Sustainability is the buzzword in consumerism today. People want to look good, and not feel bad about it. More and more shoppers are turning to cultures that have long depended on natural sources for beauty, and African tribes fit that bill perfectly. From skin treatments to hair-care products and even jewelry styles, these beauty traditions from African tribes are finding their way into Western consumer culture.
The Berber tribe of North Africa was thought to be the first to use this clay, which has been used for more than 1400 years as a soap, shampoo, and skin conditioner. It’s popular in Morocco, where it’s mined in the Atlas Mountains. The clay works by removing oils and toxins from the hair, but it’s also used in spa body wraps. In areas where water was scarce, Rhassoul clay was valued for its ability to remove dirt and toxins with little water.
A reddish brown cosmetic clay, Rhassoul is used in spas across the globe. It must be extracted under special conditions. When first mined, Rhassoul clay appears chunky and resembling rocks. After further refinement and micronization, the end product is a smooth almost silken earth. Rhassoul contains higher percentages of silica, magnesium, potassium and calcium than other clays.
The Tsonga People, native to South Africa and Mozambique, use the oil of the beloved marula tree as a beauty enhancing moisturizer. The oil offers topical antioxidants and long-lasting hydration for the skin, but the Tsonga People also use it for massage oil for babies.
One maker of marula beauty products claims that marula oil has a 60-percent higher antioxidant level than argan oil for fighting the free radicals that cause premature skin aging. Marula oil is rich in fatty acids such as omega 6 and 9.
Archaeological evidence shows the marula tree was a source of health care and nutrition 10,000 years B.C. One of Africa’s botanical treasures, the tree has multiple uses. Its bark, leaves, fruit, nut and kernels are rich in minerals and vitamins. It was a mainstay in South Africa, Botswana and Namibia throughout ancient times.
The Masai tribes of Kenya slowly stretch their ears by inserting progressively larger discs. Both men and women wear elaborate pieces of jewelry in their ears, but the size of the lobe was meant to indicate wisdom and age. Today, the Western world knows them as earplugs. Walk into almost any piercing shop anywhere in the world and you can find various sizes of earplugs. Many people prefer putting the rubber plugs in their ears instead of harmful metal earrings.
The Afar tribe of Ethiopia use ghee — a clarified form of butter — on their afros, known as “asdago” hairstyle. The butter adds glimmer to the hair and keeps it soft while maintaining the shape. Ghee also acts as a makeup remover and moisturizer for both the face and body.
The girls in the Borana tribe of Ethiopia and Northern Kenya shave their heads until marriage. Only when they’re married are they allowed to let their hair grow out. Sounds like a nice, low maintenance do.
The Hamar tribe is a group of semi-nomadic herders in Southern Ethiopia who are known for their bright red dreadlocks. The women use red soil plus a local butter to dye their hair and keep the locks in place.
Heavy armbands and necklaces didn’t originate at Coachella. The Dassanech women of the Omo River in Ethiopia wear heavy metal armbands and thick necklaces made from multiple strands of colorful beads.
The Khoi and San people of South Africa use Rooibos tea on their skin to treat eczema, acne, aging and skin allergies. One can receive the benefits by drinking the tea or placing the tea — or tea bags — directly on the skin.
The Mafura seed comes from the Natal mahogany tree in South Africa and parts of tropical Africa. Tribes in Mozambique, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Tanzania have used the oils of the seed as a skin and hair moisturizer as well as a wound healer.
Tribes in Ghana make black soap from local plants such as plantains, cocoa pods and shea tree bark. Every tribe has its own special recipe, but the oil helps fight fine lines, provides UV protection and is great for those with sensitive skin.
Neem oil comes from the neem tree and has both medicinal and beauty applications. Fresh or dried neem leaves, fruit, and oil extracted from the seeds have healing properties.
Neem is well known in the drier regions of India, Southeast Asia, and parts of Africa. It was introduced to Africa in the 1900s and is now well established in at least 30 African countries, especially along the southern edge of the Sahara. In Nigeria it goes by the name dongoyaro, and in Kiswahili, it’s known as mwarubaini or muarobaini. It is highly treasured in India and used extensively in Ayurvedic medicine for many skin issues and daily skin care.
The neem tree needs little water and thrives in dry, stony, shallow soil. Where it grows, it improves soil fertility and water-holding capacity, changing acidic soil into neutral, prompting the U.N. to declare it the tree of the 21st century.
On the beauty front, it contains a fatty acid that helps heals scars plus an aspirin-like compound that removes acne-causing bacteria. The oil can also be turned into a facemask to shrink pores. In the Swahili tribes, the name translates to “the reliever of 40 human disorders.”
The Kabba dress is worn by tribes throughout Cameroon and Ghana and is a loose, free-flowing dress usually made from tie-dye cotton prints. If there are sleeves, they’re in a bell shape. The kabba dress has some visible crossover with modern styles from the 50s through 70s, and with the “Mad Men” craze right now, you see this style in Western stores a lot.
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