We accept

Braiding As Pathway To Mathematics Cultural Studies Essay

For centuries men and women have used their hair not only as a way of fashions but also to display their culture and levels of sophistication. People may have rarely considered the mathematics involved in their hairstyles. The partnership between mathematics and hair styles may be a great way to relate mathematics to students. For teenagers in the United States, particularly African America students, it might be very significant to utilize braided hairstyles such as cornrows to demonstrate mathematical properties. The goal of this study is to know what kind of mathematics is involved with hair braiding in case the hair braiders know about the mathematics that they are using. Some subtopics appealing would be who could find the relationship between hair braiding and mathematics useful, with what age should the connection be presented to students.

Literature Review

According to an online site constructed by Ron Eglash (n. d) cornrow braids may date back again to 500 B. C. and are not limited by Africa alone. These hairstyles have ties to the culture of African through "religion, kinship, status, age, ethnicity, and other attributes of identity" (Eglash, year?). Braiding allows for communication between the braider and the individual whose hair is getting braided. In most cases this is actually the way that information about the family and community may be shared, and a time and energy to socialize. The styles and patterns of the cornrows can vary greatly from a linear pattern to the one that involves more elaborate patterns such as spirals and curves. In this manner "mathematics is also a normal part of African hairstyles" (Eglash, year?).

The traditions associated with hair braiding that started in Africa could actually come to the United States. This was no small feat sense the heads of the African were shaved prior to entering the New World. The main reason for the hair cutting was sanitary reasons but this is still devastating to the Africans traveling the Middle Passage to the New World. Many of the African that worked inside of the homes of the plantation owners were required to wear their hair neatly and in most cases used braids, plaits and cornrows to keep the appearance with their hair neat.

Black people were in a position to straighten their hair following the civil war when Madam C. J. Walker developed a safer system for hair straightening. BLACK adults mainly wore their hair straight while children continued to use the cornrows and other braided styles to create their hair. Through the 1950 DARK-COLORED began to go away from the straightening techniques and back to more afro centric hair styles. It was at this time that some artists and others began to understand that some of the braiding styles in the United States were also employed by women in Africa. "The complex geometric emphasis in new cornrow style is again an important reminder that math is as much an integral part of African heritage as Black hair" (Eglash ).

The geometric concepts utilized by braiders are translations, reflections, rotations and dilations. A braid can be thought of as an iteration of plaits, where each plait is a type of "y" form (Eglash). As braids get smaller or larger to make a design this is recognized as dilation. To have the curvy or spiral patterns in the designs of the cornrows, rotations are employed. Translations are being used to look for the space between each completed braid and iteration.

Patterns can be seen in many areas of nature and are contained in the study of mathematics. A few of these patterns that are in nature can also be recreated by humans by means of hair braiding. The connections between mathematics and the cultural practices of individuals are a part of a branch of mathematics known as ethnomathematics. By looking at ethnomathematics in this way permits the educators to make connections to the lives of students to the mathematics that can be used in the classroom. To understand ethnomathematics a person must go "into a community, examining its languages and values as well as its experience with mathematical ideas" (Gilmer, 1997). Once a person switches into an African American community they could start to see the "geometrical designs and patterns commonly found in hair braiding and weaving" (Gilmer, 1997).

In a report conducted by Gloria Gilmer (1997) she wished to determine "what can the hair braiding enterprise donate to mathematics education and conversely what can mathematics education contribute to the hair braiding enterprise?" (Gilmer, 1997). After interviewing several hair stylist and their customers, she realized that the "idea of tessellations is widely utilized by the hair braiders and weavers however, not thought of by them as being related to mathematics" (Gilmer, 1997). The methods used to divide the hair can be seen as tessellations of triangles and squares on the scalps of the customers. The method that was used to divide the hair determines the movement of the hair when braided.

Gilmer and more want to relate mathematics to the daily lives of students in a hope to make the mathematics more interesting. It was also mentioned that there was a subconscious efforts of White to help make the cornrow styles symmetric. "Most hairstylists do not know how much mathematics they are employing" (Math, 2007). A number of the concepts found in the hairstyles are algebra to regulate how much false hair to include into weaves and hair extensions. Physics is employed to attach hair weaves and undoubtedly the geometry is used in the look of the braids.



