J.D. Okhai Ojeikere: Capturing Afro Hair for History

J.D. ‘Okhai Ojeikere – Agaracha hairstyle (A. Magnin/ J.D.O.Ojeikere Photographs)

The following words are from Nigerian photographer J.D. ‘Okhai Ojeikere who decided to take pictures of Nigerian Afro Hairstyles as a way of preserving history. The pictures were taken from 1950 – 1970s. You will see that some of the styles are no longer made today. The text below and the pictures can be found in André Magnin: J.D. ‘Okhai Ojeikere/ Photographs, First Scalo Edition 2000.


… I never stopped taking photographs as both a memory of the past and a witness to a culture in constant evolution.

Hairstyling is a practice to increase beauty. It is not specific to Nigeria. It is found throughout… the continent. There are hundreds of ethnic groups in Nigeria, each with its own language, traditions and as many different hairstyles. … The hairstyles are never exactly the same; each one has its own beauty. … Most of my pictures are of quotidian hairstyles, but there are also ceremonial hairstyles. …

J.D. ‘Okhai Ojeikere – Roundabout style (Source: A. Magnin/ J.D.O. Ojeikere Photographs)

The styles are determined by the type of ceremony, the social position of the family or of the woman and the artistic talent of the hairstylist. Some have lost their original meaning to new meanings assigned to them. You can easily identify a woman by her hairstyle: a woman who has become an adult; a woman who is preparing for marriage… It is difficult today to know the origins of some hairstyles because different groups mix and adapt to modern culture. … There are many new hairstyles everywhere, but many of them are inspired by older models.

Hairstyling is a form of art. When you see a hairstylist do this or that, every single movement is precise and  rapid. She creates a hairstyle the way a sculptor would work – from nothing. It’s fascinating. These hairstyles pass from one woman to another; from one style to another without every repeating. It’s like a school, but some have a real talent that makes them stand out.

Different hairstyles as captured by J.D. ‘Okhai Ojeikere (Source: A. Magnin: J.D. ‘Okhai Ojeikere / Photographs)



Afro Hair: Crown Jewel of African Women and Men

Nok sculpture of a woman
Nok sculpture of a woman
Have you ever looked at sculptures of women from the Nok civilization? Then you have probably noticed that Nok women wore their hair braided similar to the Fulani women of today, in beautiful goddess braids, and amazing styles. Ever looked at images of Queen Nzingha? She wore her hair in Afro, fully out.
Queen Nzingha of Angola
Queen Nzingha of Angola
What about the great Amanishakheto of Nubia, well, hieroglyphs at Meroë, show her sporting a gorgeous ‘Fro. And the fierce amazons of King Behanzin wore either braids, or shaved their heads, or sported afros. Today the tradition persists: the Himba women of Namibia and Angola wear dreadlocks decorated with red ochre, while Maasai women shave their heads and Maasai men sport dreadlocks. For their wedding, the Wodaabe women wear amazing braids decorated with cauris, and jewelry. In our culture, there were intricate hairstyles for different occasions: passage of a girl into womanhood, courting, weddings, funerals, etc.
Himba women (absoluteafrica.com)
Himba women (absoluteafrica.com)
Isn’t it amazing how our crown jewel, our hair, can be worn in so many different ways? Isn’t it amazing that one could change hairstyle every two-three weeks, or even
Fulani woman (Wodaabe)
Fulani woman (Wodaabe)
every month? After all, nature gifted the African race with a lion’s mane, which can be dressed a thousand ways, why not take advantage of it? Nigerian photographer J.D. Okhai Ojeikere captured some of these different hairstyles from women in the 1960-70s. Many African women from the 1960s-70s can be seen wearing tresses; and if you ever dig up pictures of your parents, you will see your mothers wearing those as well. His collections and books are amazing. Enjoy!







Why the name: Memphis?

Memphis_Ramses II_1
Statue of Ramses II in Memphis (Wikipedia)

Ever wondered where the name Memphis came from? No, I am not talking about Memphis the capital of Blues in Tennessee (USA), but rather, about Memphis, Egypt, the reason why Memphis Tennessee got its name.

Well, Memphis in Egypt, was the ancient capital of Aneb-Hetch, the first nome of Lower Egypt. Its ruins are located near the town of Mit Rahina, 20 km (12 mi) south of Giza. It is 20 km (12 mi) south of Cairo, on the west bank of the Nile. The modern cities and towns of Mit Rahina, Dahshur, Abusir, Abu Gorab, and Zawyet el’Aryan, south of Cairo, all lie within the administrative borders of historical Memphis. The city was also the place that marked the boundary between Upper and Lower Egypt (the 22nd nome of Upper Egypt and 1st nome of Lower Egypt).

