Africa History

Afros in ‘Old School’ Africa

Just because, a slightly NSFW black and white image of a young woman from Djibouti. Notice that her hair is not in plaits, braids or twists and is free. I’m going to be putting up or linking to images like these just to show that in the past some African women left their hair free so Afros are not “unusual” in the African context as some people like to suggest.

Source: fyeahafrica


  1. I am actually one of those people. I do think that afros by and large are unusual in traditional subsaharan Africa. The only images you usually see them in are when women are transitioning to a different hair style. I would even go further and say that the most common traditional hair style for women is short hair to completely bald. For groups with longer hair, braided, threaded and locs were most common. Free hair is unusual.

    I think people of Cushitic origin (Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti, parts of Sudan) are different in hair history because they have a mix of African and Arabic influence. Braided styles and free hair are just as common.

    I would challenge you to find pictures of a group of non-cushitic women (3 or more in one picture) all with free hair. This in my view would be good evidence because if more than one person has free hair, it is likely that the afro is more of a style among the women of the group rather than a transitional style.

    I’m willing to change my mind if sufficient evidence exists and is presented. As stunning as the girl is in this picture, she is no way representative of the majority.

    1. This is supposed to be an ongoing venture Jc! I never said that the girl is representative of the majority either hence my repeated use of ‘some’. To me that fact that this image exists means that I can find more like it and I did say I’ll be putting them up here.

      I don’t know if I’ll find an image that will meet your strict requirements. I’ve come across images of women from Southern Africa with their hair free and my first thought was to put them here but it must have skipped my mind (this happened last year). I’ll look for them again but they were TWAs…

      I would even go further and say that the most common traditional hair style for women is short hair to completely bald. For groups with longer hair, braided, threaded and locs were most common. Free hair is unusual.

      I’d like to know your basis for this. I admit it’s rare to see images of women from those societies with a typical Afro as we know it today, yet I have seen women with hairstyles that were not braided, threaded or in locs. Like the 5th image here.

  2. The hair style in pic 5 could be a braided style. I have achieved it myself by braiding two low pigtails and then pinning the two tails together.

    Whichever way, I am talking about the standard free hair as shown in your picture. Not any hair that is tucked in or bound in some form.

    TWAs count as short hair to me. The big and bold afro of 1970s USA is a ‘new’ and independent style. TWAs and bald heads are very common traditionally in Africa and even today.

    Pre photographic drawings show most women with no or short hair or a form of head dress. Photos show women again with no or short hair and sometimes longer hair which is bound in some form.


    In living examples of a traditional lifestyle for example,

    Eastern Africa – Maasai women shave their heads bald and long hair is actually regarded as a male hair style. Men and women regard long hair on women as unnattractive.

    Southern Africa – Zulu women again wear short hair predominatly. Some groups such as the beautiful Himba women braid and partially lock their hair.

    Western Africa – Huge tradition of braiding, plenty of pictures at the Smithsonian Institute!271436!0

    I honestly do not think that you will find an afro as a hair style in Africa. I think you will find that women always bound or tucked in their hair if and it is a big IF they chose to grow it.

    One truth that we often skip is that African hair actually is easier to maintain at a short length. The design of it with kinks allows it to break easily, allowing it to be shorter. It is no wonder that TWAs and bald heads are still a common style of choice.

    1. And is there a possibility that the 5th image may not have been braided but simply tucked? ::shrugs::

      I linked to that image because I thought you were strictly about hair being either braided, twisted or loced. I also wasn’t aware of the distinction you made between TWAs and huge Afros because to me TWAs still qualify as free.

      The links you gave as evidence, I’m not sure what to do with them. Am I to search for something in particular or should they have linked to images?

      Interesting that you mentioned Zulu women because I found this but I guess since they are not styled as the woman’s in the image above and are short they don’t count? I’m not really big on the length thing. By putting up this image, what I wanted to see more of was pictures of women with their hair ‘free’ regardless of length.

      I honestly do not think that you will find an afro as a hair style in Africa. I think you will find that women always bound or tucked in their hair if and it is a big IF they chose to grow it.

      Alright then! I’m still going to keep an eye out for free Afros regardless of length ^^ If TWAs and bald heads were/are so common and accepted I felt that people here, in Nigeria, shouldn’t make a big deal out of it but in my experience they did and their reasoning was free hair is uncommon. Apparently the same thing applies to twists. ::another shrug::

      To be honest, bound or tucked also stands out to me too because it’s no braided or twisted or in locs. I think there are more images of bound or tucked long hair than free Afros.

  3. Erm JC, the MOST COMMON hairstyle for African women is NOT being completely bald.

    Where and how did you come up with that conclusion please?

    The PROVEN (and a quick survey/sampling of African women from EVERY country on the continent will confirm this) MOST COMMON hairstyle of African women is BRAIDS (and I mean hair plaited on the head not loose hanging braids) e.g. Senegalese, Patewo, Shuku, etc.

    The only region of Africa where short and bald hair appears to be more common is in the South Africa, Botswana, Swaziland area.

    Seriously yo.

  4. And the afro is not a new and independent style that originated in the USA. There are loads of African women that wore their hair loose. Seriously where is your ‘information’ coming from?