The shop was situated in an urban area. Within the shop there have been six stations. Each station had a swivel chair, a mirror, and a couple of drawers with a little counter. There were also three stoles, that the workers would positions at the stations when they were working. In addition they had a couch in the front of the shop for customers to work with when they arrived. In the back of the shop there have been two shampoo bowls and a little wall dividing what appeared to be a rest area. There was also a restroom for the reason that area. Leading of the store had glass windows. In the windows there were poster of people with braided hair designs. There was also a tv set with cable. The walls of the shop were painted a green color. In the walls there have been a few posters of Africa and a painting with a flower design.

The shop was open seven days a week. The employees would come in as soon as 7am and stay as late as 10 pm depending on what the client was getting done. They would normally take their last customer at 7 pm. The doors of the shop were kept locked. (There have been men that could head into the shop and harass a few of the customers was the explanation for locking the doors. ). In addition they had synthetic and human hair for weaving which differs from braiding hair because the weaving hairs is bounded with a track that is utilized to sew or glue the hair into place.



This study used one female participant as a primary focus. She was 29 and had no children. She had 4 brothers and she was the only girl besides her mother in her immediate family. Her mother had not been in a position to braid hair. So her mother would send her to her aunts to get her hair braided to visit school. This was a requirement. Her hair must be neat and her clothes pressed as part of uniform inspection for her to attend school. Eventually she and her friends would braid the other person hair to allow them to go to school. Many times hair braiding was used in an effort to exchange gifts. She's been braiding for approximately 20 years but also for 7 years in america. She came here to visit school and used her hair braiding techniques in an effort to make money for university on students visa. She explained that it was impossible on her behalf parents to send her money for daily expenses that tuition didn't cover and a family group friend informed her that she could braid hair for extra money.

The money was very good and she only were required to pay who owns the shop a set amount for the utilization of the chair every week. The total amount would range from $100 to $150 weekly. She would also have to pay for the hair so this would change the weekly amount to about $200 to$250 week. She considered this to be a good price and could bring home over $200 a week while working in your free time and still going to school. (She didn't state how much she made now or if she had to pay taxes on this income. Also she didn't state how she was able to stay in the country after her student visa ran out. )

Study design/ methods

During this study observation and interview techniques were utilized. During the majority of the visit the participant was observed without interruption and notes were taken on how business was conducted. During the middle of the time in the shop a conversational interviewing technique was used with a few directed questions. These questions were used to open the dialogue and allowed for the conversation to take a natural course. During the end of that time period spent observations technique was used again to see how the transaction was finalized.

Data Collect Instrument:

Below are the leading questions that were used through the interview process. Not all questions were directly answered but this allowed for the conversation between the participant and interviewer to begin with.

Questions asked during interview:

How long have you been braiding hair?

How did you learn to braid hair?

How have you any idea how much hair to make use of?

How would you intertwine the colored hair into the braid in such an intricate pattern?

Are you in a position to braid a particular range of braids?

Do you take into account you to ultimately be proficient at mathematics?


This study was conducted on the Wednesday morning around 7am. An appointment was scheduled for cornrows to be achieved on that Saturday prior. The hair braider had a cellphone that she used to schedule her clients in addition to the shop's phone. Observation was used to look for the procedures used in the hair braiding look for the first hour. Through the second hour questions were asked to spark a conversation. During the last hour observations were conducted.

Data Observations

During my trip to the salon there is only one worker there. She opened the entranceway and asked me to sit back. She then asked me how I wanted my hair to be braided (she has a bit associated with an accent). I informed her that I needed cornrows. She then showed me a book with pictures of braid styles. In the book that they had many women styles. Lots of the styles were very intricate. Some had braids that curved around the head and into a pony tail or some type of intricate design at the top. Others had multiple colors. Some had the braids braided all the way till the ends and other styles were left lose. A number of the braids were curly at the ends and others were straight.

Once I selected my styles I had been told that I possibly could have small, medium or large braids. I wasn't really sure of the differences in size so I asked for the purchase price difference. The prices were $65 for the large, $85 for the medium, and $105 for the tiny. I selected the medium. She also asked me which color that I needed I selected a combo of black and red synthetic hair. She also asked easily wanted two rows or one. I selected two. Then she started out the hair braiding process. While braiding the hair she either stood up or used the stool.

She divided my hair into two parts by parting my hair horizontally. For the bottom part of my hair she proceeded to braid the hair with 10 vertical braids. This took her about thirty minutes to complete. I realized that she did not add the colors as I requested when she finished underneath half. She apologized and said that she'd add in the colors as requested in the most notable portions but didn't redo underneath half. She then commenced to complete the most notable portion of the hair. She started in the corner of my head close to the ear. While she was braiding she talked if you ask me a little about the news headlines that was on and just how that america was always entering other countries saying that Muslim women were oppressed because they decided to cover their hair and bodies. She was very passionate about this discussion. She also talked to other personnel as they arrived in another language.

