Fulani Braids (Braids With Beads), Everything You Need to Know

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Fulani braids are probably the hottest Black hairstyle of 2017 (sorry crochet braids, looks like you’ve had your moment). If you’re not currently rocking this look, you’ve most likely seen someone rocking it because it’s that fly. Before I get into the details of 2017’s most popular braided hairstyle, let’s get the nomenclature out of the way.

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Fulani Braids vs Alicia Keys Braids vs Braids with Beads

This look is essentially braids with beads, but the braid patterns used are inspired by the Fulani people–a primarily Muslim, traditionally pastoral ethnic group in Africa that’s scattered throughout West Africa and parts of East Africa. Alicia Keys sported this style of braids when she made her music debut in 2001 with the award-winning song Fallin’.

It’s hard to say what triggered the resurgence of this look in the US 16 years later, but if I were to take a guess, I’d say the growth of the natural hair movement made simple cornrowed styles (i.e. Goddess braids, two French braids, etc.) popular among adults because they’re protective styles, and that has led to more elaborate plaited styles, like Fulani Braids, becoming popular. Origin of the resurgence aside, many do refer to the look as Alicia Keys Braids. Who can blame them; she’s a public figure. It’s easy to associate a look to someone you know. However, doing so has come at the dismay of some Fulani people. I’ve seen some Fulani Nigerians commenting on Youtube, expressing concern that calling the look Alicia Keys Braids strips it of its heritage. Most likely, as with Ghana braids and Senegalese twists, as this style gets even more popular, its correct name will become more commonly known. It does, however, take people correcting the use of the wrong name.

What Makes Fulani Braids Fulani Braids

As mentioned earlier, the braid pattern of Fulani Braids is what makes it distinct. There are four common elements to the pattern:

  1. One cornrow braided down the center of your head from front to back
  2. One or two cornrows on each side of your head braided from back to front, with the tails hanging on each side of your head
  3. A braid wrapped around the perimeter of your head (although the American take of this look often leaves it out)
  4. Beads, cowry shells, gold clips dispersed throughout the braids

Four of the Most Popular Fulani Braid Styles

There are probably too many variations of Fulani Braid styles to name. Honestly, your imagination is the limit when it comes to this hairstyle, but vlogger Kersti Pitre has created how-to videos of some of the most popular versions of this look.

Braided Swoop

braided swoop

This look is probably on the ‘lower’ end of the Fulani Braid spectrum. The forward cornrows just above the ears and the beads give it a Fulani touch. Other than that, this look is a relatively simple braid pattern. All the cornrows are braided from one side of your head to the other (accept for the forward plaits above the ear). Here Kersti throws in some honey gold highlights and added hair is fed in for length.

Braided High Bun

easy fulani tribal braids with bun

This look is one that probably takes the least amount of time because it’s created with jumbo braids. Kersti creates this by creating six jumbo box braids in the back,  three in the front, and two forward plaits on either side of her head. What’s nice about this look, beside it being quick to do, is it gives you a bit of flexibility since you can easily wear the braids up or down.

Simple Fulani Braided Style With Purple Highlights

simple festival braids fulani braids

Another simple look, this one consists of purple-highlighted box braids in the back of your head and cornrows in the front. The pattern in the front is made up of one ‘center part’ cornrow and horizontal cornrows that frame her face.

Fulani Braids With a Crown

fulani braids alicia keys braids with crown

Here’s where things get a bit more complicated (but with a beautiful result). This style also has box braids in the back but pencil-width box braids, so there are a lot more of them. It also has the quintessential one cornrow in the vertical center of her head. Kersti braids four horizontal cornrows (two on each side) going from center to the sides. And then two horizontal ones (one on each side) going from the side to the center. She then ties these back two cornrows into a single knot, so it forms a sort of tiara on her head. From there, she blings up the look.

Fulani Braids Tutorial

If you’re confident about your braiding and parting skills, you may want to give Fulani Braids a try. There are tons of tutorials out there but I like Kersti’s. Fulani tutorials, like the one below (and the ones above), primarily show how to create the braid pattern. So if don’t know how to braid or add in hair, you’ll need to find tutorials for that, although Kersti goes into how to feed in the hair into a cornrow.

What you need:

  • At least four packs of hair (Kersti used four in this tutorial and she has thin hair, so if your hair is thicker you’ll likely need more)
  • Rat tail comb
  • Beader
  • Hair jewelry (here’s a pack for $4 on Amazon), cowrie shells, beads
  • Gel (optional)
  • Rubber bands (to secure the beads at ends of the braids)

A Note About Feed In Braids

Feed in braids, or rather, feeding in braids is a method of adding hair extensions into your braids. Unlike the traditional method, the extensions aren’t added all at once at the beginning of the braid, they’re added little by little as you braid, which results in a plait that’s thin at the top and thicker towards the bottom. Some people, like Kersti, feed in hair at the tails of her cornrow, using only her real hair for the cornrow itself.

Getting Fulani Braids at the Salon

If DIY Fulani braids aren’t your cup of tea, you can, of course, get the style done by a professional hairstylist. (If you’re in NYC, you can get it done by one of our stylists). Here are some tips on how to ensure your braids come out exactly as you want them to:

  • Decide on the style
  • Have pictures of the front AND the back of the hair (I’ve included front and back photos of the styles above)
  • Specify the the length and width of the braids
  • Decide if you want color or highlights and be prepared with hair that’s a color that your stylist might not have
  • Come with already washed and blown out hair (if you’re not getting that done at the salon)
  • After the first braid, check if there’s too much tension. Do this again after the first five braids. If the braids feel too tight, ask your stylist to redo them. (Note: once your entire head is done, you’ll feel more tension than you do when just part of it is done, so times the tension by two in the early stages of the braids)
  • Come prepared with any hair jewelry you want and direct your stylist how you’d like the applied


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An entrepreneur at heart, I founded Unruly in 2013 after spending six great years in advertising. I’m über lazy when it comes to doing my hair so I’m always looking for easy and quick ways to care and style my hair.

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  1. You said it: *African* American. Without the African you wouldn’t have known how to braid as such; you inherited that aspect of your culture from your ancestors, some of whom might have been Fulani. So regardless of how you’re used to calling these types of braids, you should nevertheless acknowledge their origin. Because even if you’ve been doing them before Alicia Keys made them popular, Fulani women have been doing them before you.

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