How Cornrows Were Used As Slaves Map To Freedom

According to history, Cornrows was originated in Africa and can be dated back to 3000 BC.

Ancient Africans wore cornrows as a sign or order, agriculture, and civilization.

In the 19th century, Ethiopian males joined the fashion game and began to wear the rich plaits.

This trend soon spread to other countries. In most of West Africa, cornrows can be used to represent age, wealth, marital status, religious beliefs, and kinship.

History however explains why Westerners have considered our rich ‘afro’ hair inferior. This stigma and bias go back to colonial times.

During the colonial age, slave masters were determined to mitigate slaves from their cultural identity so slaves were forced to cut their hair to appear more sanitary.

However, some slaves turned to cornrows as a practical choice during labour hours and a means to pay homage to their roots.

The hairstyles soon became steeped in rebellion and resilience when the slaves found a way to hide escape maps in their cornrows. This rebellion actually began in South America.

Portuguese king turned slave, Benkos Bioho made his first escape attempt when the boat he was being brought in sank but was recaptured shortly after.

How Cornrows Were Used As Slaves Map To Freedom

However, his second escape attempt with ten other slaves in 1599 was successful and he founded the first free town in South America.

After creating the first free town which was called ‘San Basilio de Palenque’, Benkos created an intelligence network to organize escapes and lead slaves to the liberated territory.

He also fought with his people to protect San Basilio de Palenque because slaves were not allowed to read or write, Benkos created a new language.

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He also came up with the idea that female slaves could create, hide and transfer maps through their cornrows.

In a conversation with the Washington Post, Anglo-American Ziomara Aprilla Garcia explained some of the ways slaves used the cornrows to relay messages.

The “departes” hairstyle was a signal for escaping. The hairstyle was made with thick, tight braids very close to the scalp and tied into buns at the top.

Another style was made with curved braids, braided tightly on their heads.

The curved braids were used to signify the roads that would be used for escape.

Slaves also hid seeds and gold in their braids, which offered a means for survival after escaping to liberated territories.

Thanks to Benko’s ingenuity, a lot of slaves were saved and freed.

In 1605, after several failed attempts to defeat Benkos Bioho, the Governor of Cartegena offered Benkos Bioho a peace treaty when the freed slaves started to call him King.

The treaty agreement demanded that Benkos ceased accepting and protecting runaway slaves.

After much negotiations, Peace was restored in 1619 but Spaniards broke the treaty by capturing Benkos when he was found walking in the city.

The Government considered Benkos popularity and respect a threat hence, he was hanged and quartered in 1621.

Being the first free town in the Americas, the city of San Basilio de Palenque still exists and has a population of about 3500 people.

It was later declared a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 2005.



8 thoughts on “How Cornrows Were Used As Slaves Map To Freedom”
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