendants with the possibility to get reacquainted with hair knowledge.

I am somewhat pacified now, I realize that innovation won’t always bring about the complete disappearance of culture. Just because we find new ways to simplify our daily lives doesn’t mean African traditions will die. At some point in time, traditions themselves emerged as lifestyle innovations that became habits. So why should I be anxious about a river running its due course? I should probably call my hairdresser and make an appointment for crochet braids if it doesn’t work out for me, I can still safely revert back to what always did.

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Kay Lenga is a Belgian born Congolese woman, whose many interests include visual arts, music, edifying conversations, entrepreneurship and macarons.