Memphis and its Necropoles
Memphis and its necropolises


Memphis has had several names throughout its history which spans almost four millennia. Its Ancient Egyptian name was Inbu-Hedj (translated as “the white walls“). Because of its size, the city also came to be known by various other names that were actually the names of neighborhoods or districts that enjoyed considerable prominence at one time or another. For example, according to a text of the First Intermediate Period, it was known as Djed-Sut (“everlasting places“), which is the name of the pyramid of Teti.

Memphis_Men neferThe city was also at one point referred to as Ankh-Tawy (meaning “Life of the Two Lands“), stressing the strategic position of the city between Upper and Lower Egypt. This name appears to date from the Middle Kingdom (c. 2055–1640 BCE), and is frequently found in ancient Egyptian texts.

At the beginning of the New Kingdom (c. 1550 BCE), the city became known as Men-nefer (meaning “enduring and beautiful“), which became Menfe in Coptic. The name “Memphis” is the Greek adaptation of this name, which was originally the name of the pyramid of Pepi I, located west of the city.

Memphis_Hout ka Ptah

The Egyptian historian Manetho referred to Memphis as Hut-ka-Ptah (meaning “Enclosure of the ka of Ptah“). In the Bible, Memphis is called Moph or Noph. 

Memphis_Great temple of Ptah
Depiction of the western forecourt to the Great Temple of Ptah in Memphis (Wikipedia)

According to legend related by Manetho, an Egyptian priest and historian from the 3rd century BC, the city of Memphis was founded by the pharaoh Menes. It was the capital of Egypt during the Old Kingdom, and remained an important city throughout ancient Mediterranean history. It occupied a strategic position at the mouth of the Nile delta, and was home to feverish activity. Its principal port, Peru-nefer, harbored a high density of workshops, factories, and warehouses that distributed food and merchandise throughout the ancient kingdom. During its golden age, Memphis thrived as a regional center for commerce, trade, and religion. Its eventual downfall is believed to be due to the loss of its economic significance in late antiquity, following the rise of coastal Alexandria. Its religious significance also diminished after the abandonment of the ancient religion following the Edict of Thessalonica.

Memphis_Alexandre visitant le temple de Memphis 1898
Alexander visiting the Temple of Apis in Memphis, ca 1898 (Wikipedia)

The ruins of the former capital today offer fragmented evidence of its glorious past. They have been preserved, along with the pyramid complex at Giza, as a World Heritage Site since 1979. The site is open to the public as an open-air museum.

Memphis became the capital of Ancient Egypt for over eight consecutive dynasties during the Old Kingdom. The city reached a peak of prestige under the 6th dynasty as a center for the worship of Ptah, the god of creation and artworks.

Memphis declined briefly after the 18th dynasty with the rise of Thebes and the New Kingdom, and was revived under the Persians before falling firmly into second place following the foundation of Alexandria. Under the Roman Empire, Alexandria remained the most important Egyptian city. Memphis remained the second city of Egypt until the establishment of Fustat in 641 CE. It was then largely abandoned and became a source of stone for the surrounding settlements. It was still an imposing set of ruins in the 12th century but soon became a little more than an expanse of low ruins and scattered stone.

So whenever you think of going to Memphis, Tennessee, or about the birthplace of Blues, remember Memphis, the capital of ancient Egypt, the heart of great pharaohs, and the “enduring, and beautiful” place which has now become an important part of world history and stored greatness throughout centuries. No wonder one of its names was “everlasting places”; it has actually been an everlasting place!

Proverbe sur l’essentiel / Proverb on the essential

AfroHair8Si un seul cheveu de votre tête tombe, cela ne gêne pas votre tête (Proverbe Zigula – Tanzanie). – Ne pas s’occuper de détails, mais de l’essentiel.

If one hair of your head falls, it does not bother your head (Zigula proverb – Tanzania).- Do not deal with details, but with the essential.

‘To My Homeland’ by Huda Sha’arawi

Huda Sha’arawi

The poem below ‘To My Homeland’ by Huda Sha’arawi shows her love for her country and the extent to which she is willing to fight for her country’s well-being, for her country’s dignity. Her poem was written at the time when Egypt was under British rule, or had just gained independence. In the poem, one senses Huda’s love for her homeland which she refers to as if it were a woman, a mother. Enjoy! The original in French was published in L’Egyptienne, Number 69 of May 1931. The translation to English is brought to you by Dr. Y. on Afrolegends.com


A ma Patrie


J’ai fait voeu de t’offrir tout ce qui m’appartient

O ma belle Patrie,

mon bras, mon Coeur, mon âme ainsi que tous mes biens

sans excepter ma vie.

