Every woman who ever put on any kind of facial makeup, hair replacements, lipstick, painted finger or toe nails, used perfumes, wore earrings, wigs, even tattoos, have the Afrikan women of the ancient Nile Valley to praise. Before there were any other civilizations on the planet, these women were gracing themselves with elaborate eye shadow, skin enhancers and hair styles that were unmatched anywhere else. They established the standard for beauty that exists even to the present time. Most women, in any culture, have no clue of the origin of their morning ritual of, putting on my face.
These ancient Afrikan women also established the foundation for the science of chemistry; through the work they established using various chemicals. The land called Kemet (Egypt), was originally called Chem, interpreted by many as the black land.
Looking at conceivably the most used item in putting on the face, is eye makeup. Miriam Stead, in her book Egyptian Life, enlightens us on this issue. Eye makeup was probably the most characteristic of the Egyptian cosmetics. The most popular colors were green and black. The green was originally made from malachite, an oxide of copper. In the Old Kingdom it was applied liberally from the eyebrow to the base of the nose. In the Middle Kingdom, green eye paint continued to be used for the brows and the corners of the eyes, but by the New Kingdom it had been superseded by black. Black eye paint, kohl, was usually made of a sulfide of lead called galena. Its use continued to the Coptic period. By that time, soot was the basis for the black pigment. Both malachite and galena were ground on a palette with either gum and/or water to make a paste. Round-ended sticks made of wood, bronze, haematite, obsidian or glass were used to apply the eye make-up.
According to Sir John Gardner Wilkinson in his book, A Popular Account of the Ancient Egyptians, he states, Red ochre mixed with fat or gum resin was thought to be used a lipstick or face paint. Mixtures of chalk and oil were possibly used as cleansing creams. Henna was used as hair dye and is still in use today.
Tattooing was known and practiced. Mummies of dancers and concubines, from the Middle Kingdom, have geometric designs tattooed on their chests, shoulders and arms. In the New Kingdom, tattoos of the god Bes could be found on the thighs of dancers, musicians and servant girls.
Wilkinson continues on the subject of wigs. Wigs were curled or sometimes made with a succession of plaits. Only queens or noble ladies could wear wigs of long hair separated into three parts, the so-called goddress. However, they were worn by commoners in later times. During the Old and Middle Kingdom, there were basically two kinds of wig styles; wigs made of short or long hair. The former was made of small curls arranged in horizontal lines lapping over each other resembling roof tiles. The forehead was partially visible and the ears and back of the neck were fully covered. Those small curls were either triangular or square. The hair could be cut straight across the forehead or cut rounded.
Wigs were meticulously cared for using emollients and oils made from vegetables or animal fats. Those wigs that were properly cared for lasted longer than those without proper care. Although Egyptians preferred to wear wigs and took care of them, they also did take care of their natural hair. Washing their hair regularly was a routine for Egyptians. However, it is not known how frequently Egyptians washed their hair. Wigs were scented with petals or piece of wood chips such as cinnamon. When wigs were not used, they were kept in special boxes on a stand or in special chests. When it was needed, it could be worn without tiresome combing. Wig boxes were found in tombs and the remnants of ancient wig factories have been located. Since it is believed that wigs were also needed for the afterlife, the dead were buried in the tombs with their wigs.
Coloring gray hair, as it is done to day, was not unknown to the ancient Afrikans. Scientific studies show that people used henna to conceal their gray hair from as early as 3400 BC. Henna is still used today.
Care of the skin was very important, particularly in the climate of the Nile Valley. Oils and ointments were used from various plants. During the time of Rameses III, workers considered them part of their wages.
Though there has been considerable discussion on the Afrikan origin of civilization, not much has been mentioned about ancient Afrikan women and their contribution to cosmetics, chemistry or fashion. Every woman, every morning, when standing in front of a mirror, enhancing her looks through various means, should say a simple, Thank You, acknowledging those women in the Nile Valley, who created a practice, to make you look even more beautiful.
- Dr. Kwakus class, Afrikan World Civilizations (Part II), is conducted on Friday evenings, 7-9 p.m. at Kaos Studios in Leimert Park. For details go to: www.drkwaku.com.