Few hairdressing contests anywhere in the world could be quite as colourful as this one in Colombia.

Women and girls of all ages sat patiently as brightly coloured fabrics and beads were weaved into their hair during the ninth Afro-hairdressers’ competition in Cali.

The vibrant styles have a poignant history however as they originate from the time of slavery, when Afro-Colombian women sat to comb their children’s hair after a day of backbreaking work.


African slaves first began being imported into Colombia by the Spaniards in the 16th century as labour for their burgeoning empire.

The slaves were forced to work in dangerous conditions in places like gold mines, sugar cane plantations and on cattle ranches.

African Colombians continued to face discrimination even after the abolition of slavery in the country in 1851.

Communities of former slaves were forced to live in jungle areas in order to protect themselves, while the Colombian state also promoted the ‘whitening’ of the African population in order to rid them of their distinctive heritage.

In a bid to cling on to their customs and traditions, large groups of Afro-Colombians went deep into jungle areas of Colombia – where many still live.

The ethnic group makes up about a fifth of Colombia’s population – with a large proportion living in states on the country’s Caribbean and Pacific coasts.

Afro-Colombians have played a key role in influencing Colombian music and popular culture.


Musical genres like Cumbia have African origins while several Afro-Colombians have won fame and fortune playing for the country’s national football team.

One of the most famous Afro-Colombian footballers, Faustino Asprilla, played for Newcastle United in England and Parma in Italy.