J’ai fait voeu de peiner, de lutter, de souffrir,

de braver l’infamie.

Sans froncer le sourcil, sans poser au martyre,

sans même une aide amie.

J’ai juré de franchir les frontières des mers

si ton honneur l’exige,

afin de rehausser, aux yeux de l’univers,

ton nom et ton prestige.

J’ai juré d’oublier les affronts des déments

Et la haine et l’insulte

que l’envie incita, contre mon dévouement

à ta cause et ton culte.

Peu m’importe l’exil, leur courroux, la prison,

j’accepte la mort même.

Puisque leurs vils exploits n’auront jamais raison

de l’humble coeur qui t’aime.


To my Homeland


I vowed to offer you all that is mine

O my beautiful homeland,

my arm, my heart, my soul, as well as all my belongings

not excepting my life.

I vowed to struggle, to fight, to suffer,

to brave infamy.

Without frowning, without asking for martyrdom,

without even using a friend.

I have sworn to cross the borders of the seas

if your honor depends on it,

to enhance, in the eyes of the universe,

your name and your prestige.

I have sworn to forget the offenses of the demented

and the hatred and insult

Which prompted envy, against my dedication

To your cause and your worship.

I do not care about exile, their anger, the prison,

I will accept even death.

Because their vile deeds will never win over

the humble heart that loves you.



Huda Sha’arawi: Egypt’s Great Feminist

Huda Sha'arawi
Huda Sha’arawi

Today, we will be talking about Huda Sha’arawi (also Hoda Shaarawi, or Hoda Charaaoui), one of Egypt’s top feminists. She was a pioneering Egyptian feminist leader, nationalist, and founder of the Egyptian Feminist Union. Sha’arawi’s work was immense in redefining the place of the woman in Egyptian society, and led to a new dawn for Egyptian women.

Huda Sha'arawi (Wikipedia)
Huda Sha’arawi (Wikipedia)

Sha’arawi was born in a wealthy family in Minya on 23 June 1879. Her father was Muhammad Sultan, the first president of the Egyptian Representative Council, and the first Egyptian to rise through all the ranks of government at the time. Her father passed away when she was 4 years old. She was married at the tender age of 13 (very common in those days) to Ali Sha’arawi, a widower, cousin, and tutor with 4 children. The independent teen could not stand the austere life with her spouse and ran back to her mother where she stayed for the next 7 years. During those years of separation, she got further education and grew more independent. At the end of the 7 years, she returned to her husband with whom she later had 2 children. Her husband, Ali Sha’arawi was a political figure, and he associated his wife to his fight against British rule.

Hatshepsut (Wikipedia - MET Museum)
Hatshepsut (Wikipedia – MET Museum)

At the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries, women in Egypt were confined to houses or harems, and wore veils… This, in an Egypt which had seen Hatshepsut the female Pharaoh, Queen Cleopatra and Sultana Shajar al-Durr. As seen in all her pictures, Huda is wearing a Hijab. Sha’arawi resented such restrictions on women’s movements, and started organizing lectures for women on topics of interest to them. This brought many women out of their homes and into public places for the first time. Sha’arawi even convinced them to help her establish a women’s welfare society to raise money for the poor women of Egypt. In 1910, Sha’arawi opened a school for girls where she focused on teaching academic subjects rather than practical skills such as midwifery.

After World War I, as Egyptian men started to rise loudly for their rights, many women took part in political actions against the British rule as well. In 1919, Sha’arawi helped organize the largest women’s anti-British demonstration. In defiance of British orders to disperse, the women remained still for three hours in the hot sun. Such a thing had never been heard of in the history of Egypt and even of Islam.

The first 3 Egyptian Ladies to abandon the veil: Nabaireya Moussa, Hoda Chaaraoui, and Ceza Nabaroui
The first 3 Egyptian Ladies to abandon the veil: Nabaireya Moussa, Hoda Chaaraoui, and Ceza Nabaroui

Sha’arawi made a decision to stop wearing her veil in public after her husband’s death in 1922. In March 1923, Sha’arawi founded and became the first president of the Egyptian Feminist Union, after returning from the International Woman Suffrage Alliance Congress in Rome she removed her face veil in public for the first time, a signal event in the history of Egyptian feminism.

