Bantu knots are beautiful. Entertainers like Mel B., Rihanna, and Beyoncé have made them look effortlessly regal. However, I have felt apprehensive about trying them, since I wasn't sure if I had the correct face symmetry to pull off the centuries-old style.
My trepidation settled when I scrolled by a video of Ev'Yan Whitney Bantu-knotting her hair. Her caption explained that her Bantu knots were "an expression of [her] radical Blackness." I was inspired.
At a time when Blackness, specifically Black hairstyles, are appropriated for fun by celebrities, fashion designers, and everyday people—because you know, Black hair is ghetto until Bantu knots, cornrows, or box braids, etc. land on the heads of white models sashaying down the runway—embracing our hair is a form of resistance.
Protective styling during a global pandemic has been challenging. I've tried mini twists, braiding my own box braids (which was an epic fail), installing faux locs (this was also a fail), and Bantu knots. Bantu knots are the only hairstyle that worked out. My 4c hair thrives in this style. That can likely be credited to the minimal daily manipulation and the hydration my Bantu knots lock in.
There is an extra layer of pride Bantu knots gives me as a Black woman. Like many Black Americans, my family's African origin stories were erased due to the atrocious Atlantic slave trade. Embracing my hair's natural texture and styling my hair in styles traced back to Africa help ground me in my roots, even if I can't see how far they stretch.
I imagine there are quite a few different ways to achieve Bantu knots. However, I'm going to share the technique and products that have worked for me.
What Are Bantu Knots?
The Zulu people of southern Africa originated Bantu knots, a hairstyle where the hair is sectioned off, twisted, and wrapped in a such a way that the hair stacks upon itself to form a spiraled knot. Bantu is a universal word that translates to “people” in over 400 African languages.
Wash, Condition, and Layer Hair Products
I like to start with cleansed and deep-conditioned hair for a well-nourished foundation. You can also try Bantu knots on stretched, dry hair, too. The types of products you use and how you layer them will vary depending on your hair type. I apply my hair products in the shower since I have low porosity hair. My curl guru and colorist, Christina Kelley, recommended this method to ensure my hair soaks up the ingredients. The right cocktail of ingredients helps ensure your hair stays hydrated and set without unraveling. I start with Miss Jessie's Leave-In Condish. then follow-up with Miss Jessie's Honey Curls and add a touch of Bread Beauty Supply's Everyday Gloss to seal my ends.
Section the Hair
I section my hair into four square sections and secure them with clips. As you look at my parts, you might be saying, Girl, those need a redo. Don't judge me too harshly. I don't work too hard on creating straight parts, mainly because I'm just a girl doing my hair at home with no expectations, and that takes the pressure for perfection off the table. Hydration and low manipulation are my two priorities.
Keep a continuous spray water bottle nearby to rewet the hair.
Twirling each section into a Bantu knot is a popular method. However, I prefer to two-strand twist, then wind my twist into a knot. This method keeps my hair from getting tangled, which happened to me on my first try with this style. I free-part as I go through each of my four sections. Sometimes I end up with eight knots, but there are also times when I end up with more. I gauge based on how my style starts to transform in the mirror—each time is different.
When two-strand twisting, the tighter the twist, the better. Keep in mind, a tight twist doesn't mean tension—it's a delicate balance. Hairstylist Ro Morgan lays it out for us: "In order to get smooth, sleek Bantu Knots, without adding too much tension to your hair and scalp, I suggest using the Design Essentials Honey Curl Forming Custard and not twisting too tightly." Like the Design Essentials custard, Morgan also recommends my fave, Miss Jessie's Honey Curls, for its custard-like base.
She continues, "Try to avoid over-manipulating your hair by not re-twisting daily." I am guilty of this, though I do find that when I use custard or gel, my knots stay in place even through the night, as long as I wrap my hair with a silk scarf. Morgan suggested an additional pro-tip: secure each knot with a 1.25" Blend Rite Toy Pin at night.
Wrapping your Bantu knot in a way that works for your hair density and length takes a little trial and error. To make my knot, I use my right hand to wrap and my left hand to hold my knot's base. Once the knot is fully wrapped around, I tuck it with my fingernail or the tip of my rat tail comb (and, as Morgan suggested, you can fasten the knot with a bobby pin before bed). Continue doing this in each section you've created around your head, and you're all set.