These images are from two series of postcards produced between 1900 and 1910 by the photographer F.W.H Arkhurst in Grand Bassam, Ivory Coast. Arkhurst, a member of the Nzima ethnic group born in the Gold Coast , was a timber exporter who lived in Assinie and later in Grand Bassam. His studio photographs capture perfectly the then fashionable style of womenโ€™s dress along the African coast from the Niger Delta to the Ivory Coast as families grew prosperous from trading opportunities in the expanding colonial economies. Hair was swept high and adorned with gold jewellery or wrapped in cloth, tailored dress was of imported cotton prints, often with a shawl or wrap of locally woven fabrics.

This is just a small selection of the photos. Click here and here for the full, amazing gallery. It’s so amazing to see how beautifully these women styled their natural hair. As a culture we need to get back to this! Ladies, what are your thoughts?

Black Girl With Long Hair

Leila Noelliste, founder of Black Girl with Long Hair (April 2008). Social media, pop culture and black beauty enthusiast. bell hooks' hair twin...

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61 Comments on "Vintage Photos Show Coastal African Natural Hair Styles in the Early 1900s"

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Sigh. Now, I’m nostalgic. Reminds me of old photos of my grandma and great-aunts as girls/young women in colonial Nigeria.


Glad to see my Ghana here.
I use only Shea butter and olive oil in my hair. Too much manipulation though for me… I am low maintenance, big curly fros or beautifully pinned twist outs


Wow, so proud to see women from my country, Ivory Coast ! They remind me my grand-mother. Her hair regimen was simple : palm nuts oil, shea butter… and a lot of patience !


Those hairstyles were hideous but heythey didnt have eeverything we have today


[…] I ran across this article on BGLH’s site, I felt these images of African beauty were so captivating, I had to share. The photos display […]


LOL.. so true


from dem “juices and berries” black women that can’t go your hair you better start over loading on dem “juices and berries”

Patricia Kayden

Gorgeous women. Love the toe rings on the first lady.


Now all we need is a youtube tutorial!

curious kinks

wow! those up-dos are out of this world!
Thanks for sharing.

East African

Gorgeous women of West Africa!


I hope more people outside of the natural hair community see these pictures. For too long the history books have taught us that when the Europeans came to our beautiful continent that the ‘natives’ were barely clothed savages with no kind of civilized society. The clothing, hair styles, jewelry depicted in these photos show intricate designs in the cloth as well the affluence of the women.

To make a long story short, THESE ARE BEAUTIFUL!


Beautiful! I actually rock the third pic a lot. I found it easier than the bun which is sometimes is not kind to my edges.





Excellent feature, and I am off to view the rest. I am curious to know if any braided styles were captured, versus “looser” ones which appear to emulate those of the colonists.

Wanda Renee

So beautiful, I love it!


Beautiful photos. The natural hair styles that are created today links back to Africa in so many ways.


i love these photos. now…would i personally wear my hair that way? no, simply because just thinking of the manipulation involved makes me shudder. but their hair is beautiful, beyond question! i’m a low maintenance, messy bun, butterfly clip kinda chick…anything more intricate than undoing a braid/twistout and i’m chucking the deuces. i do agree, though, that we should def see more of these styles from the not so faint of heart!

Jo Somebody

They had time to sit together and do these styles. Wouldn’t it be wonderful… but who gon pay the bills??!


Beautiful women.


Wonder what they were using and their hair regiment?

their mane looks healthy and quite long.


seems they did protective styles too. lol.


Lol… I was thinking the same thing… Lol… Thinking to myself shea butter or henna… Lol!!!
They probably had some argan, too… So funny most swear they made stuff up. Things as old as man…


OMG That’s my country!!! Cote D’Ivoire and my people. ALLONS-Y!!! My stepfather is actually an Arkhurst…this is awesome…love this post and will be sharing. I might actually be looking at some relatives haha ๐Ÿ™‚


pls this country is ghana…formaly known as the gold coast.this women re from the fanti tribe.i am a fanti woman maself..from cape coast.pls is isnt ivory coast


Look at the description on the does say Cote D’Ivoire. My grandfather is from Ghana so its nothing but love no matter where exactly these women are from.


Pls, not all the photos are of Gold Coast women. The second photo says it’s of a woman from Cote d’Ivoire, and the fourth one may be too.


