The African head scarf, a work of art

The African head scarf, supposed to match clothes, comes in different fabrics, forms and styles. The target is to highlight the creativity and the beauty of African women.

Its name differs depending on the country: tukwi in Botswana; duku in Ghana and Malawi; musuro in Mali; musor gele in Nigeria and Senegal. Whatever its name is, its main role is the same everywhere: protecting women’ s hair from the elements of nature, although according to the African cosmology the head scarf is considered as a tool of divine protection. According to a Malian tradition, in fact, married women attract river and forest evil spirits which enter inside them through the head. The head scarf, therefore, by covering women’s heads, protects them from evil spirits.

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Over time, the head scarf has turned into a tool of communication. A head scarf with the end leaning to the right indicates a woman is married and the one with the end leaning to the left indicates a woman is single. The wearing of head scarves at home, at the market, at the church or on special occasions such as birthdays, weddings or a business lunch, is a crown of beauty for African women.

The various styles of head scarves

There are over a hundred ways to tie and style a scarf; the”Babaguida”, “Melekeni” and “Jamaican” styles are among the best known, the Queen Nefertiti-inspired head wrap was extremely popular in the sixties of last century.

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In those years, from east to west, passing through the center of Africa, the head scarf became a symbol of emancipation of the continent.
The style of scarves depend on the occasions they are worn. The common scarves are generally made from the same material as the dress the woman is wearing. Scarves or shawls in polyester can also be used as head wraps. There is also the “Prét-a porter” (“Ready-to-wear”) type, for the fashion followers, such as the “Gran Switzerland”, “Super Jubilee” and “Hayes Gele” usually manufactured in Switzerland. These type of scarves, very colorful and embroidered with drawings, have been preserved by African women who have passed this traditional item down through generations.

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The tailor-made scarves are for special occasions, such as traditional marriages and other important celebrations. In Nigeria, these special scarves are made from the famous aso-oke, a hand-loomed fabric.

Art on top of the head

A head wrap is itself a work of art, since the process of wrapping requires much patience and precision to achieve an artistic touch so those women who do not have much time or patience for the wrapping process, therefore, renounce wearing scarves. The scarf motif often reflects a woman’s social status. The more elaborated the design of a duku is, the higher the social status of the woman who wears it is and the scarf motif can also identify which region the woman is from.


A scarf can also reflect the variety of taste, as well as the fashion sense of each woman. The type of creased and large scarves worn by women today, originates from the Yoruba people of Nigeria.Wearing one of these scarves can be the perfect solution for a woman who wants to be beautiful and pay tribute to her African heritage. Nowadays, women from all over the world can wear these scarves and feel like Nigerian “queens” on any occasion.

How to wrap a scarf?

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A badly wrapped scarf can jeopardize the look of a dress. That is why, there are gele experts in Nigeria who can be compared to the celebrity hairdressers in the United States and Europe. Creativity is the key word in the process of wrapping.
There are five steps to wrap a scarf correctly: in front of a mirror, center the scarf on the crown of your head, cross the right end of the scarf over the left tip under your chin, bring both ends of the scarf to the back of your neck. Tie at the back of the neck using a gentle double knot. Wrap the loose drape sitting under the knot around the knot to tuck it in neatly done. (J-AY)


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