Beauty Rituals - The Horn of Africa
On the Horn of Africa a great deal of traditional wisdom is centered on the female body. Women's life cycle and fertility are celebrated. The female body symbolizes Mother Earth. Her beauty rituals reflect this symbolism by tracking important rites of passages throughout her life. As such, the beautification of a woman's body is not just skin deep but a vital form of communication.
Cosmetics, beauty rituals and adornment serve as elements of social status. It shows the culture, religion or rank to which an individual may belong. It can even tell others their age, gender and reproductive status.
The designs on their breasts, arms and back shows they had their first menses or in other words, they have come of age. The designs on their abdomen shows if their first child has been born. The designs on their face says they are married. They showcase their achievement and the strength of their character through the art and the number of adornments they wear. They communicate their status through their decorated bodies and demand respect.
Black ochre is used by men but red ochre, a life sustaining symbol, is used by women. It’s healing properties were used by the ancients to stop blood flow, remove poison from body and aid in healing and wellbeing.
Cosmetics had their beginings as both medicine and magic. During the annual flooding of the regions’ rivers, the reflected glare of the sun on the floodwaters caused damage to the eyes. Local healers found that by applying soothing salves to the eyes and the brows and then dusting them with powdered lead, copper and antimony they could relieve the strains. It didn’t take long for the women of the Horn to find this practice had another mesmerizing effect on the male population of the region, so the world’s first khol eyeliner was invented.
Red iron ochre was perfumed with fresh herbs and mixed with ghee as a way of protecting the skin from the harsh rays of sun. It was also an effective insecticide and was thought to defend them from supernatural forces.
There is so much to be learned from the ancient rituals. We'll explore other regions in BOA's future blogs.