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Braids of Barbarism

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We shall pillage and plunder... then braid each other's hair while painting our nails!

While professional armies today and even going back to ancient times prefer a short haircut for practical reasons, less organized and regimented warriors often preferred long hair, generally in a braided style. This is especially common on the Proud Warrior Race Guy, the kind of barbarian to wear a Beard of Barbarism and Barbarian Longhair, and the Braids, Beads and Buckskins Native American or his Fantasy Counterpart Culture equivalent.

In such cultures, a man's hair, and often its elaborate presentation, is a matter of pride, and may even be treated as an integral part of his masculinity, with the braiding of a boy's hair being part of the rite of passage between boyhood to manhood, or being properly blooded as a warrior. In some cultures the number, style and/or pattern of braids might signify rank, number of kills or children, or something else. Cutting a warrior's braids off is a symbolic castration, done to humiliate a prisoner one has no respect for or to signify casting the shorn one from the brotherhood of warriors, for crimes or lack of honor. Cutting one's own braids off signifies rejection of warrior-hood, either giving up the sword or a symbol of abandoning the rules of honor, for instance after one has sworn revenge by any means necessary.

A related important hairstyle was the Samurai style in feudal Japan, with the top-knot only permitted to their caste.

Compare Wild Hair and Dreadlock Warrior. Contrast Sailor's Ponytail.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Old Germany/Germania in Hetalia: Axis Powers has braids, and since he represents the Germanic Tribes he would definitely count.

    Comic Books 
  • Obelix's pigtails in Asterix are only one of the many braids sported by the inhabitants of the Gaulish village.
  • There's a variation in ElfQuest where Clearbrook's long hair is braided by her lifemate One-Eye. After rescuing her from the Gliders' captivity he is horrified to find that they have bound her hair up, and painstakingly re-braids it. When One-Eye dies she cuts off her braid and lays it upon his body. Ironically, it's only during this period, when she is driven by revenge, that she really acts like a warrior. Later on she bonds with Treestump, and once her hair has grown back he braids it again.
    • On the male side is Redlance, never seen without his braids. Subverted because he is a peaceful tree-shaper who rare goes into battle.

    Films — Animation 
  • In How to Train Your Dragon, the rude, crude and bellicose Vikings seem to love braiding their hair and beards. In the sequel, even Hiccup is sporting some in his hair—although it seems they're something his girlfriend, Astrid, likes to do when they talk rather than being a deliberate decision by him. Indeed, Word of God claims that Hiccup doesn't actually like the braids in his hair—he just puts up with them for his girlfriend's sake.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • During the climax of Avengers: Endgame, Thor's usage of Mjolnir and Stormbreaker at the same time mystically turns his Beard of Sorrow into a much tidier beard with elaborate braids fitting a Viking warrior.
  • Some of the dwarves in Peter Jackson's adaption of The Hobbit have braided their beards in various different styles.
  • Orc warchief Durotan from Warcraft (2016) has his hair in two long braids. Played with in that he's the most civillized of all orcs.

  • Barbarian Hero Rom from The Barbarian and the Sorceress has his Barbarian Longhair and Beard of Barbarism braided.
  • In P.C. Hodgell's Chronicles of the Kencyrath, the Merikit tribesmen wear their hair braided, with one braid on the left-hand side for every man killed, and one on the right for every child fathered. When heroine Jame is adopted into the tribe, Gran Cyd braids her hair as a warrior woman and smears it in the blood of her kills.
  • In the Hurog duology, one single braid is the traditional male hairstyle of Shavig, the northern country in which castle Hurog is located. Ward mentions that it's considered a bit old-fashioned, as most men wear their hair open like it's done at the court of the high king, but still unremarkable enough that no one would say anything about a middle aged man wearing his hair in that style. While the people are shown to be pretty civilised, it is often mentioned that their ancestors were viking-style barbarians, and they still have the reputation.
  • This trope is played with in the Deryni works:
    • Braids and braided sidelocks are worn by eleventh-century Torenthi men. In addition to signalling an exotic otherness, they are menacing by association since Torenth has menaced Gwynedd for centuries. In earlier periods (tenth century particularly), such sidelock braids are also worn by noblewomen in Gwynedd (Camber's daughter Evaine is shown wearing them); these are often women descended from the Torenthi conquerors of the ninth century.
    • In eleventh-century Gwynedd, borderers are depicted wearing braids, and this style is considered a fashion cue for barbarism (along with the tartans/tweeds) by lowlanders. When Kelson adopts the braid and Dhugal joins him at court, he seems to take on some of the "barbaric" power, much as he openly uses his "forbidden" Deryni powers. Notably, the male Servants of Saint Camber, a quasi-religious order devoted to a famous mage and a throwback to the tenth century, wear the braid and call it the g'dula. It also marks the contrast between Kelson and Conall (who retains the short-cropped style of his father's generation). Conall's younger brothers and other young men of Kelson's court actually adopt the braid themselves as a tribute to their young sovereign and his popular foster brother.
  • In The Lord of the Rings, the Rohirrim wear their hair in long plaits. At least some other cultures seem to have long-haired men too, though, so there may not be any particular cultural implication.
  • Many of the Proud Warrior Race Guys from the Malazan Book of the Fallen sport variations of Barbarian Longhair, Braids Of Barbarism and Dreadlocks. Among the Tiste Edur, when a warrior is cast out from their tribe, his head gets shaved completely and treated magically so that the hair will never grow back again.
  • Floki from The Monk and the Viking wears his long red hair in braids. He prides himself on them.
  • In C. J. Cherryh's Morgaine Cycle, Vanye's father cuts off his braids when he casts him out as an outlaw ilin. Morgaine much later braids Vanye's hair in warrior style again, as a symbol that she believes his debt repaid and his status restored.
  • Rai Kirah: Derzhi Proud Warrior Race Guys have to win the right to braid their hair through prowess in battle, and those who fail to do so are heavily stigmatized.
  • Cap'n Tramun Clogg from the Redwall novel Martin the Warrior, who is described as having many braids in his hair and beard, may or may not be a subversion of the 'barbaric' part of this trope. On one hand, he is a villainous pirate who goes through a Sanity Slippage by the end of the book. On the other hand, he is MUCH more Affably Evil than Badrang, the Big Bad of the book.
  • Thomas in Someone Else's War.
  • In A Song of Ice and Fire, the Dothraki men wear their hair in long braids, usually decorated with bells. The braid is cut when the warrior loses a battle. Notably, Khal Drogo's braid has never been cut. Even when he dies from an infected wound, he still WON the fight where he received it.
  • Reversed in the Vows and Honor books by Mercedes Lackey. When the Goddess takes Tarma into the ranks of the Swordsworn, She cuts Tarma's braids off. Later in the series, Tarma's hair has grown back, but when Tarma is about to engage in ritual combat part of her preparations is cutting the braids.
  • Venn men in The Wolfhound wore their long hair (and beards) in braids, usually woven top-to-bottom, and woe unto you if a Venn warrior (especially Wolfhound himself) decided to unbraid his hair due to your action.

