Africa’s ancient beauty secrets are finally coming into the fore. Even though the continent produces some of the world’s most beneficial & unrivalled organic and natural ingredients for natural skin and hair care, its own ancient tribal traditions have been largely ignored. Until now.
Learn the secrets of Africa’s ancient beauty and look out for some of these ingredients and tribal stories in Afya’s upcoming collections. From our cosmetics to our skincare, Afya’s products are created to celebrate Africa’s tribal beauty traditions and customs, while ensuring that our consumers get the full benefit of this inherited wealth of knowledge.
THE ANCIENT EGYPTIANS
When we think of Egyptian beauty secrets there is usually one name that comes to mind – Cleopatra. Cleopatra’s beauty is legendary. She was also an accomplished botanical chemist. Her beauty conquered both Julius Caesar and Marc Anthony and her ancient Egyptian beauty secrets made her famous for being one of the most beautiful women of all time.
One beauty treatment she was well known for was her milk and honey bath, which was enhanced by aromatic flowers and whatever oils she preferred on the day. Ancient Egyptians apparently understood the benefits of these wonderful ingredients, the lactic acid in milk and the wonderful antiseptic and loaded with vitamins A and E which are wonderful for the complexion, especially the facial skin. Some of the enzymes in milk help skin regenerate fresh skin cells.
Honey was extremely valuable in ancient days and a symbol of divine blessing. Women applied it to their skin, along with oils, as part of their bathing ritual. Honey works to give the skin a beautiful glow and to plump up fine lines. Cleopatra also recognised the benefits of adding Dead Sea salt (1-2 cups) into her bath, which is now known to combat stress and ageing.
Aloe vera is one of the oldest known therapeutic herbs and is renowned worldwide as healing plant. Cleopatra revered the use of aloe as one of her best beauty secrets. Since 1750 BC Aloe vera was used in Middle East, and all over the world from Greek, Indian, Mexico, Cuba, Congo, and China. Although aloe is ninety-nine percent water, it also has more than 200 active nutrients and elements that support good health. Studies confirm that aloe vera heals the skin with its anti-inflammatory properties, burn healing capabilities and ability to decrease the effects of scars and wound. You can safely drink Aloe Vera and within weeks you can see a more vibrant glow of youthfulness and feel healthier from this ancient Egyptian herb of the past.
For the hair and nails were dyed using henna (a flowering plant). Hair was cleansed with coconut milk or extra virgin olive oil to strengthen and condition. Ancient Egyptians also used mineral cosmetics such as titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, and mica, for eye shadow, face powder, blush, and lip tints. Remember that minerals, if truly pure, don’t need preservatives.
The first form of perfume was incense. Incense was first discovered by the Mesopotamians about 4,000 years ago. Ancient cultures burned many kinds of resins, bums and woods at their religious ceremonies. They often soaked the fragrant woods and resins in water and oil, and rubbed their bodies with the liquid. They also embalmed the dead with these perfumes. For perfumery before a romantic evening: they perfumed their beds. The most common scents included cinnamon and spices, which modern science confirms may work to increase a man’s arousal. History has recorded that Cleopatra’s chambers were filled with beautiful scents as rare incenses burned all the time and that it was her custom to anoint her body with fragrant oils so that those who might enter her chambers would believe that they were near a beautiful flower.
THE WOODABE – THE MOST BEAUTIFUL MEN IN THE WORLD
The Wodaabe are a proud nomadic people who are scattered across the sub-Saharan Sahelian steppe in Niger and North Africa. They are said to have originated in the upper Nile basin, and their exact origins are heavily debated by scholars; some say they are from Ethiopia, while others insist they are from Egypt. The Wodaabe keep largely to themselves and rarely marry outside of their own group, which has enabled them to keep their cultural and genetic identity pure. The Wodaabe people trace their origins to two brothers, Ali and Degereejo. A sub-group of the Fulani people, the Wodaabe are traditionally known as the Bororo.
The Bororo tribe has attracted attention because of their traditional value of beauty. Dubbed as the inventors of beauty pageants, the Bororo consider themselves to be the most beautiful people in the world. Their long history of tradition, culture and values are the core of their lives. A nomadic people, the Bororo have been able to resist most colonialisation, imperialism and modernism that is plaguing Africa today.
The most important, rainy-season celebration among the Bororo happens weeks after the Worso celebrations. It is called Geerewol, and it is a celebration joining two lineages for seven days of dancing and celebration of beauty. Not only does it allow two lineages to join together in celebration, but the Geerewol provides an opportunity for young Bororo men and women to find attachments outside of their circle of cousins. The week-long celebration is centered around dance and beauty marathons. Two dances, the yaake and the geerewol, take precedence in the celebration, and it is these two dances that give the men a chance to show off their charm, beauty, and ability to attract women.
In the Bororo tradition, a man may have multiple wives. Many teegal marriages (marriages of love and romance, rather than an arranged marriage) are the outcome of these yearly celebrations. These teegal marriages often take the form of willing abductions, where both the man and the woman agree to flee, and often occur during the night after the charm competitions. Married women who are not happy with their current husbands are free to choose another man, but if she leaves her marriage, she must leave her children behind as well. If the new couple who have run away can slaughter a sheep, roast the meat and share the food before they are caught by the family (or husband) of the girl or woman, the marriage is confirmed.