    Eccentric, please post the pictures of the women with afros from my album.

    1. I totally forgot about your album! I recall there were images of women with free standing hair, I’ll go through your album once more and put them up here. At the same time, I doubt the women from your images will meet Jc’s requirements (3 or more women all with free hair) still those images qualify as juicy eye candy.

  5. I love the picture. Thanks. Last I heard, the Cushites are Africans so there is no need to find non-cushite girls with free standing hair to back up your statement.

    1. Thanks for the comment! I think sometimes we forget how diverse the Horn of Africa actually is, especially in terms of appearance. For all we know the woman in the image may not even be or identify as Cushite.

  6. I gave you the evidence of my standing and yes if you looked at them you would see that they have pictures and even prior to that drawings.

    Sorry but I do not do internet fights, they are below me. I’m done!

    1. I don’t do internet fights either, not even debates and I wouldn’t let that happen in my space. I believe you’re my blog’s first reader and I’m sure you know there haven’t been any internet fights here. I can’t see why that should start happening now.

      I asked about the links because when I clicked on them (and yes I did look at them) I did not see the images I had expected so I was really not sure if you wanted me to search keywords or something else. I did see that one image of Yoruba women in Ife from 1970s (I was hoping you’d link to earlier images). You included a link to a slavery image search website and I don’t see any images at that link (which again is why I asked if you wanted me to search) and the African Online Library has several links and I did/do not know where to start.

      I’m sorry if you think I’m being silly but when I link, I link to specific images or with descriptions so I wasn’t sure what to do with your links. Please we’re not having an internet fight here, we’re just trying to understand each other’s views on this topic and I’m sorry you feel this way.

      ETA: To clarify my issue with your evidence links, I expected them to link DIRECTLY to images like the one on flickr I linked to above and the forthcoming one below. I’ve had more time to explore the websites now and I have finally seen images not text but only after clicking on links within your links…and seeing as this is the internet there was no way for me to know that you wanted me to click on the link to images filed under “Pre-Colonial Africa: Society, Polity, Culture” from your second evidence link, for example.

      I’ve read through the comments here and I see we may have an issue with semantics. Some of the images at the Slavery Image Database qualify as free hair to me because like I said, TWAs qualify as ‘free’ hair to me (keyword here) as long as they are not braided, bound, twisted, threaded etc. I honestly don’t have time to go through every single image on that database but from the wide selection of images I viewed, I did not see any bald heads but I saw several TWAs that were not bound and this which doesn’t look like a transitioning style.

      The issue at hand aside, that website has great images.

  7. Eccentric, part of the reason why I do read your blog is because I feel that there is a logical approach to your writing and thinking. You seek out facts, you challenge current thinking, you are witty……what is not to love!

    I think there are things you regard as subtleties that really are not to me.
    For example you stated the intent of your posting this picture and other similar ones in future was to demonstrate ‘Afros are not “unusual” in the African context as some people like to suggest.’

    In order to qualify this statement, logic implies to me
    1. You have to define what an afro is
    2. You have to define what unusual is
    3. You have to define what African groups we are talking about.


    Q1: An afro in the American style seventies is totally different from a 1-3 inch TWA afro. An afro in the American style seventies could have anywhere from 6 inches of hair or more intentionally grown longer and kept ‘out’.

    Q2: Define unusual. When does an afro become a hair style? In my view when a community of women regularly wear the style this equals a hair style. When you capture a single woman with her free hair she could be going to get her hair done or she could be the odd one out in the village. However when you capture 3 individuals in the same style at the same time doing a normal activity like cooking or washing or farming – this qualifies as a style within that group. One person having an afro in a community where everyone else has braids qualifies as unusual. In other words, this is the reason why I say pictures of individuals do not prove that the afro is normal, infact they probably are evidence of how unusual it is given that only one individual was captured in it.

    Q3. Because we are discussing an afro, I therefore have to select hair that can make an afro. To be fair Algerian women are also African but a large number would not be able to even create an Afro naturally. The same is true for Cushitic women and this is why I say, define what you are talking about.

    To me these are essential facts, the crux of your view point. I just do not see the ‘constructive’ part of this discussion because it appears to me that I am talking about one thing and you are discussing another. I do not see this as a case of individuals, TWAs or the diversity of Africa. All of these are separate issues.

    I don’t have anything further to say that would actually add to the discussion and it is my overwhelming feeling that we have different approaches so to me further comments on my part will only be destructive with everyone fighting their corner.

    I opt to stop talking, let you get on with your segment in your style and wait for a new post on another topic!

    1. I just do not see the ‘constructive’ part of this discussion because it appears to me that I am talking about one thing and you are discussing another.

      ::nods:: This is just so true.

    2. But JC, nobody CARES what an Afro in AMERICA is! This is not an American blog. It is a NIGERIAN blog.

      This is the problem with 90% of the Internet. American Internet users walk around behaving as if EVERYTHING and EVERYONE on the Internet is American or as if they should conform to American standards or be judged by American mores.

      Abegi jo!

      What obtains in Americans’ view of what an Afro is or even what Americans’ opinion of what hairstyles Africans wear or whatever are irrelevant.

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