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)