She fought for the suppression of precocious marriage for young girls, giving them access to all levels of education. She led Egyptian women pickets at the opening of Parliament in January 1924 and submitted a list of nationalist and feminist demands, which were ignored by the Wafdist government, whereupon she resigned from the Wafdist Women’s Central Committee. The Egyptian Feminist Union campaigned for various reforms to improve women’s lives. Among them were raising the minimum age of marriage for girls to sixteen, increasing women’s educational opportunities and improving health care. Egypt’s first secondary school for girls was founded in 1927 as a result of this pressure. In 1933, a new law is agreed in parliament (through her push) regulating the work of women in industry: making sure a woman could not be made to work more than 9 hours per day, giving her a rest day, one month of maternity leave, and 15 days of leave at half-salary after delivery of a child. This was a victory for the Union.

'Harem Years ...' by Huda Sha'arawi
‘Harem Years: The Memoirs of an Egyptian Feminist’ by Huda Sha’arawi

She continued to lead the Egyptian Feminist Union until her death, publishing the feminist magazine L’Égyptienne (and el-Masreyya), and representing Egypt at women’s congresses in Graz, Paris, Amsterdam, Berlin, Marseilles, Istanbul, Brussels, Budapest, Copenhagen, Interlaken, and Geneva. She advocated peace and disarmament. Even if only some of her demands were met during her lifetime, she laid the groundwork for later gains by Egyptian women and remains the symbolic standard-bearer for their liberation movement. In 1943, King Farouk decorated Huda Sha’arawi with the Order of  Kamal. Sha’arawi wrote poetry in both Arabic and French. In 1944, she founded the All-Arab Federation of Women. Huda Sha’arawi died in 1947.  Sha’arawi later recounted her early life in her memoir Harem Years: The Memoirs of an Egyptian Feminist, 1879-1924. To learn more about her, check out her memoir, read Casting Off the Veil: The Life of Huda Shaarawi, Egypt’s First Feminist by Sania Sharawi Lanfranchi, this article on Forbes, and this amazing chapter dedicated to her in Les Africains, Tome 10, ed. J.A. 1978, P. 107-141. With her strong personality, unique blend of western-style feminism with her own country’s customs, culture, and Egyptian nationalism, Huda Sha’arawi influenced millions of Egyptian and Arab women and people all around the world.

‘We Should All Be Feminists’ by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Source: The Guardian)
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Source: The Guardian)

What is the definition of feminism? Is it the same when applied to African women? Is there such a thing as African, or Asian, or European feminism? Why should feminism be dismissed as something only good for women, and not men as well? The condition of the woman is closely linked to that of the man, and as a woman is empowered, as she is given her rightful place in society, then are we ALL empowered as a human species. I live you here with a TED speech by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the Nigerian author of the Top New York Times Bestseller book of the year 2014. Yes, she talks about feminism, but in reality, she talks about the reason why ALL of us should be feminists: including MEN. Imagine for instance a working couple, where the woman in the couple is paid lower than men doing the same job, imagine the impact of that salary on the entire family budget if she was paid the same as a man, the opportunities for her children, healthcare, vacation, well-being, etc. Enjoy! Adichie’s speech ‘We Should All Be Feminists‘ has now been made into a book, which is going to be thought in schools in Norway and Sweden (The Guardian article). And yes feminism is not about angry females or beating men out of the world, it is about girls being given the same chances as boys, women being recognized for their impact on society, being allowed to rise, being intelligent and bright.

Happy 2016!

Fellow readers, I wish you all an AMAZING new year, may the year 2016 be the year of all great achievements, joys, successes, and awesomeness. I would like to express my sincere gratitude to all those who visited my blog, reblogged articles, and to all future visitors. 2015 was a beautiful year: the number of subscribers on Afrolegends.com has tripled, with over 200,000 new visitors viewing the blog, and many articles getting reblogged on multiple sites. For 2016, I wish you wonders without borders, peace, grace, and love. May there be peace and happiness in the world.

The 5 top posts of 2015 can be seen below. For the first time in 3 years, the article on Samori Toure was surpassed as the top post for the blog Afrolegends.com; the article on Adinkra symbols was also particularly loved. Keep trusting, reading, sharing, and liking. Keep your heads up, and may your year be as beautiful as the petals of this flower!

Happy 2016
Happy 2016

1.  ‘Love Poem for My Country’ by Sandile Dikeni

2. Samori Toure: African leader and Resistant to French Imperialism

3. Adinkra Symbols and the Rich Akan Culture

4.  ‘My Name’ by Magoleng wa Selepe

5. ‘Femme Noire/Black Woman’ by Leopold Sedar Senghor