    Live-Action TV 

    Tabletop Games 
  • In the Shards of Alara block of Magic: The Gathering, the human warriors of Jund wear a braid for each major victory in battle. The legendary Kresh the Bloodbraided is renowned for possessing the most braids.
    • There's also Braids, Cabal Minion. Though whether she's barbaric or just borderline psychopathic is up for some debate....
  • The Tau in Warhammer 40,000 usually wear helmets, but some characters are seen with just a lock of hair.
    • For the Imperium, the Space Wolves chapter of Space Marines commonly employ this to their hair and beards when not wearing helmets too. Not too unsurprisingly, they are based on vikings in style and culture. This is not uncommon for Imperial Guard regiments from several feral worlds too.
  • The High Elves in Warhammer Fantasy Battles consider long hair to be a sign of virility, and all their folk heroes are described as long-haired. When going into battle, the High Elves will typically braid and tie their hair back, securing it with various ornate rings and clips to prevent it from being damaged. This is ultimately a subversion though, as High Elves are generally considered to be one of the most "civilized" races in the setting.

    Video Games 

    Web Comics 

    Western Animation 
  • In Avatar: The Last Airbender, Water Tribe warriors wear ponywolftails but have several braids tied off with beads framing their faces. The Fire Nation prefers topknots for both men and women, which Zuko and Iroh cut off when declared traitors.
  • Star vs. the Forces of Evil: In "The Bog Beast of Boggabah", one of the rituals in preparing for hunting the Bog Beast is helping your hunting partner braid their hair. Star's attempt skews a little closer to Girlish Pigtails.

    Real Life 
  • In the Qing dynasty, all men were required to shave their forehead and wear the rest of their hair in a braid down their back. Cutting the braid was considered an act of treason and punishable by death. (A famous edict early in the Qing dynasty was: "keep the braid or lose your head".)note  It may be noted that the Qing dynasty was founded by Manchus, who from the Han Chinese perspective were "barbarians" from the north. Even before then, Han people never cut their hair, preferring buns or more complex styles: they believed their hair and body was a gift to them from their parents, so purposely harming their body was an insult to them.
  • Maasai warriors often wear long, thin braids. Most other Maasai keep short hair.
  • Many Amerindian tribes kept the hair of the men long and often in braids; the North American version led to Braids, Beads and Buckskins.
  • Prior to influence of Western customs, Bedouin men had long, braided hair.
  • Vikings and other Germanic varieties of... well, barbarian. In fact, their seeming obsession (by Western European standards of the time) for grooming and cleanliness led them to become quite popular with the ladies... and unpopular with husbands and chroniclers.
  • Ditto for Mongols and Turks.
  • The infamous pirate Blackbeard was known for his long, braided beard which he often hid fuses in so that smoke would surround his face, making him all the more intimidating.
  • Up to the Napoleonic era (mostly), soldiers (especially in elite regiments, a.k.a the most intimidating) often wore their hair in cadenettes, that is, long braids that hung on the temples and ears and were tied together on the back of the neck. They were supposed to provide for extra protection against sabre blows.