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 women’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…

Leave a Reply

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

Notify of

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 :)


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 :D


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 ;)


@ 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 :) 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 .….so 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 of his tribe… 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