The yaake, or charm competition, requires much preparation by the men. Men devote many hours before the yaake to make themselves beautiful. They apply extravagant facial make-up and wear elaborate clothes to show off their attractiveness. A pale yellow powder is heavily applied to the dancers face, and black kohl is applied to highlight the whiteness of the teeth and eyes. A line running from the forehead to the chin helps elongate the men’s nose, and many men shave their hairline to show off their forehead.
Once the men have prepared them-selves physically, they join together, shoulder to shoulder, and begin their dance. In a chorus line style, the men tiptoe forward to show off their height and display their charm by exaggerated facial expressions and sounds. Eyes roll, cheeks tremble, and teeth flash. Their cheeks inflate like a fish and then collapse again, and lips purse, part and tremble. A man will roll his right eye in and out, which is a talent that is highly recognized and valued. Meanwhile, elders of the group taunt the dancers, attempting to force them to try harder and show more of their magnetism. The men are being judged on their charm, magnetism and personality. It is not necessarily the most beautiful man that wins the yaake, but it is the one with the most “togu”, or magnetism and charm, that will emerge the victor.
The geerewol dance is the most rigorous and prestigious dance of the celebration, and only the most beautiful men take part. The men take the same delicate and lengthy preparations for the geerewol dance, but their appearance is different. The men wear the same dress: tight white wrappers bound at the knees, strings of white beads crisscrossing bare chests, and turbans of ostrich feathers and cowrie shells. Their faces are painted red, and they line up for two hours of frenzied dancing and chanting.
Those who feel that their competition is too great often voluntarily withdraw from the challenge. Those who remain eventually replace their ostrich feathers with horsetail plumes, signifying the next level of competition. The dancing becomes harder, more wild, and more intense. This is a beauty contest, and the judges are three unwed young women who have been chosen by the elders by their beauty. Concealing their judging eyes with their left hand, they nit-pick the dancers, looking for the most beautiful man. In turn, the men use every facial expression and body movement they can to attract the judges favor. The young women are looking for precise characteristics in the men: tall, lithe limbs with graceful movements, long, straight hair perfectly braided in a beautiful style, and light, smooth skin. A slender nose, thin lips, sparkling white eyeballs and teeth, and an elongated face are desirable. A high forehead, long fingers, large eyes and a long neck are ideal.
Once the young women have made their choice, they slowly creep toward the dancers. The most beautiful men are chosen with a graceful swing of the arm. The winners receive an increased pride in themselves as well as the admiration of other men and women.
“From Saharan dunes to the peaks of the High Atlas, Morocco is one of the most diverse countries in Africa, with high mountains, sweeping desert, rugged coastline, and the winding alleyways of ancient medina cities and souqs. Lyrical landscapes carpet this sublime slice of North Africa from its Saharan oases that offer simple, breathtaking pleasures to its glistening night, rugged coastlines, waterfalls and caves in forested hills.” (Lonely Planet)
Moroccan people take great care of their beauty, with long held traditions celebrated even today. The traditional Moroccan hammam (steam bath) ritual is practiced all over the country and the cornerstone of this tradition is Moroccan black soap, also known as beldi soap or savon noir. Its exfoliating, nourishing, and moisturising properties make it a favorite skin-enhancing beauty product.
The Kessa glove is the second most important element in the Moroccan hammam ritual. Traditionally used with black soap, it scrubs out dead and dull skin, removing toxins and clogged pores for glowing and healthy skin.
Rhassoul comes from the Arabic word “rassala,” which means “washing.” Mined in the Atlas mountains of Morocco, this mineral-rich clay boasts fabulous beauty-boosting properties and is especially good at absorbing impurities from the skin and hair. It can be used as a daily facial cleanser, detox mask, and even as shampoo for an extra dose of shine. Once the Rhassoul has been rinsed off, the skin is rehydrated with Argan oil and massaged for an hour or so.
Kohl (a black substance made partly from ground lead sulfide) is the secret behind Moroccan women and their striking and seductive eyes. It’s traditionally used in North Africa as an eyeliner to contour the eyes and even as mascara. Kohl was embraced in ancient Egypt for its therapeutic properties: It was believed to prevent eye ailments and help control the glare of the sun in the desert.
Alum stone originates from the mineral-rich Atlas mountains. It’s composed of potassium alum mineral salt and has soothing, calming, and analgesic properties. Alum stone works as a natural deodorant by leaving a fine salty, slightly alkaline film on the skin, inhibiting the growth of bacteria. It also makes for a great natural aftershave and even relieves insect bites. It’s super easy to use, too: Wet the alum stone with water and apply to the desired area.
Moroccan mint tea, also known as Tuareg tea, is not only a staple of Moroccan (and North African) culture, but it’s also brimming with amazing health and beauty benefits. Peppermint tea is loaded with antioxidants, manganese, copper, and Vitamin C (hello, gorgeous skin!). It also helps soothe burns, rashes, and skin inflammations, so it’s the perfect addition to a nice hot bath. Peppermint tea promotes bile flow, which helps decrease liver congestion and boost fat metabolism, so it’s a secret weight loss weapon as well.
Source: AFYA Therapy.