I asked if she counted to learn how many braids to do for the reason that bottom sections she stated that she hardly ever really counted that part however in most cases it would range from 8 to 12 with respect to the size and shape of the customers head. I asked how she was able to keep carefully the hair from unraveling. She stated that she used a technique of making a little almost invisible knot with the hair. She also mentioned that in some instances clients wanted styles that would unfit their head. I asked what was meant by that and she mentioned that "the scale and shape of a person's head and forehead including their hair line really determines what the style would appear to be on a customer. " She mentioned that "sometimes a client would come together with a picture and I would try to inform them that style wont look the same about them. " Many clients would insists upon this styles anyway and then be frustrated when they did not come out correctly.

I then asked how she was able to recreate styles from pictures. She said that she basically knew just how many braids to do on each portion of the hair which she could simple take a look at an image and recreate it. She thought of this ability as a surprise not something that was taught but something that you were "blessed" with. She thought that "skills are education"; something that may be taught. She felt a person could develop the skills to braid hair but that to really have the ability to do the intricate designs and patterns that she could create you'd to be gifted. She thought of her skill as "natural". She felt like she was given this "gift from God" to have a service to exchange. She compared this ability to skills such as sewing, gardening, and carpentry. She said that everyone in her country was presented with a gift so that they would be able to have a service to exchange to get the items they want. She felt like every one of the gifts take "a lot of discipline" to be able to move beyond only a skill.

She also made some comments about having the ability to recognize the angles of the head to regulate how a style would look on a customer. She felt like she used a lot of mathematics in creating the designs but she didn't get it done consciously. She did have an idea of the amount of braids which were in each section of a specific style but all of t this depended after how big is the folks forehead, head and texture with their hair. She did recognize that hair braiding has many patterns.

Once she was done braiding my hair she went thru and "cleaned" the hair by cutting off the stray hairs with a scissors. When then trimmed the ends of the hair to ensure that the hair was even. Then she took the ends of the hair and dipped them into bowling hot water. She used a towel to dry the hair. Then she put mousse on the top of the hair to make sure that any strays would lay out. Then she sprayed the entire head with oil sheen. Then she gave me a mirror to look at her work close up and it was exactly what the picture looked like. In the long run of the time there she collected the payment of $85 (I did so make sure you give her a tip of $10).

Data Analysis

It appears that the hairstylist knew a lot about mathematics and had made several connections but as she explained she had not been alert to these mathematical connections. She was able to replicate a hair with only a glance which showed that she had a great memory and spatial sense. She seemed to have a fairly well defined procedure for braiding the hair and conducting business. It had been evident in the intricate designs that she used lines and curves when braiding hair. She was also able to intertwine colors into the style. She didn't pay much focus on the amount of hair that she was using to braid the hair but she felt that she was pretty consistent in the amount of hair that she used. It had been also fairly interesting that she felt that she had a gift for hair braiding that could not have been taught, since there are several hair schools teaching those skills. It might have easy been assumed that the amount of time she spent braiding hair was directly correlated to her talents in that area and I would assume that the styles that she is in a position to create now are not the same styles that she could create when she was younger. The mathematics that she used was everywhere. She used mathematics in the way that she divided the hair into two sections, in the selections of the levels of hair to be utilized to add to each cornrows, in the amount of plaits that she used before altering the colors and to make sure that the was not too hot concerning damage the hair of the client. So however the hairstylists may well not be familiar with the amount of mathematics she use, there can be an abundance of mathematics used in the hair braiding process.


The correlation between geometry and hair braiding is very helpful in the school setting. This information can be employed to nearly every age group. The connections between mathematics and hairstyles are the sort of connections that could bring mathematics to the everyday lives of the students. Hair braiding is something that many young people see in their day to day lives or face themselves as part of their culture. Topics that could be used are as simple as lines or a complex as fractals. In any case the correlations are there for the students and teachers to explore.

It may also be of interest to let those that are hair braiders understand how much mathematically skills they use in their daily work. This information would be of interest to them in ways to create confidence in their mathematical skills that could be used in their children. This might decrease the number of men and women who use mathematics everyday but do not assume that they are good in mathematics because of a school course where they were not successful in.

More than 7 000 students trust us to do their work
90% of customers place more than 5 orders with us
Special price $5 /page
Check the price
for your assignment