Love these retro photos.

African Mami

These updos are bomb diggiry!

I love my people!!!!!! We got style yo.

Coconut and Cream

Wooo Gold Coast aka Ghana!

Ami a

these pictures should be in school textbooks for kids to see. This would give them a sense of pride


That is a common sense suggestion, but unfortunately the book companies have their own agenda(s).


thats my countryyyyyyyyyyy!!! 225!
I am proud ๐Ÿ˜€


waoo I just realized that one of the picture was taken by my best friend’s great grandfather!!!!


its really motivating to see my people.. I’m Ivorian and Ghanaian


nice photos but the wealth that created the opportunities to dress like this was generated by the monetarisation of society and the colonial endeavour which was to ultimately decimate Africa, no?


Yes, there is that bitter / sweet element. Nonetheless, I am thrilled that these photos have been well preserved.


Absolutely ladies! the pictures are beautiful and and important documents. I only made my point because I was wanted to interrogate the context.
However, there is probably little wealth from many historical periods that is not the result of some sort of exploitation.
Lord knows the barbarity that lies behind photographs of rich, beautiful women from other cultures, particularly non-African, during that period.
haha Sue I take your point ๐Ÿ˜‰


@ Prica, Eme, Sue, & Trini

You guys are awesome!=)

Prica wrote: “I only made my point because I was wanted to interrogate the context. However, there is probably little wealth from many historical periods {and even today}that is not the result of some sort of exploitation” Prica, continue to shine light =D!


Oh Lawd! You guys must be fun to hang around.


Ouch, Prica. I felt that one. You are absolutely right, though.


Yes, unregulated capitalism/colonialism/imperialism is a dirty b….
but, can you see why these images may prove valuable to black psyche?


Agreed. The context of these pictures are problematic. We should acknowledge that, as Prica did.

However, it is rare to see such a regal and dignified representation of women of the continent of Africa at that time and even in the present. I, personally, was in awe of the photographs, until Prica’s comment gave me a serious dose of reality.

Still, it is nice to see African woman portrayed in such a way that they do not fit the “savage” stereotype.


I do one of these hairstyles all the time! lol I call it the Box Bump


Awesome! I loved these so much I pinned them to my Pinterest wall.


This is amazing!!! I will be sharing all the beauty!!!




i’m in love!


Lovely! The first photo here reminds me of Lauryn Hill. I hope more and more Black women see photos like this of regal Black women. This is refreshing when compared to many images I see today in many media.


The women are so beautiful!


Awesome post!




Very regal,As a woman of West African descent its nice to actually see African women portrayed in this manner rather than the stereotypical/caricature images we see in some books.


+ 100 =) Gorgeous, regal, and oh so feminine…I loooove it! (in my Oprah voice)

BGLH-Love when you do these type of post-thanks!


That’s my country ๐Ÿ™‚ Great pictures


pls this country is ghana…formaly known as the gold coast.this women re from the fanti tribe.i am a fanti woman maself..from cape coast.pls is isnt ivory coast.

African Beauty if you read the description, although born in the Gold Coast, which had that time entailed more territory than what Ghana is today, you would realize a couple of facts : 1) Considering that the Ivory Coast and Ghana still share a boarder (The east-side of Ivory Coast/ The west-side of Ghana)…..Tribes along this border are ultimately the same, but were separated through colonization … what you call your Fanti are N’Zima’s in Ivory Coast. 2)At that time borders were porous, although being born in the “Gold Coast”, the photographer is an Ivoirian who took pictures of women… Read more »

Actually, the Gold Coast is Ghana; the name was changed after independence. Also, Fante and Nzema are two separate tribes in Ghana. The languages spoken by both groups are not the same, though there are similarities. There are Nzema people in both Ghana and the Ivory Coast.
This is not to say the photographer did not take the pictures in Ivory Coast, he did but he also took a few in Gold Coast now called Ghana.


Get your facts together b4 you try to check them. Yes the first picture does say “gold coast” and the second says “ivory coast”/cote d’ivoire… And then they continue to alternate. I’m not going to go on a rant… I’ll just say all the pics are really cool, interesting, and beautiful depictions of African history. And today I know many beautiful women from both of those countries and others.

Miss P

Woot woot! Ivory Coast <3 Lovely pics


Yeaahhh she’s repping our country very beautifully =) so proud