In Nigeria, a headwrap is called a gele, a Yoruba word. Ghanaian women call theirs dukus, while for South African and Namibian women, it is a doek.
Originating from sub-Saharan Africa, headwraps were first worn by women during the early 1700s as indications of their age, marital status, spirituality and prosperity. In Nigeria, the style of gele varies if a woman is single or married. If the end goes to the right, she’s married and if it tilts to the left, she’s single.
Headwraps also serve a very practical purpose to protect from the sun and keep cool in warm weather. A symbol of slavery in colonial America, headwrap had a resurgence in the 1970s, during the Black Power Movement.
Susan Cumberbatch has been doing headwraps for more than 20 years. Self-taught, she found it a great style option when she didn’t want to comb it. Headwraps are now popular show pieces at the annual Emancipation celebrations and have become more popular, with the younger woke generation and the natural hair movement, with a shift toward traditional African culture.
Cumberbatch explained that for women with short hair, a base is needed to build upon for the wrap, such as a stocking fill with paper to create volume.
In these series of images, Cumberbatch demonstrates five different headwraps on model Terneille Samuel Herbert, each one an add on to the previous wrap, using pins to keep the fabric in place.