“Luminous Beauty” By Stephanie Rose Bird
In African American culture it is generally frowned upon to display dry, ashy skin. Since I was a small child I remember my mother slathering me in lotion or cream after every bath. To this day I use the wonderful tree medicine, shea butter after my showers so that my skin has a slight luster. One of the interesting discoveries I made during my research for “The Big Book of Soul: the Ultimate Guide to the African American Spirit,” is that this practice is an Africanism or holdover that was passed on to us from West African culture.
In chapter 10 of “The Big Book of Soul,” called “Tribal Beauty,” I share some of my research on this topic of beauty regimens.
Here is an excerpt:
“The Mande people have a beautiful, black Theng mask that acquires its desired darkened hue by being rubbed multiple times with palm oil. Teli or blackness, and wetness, refers to the origins of Mande knowledge—dark, deep, and contained. It also refers to nature spirits who live in the river, embodying the medicine found within. During masquerade, girls initiated into the local secret society have their dark skin oiled to represent water spirits. When performed at night, this ceremonial production takes on an eerie, otherworldly quality reinforced by the depth and mystery of blackness.”
“Tribal beauty is built around luminosity, which is enhanced by certain tree medicines, body butters, natural oils, and phyto-nutrients consumed, inhaled, or applied. In West Africa, palm oil is used a great deal because it adds a sheen to the skin tone and also imparts a desired redness which indicates good health. In American culture we utilize African tree medicines as well. Cocoa butter and shea butter-based lotions and creams are very popular as African American skin conditioners. Whereas, in other cultures there is a great deal of attention paid to shiny hair in our culture, on both sides of the Atlantic, skin that is luminous demonstrates good health and beauty.
Stephanie Rose Bird, is the author of five books: The Big Book of Soul: the Ultimate Guide to the African American Spirit: Legends and Lore, Music and Mysticism and Recipes and Rituals, (2010, Hampton Road Publishers),A Healing Grove: African Tree Medicine, Remedies and Rituals ( 2009, Chicago Review Press), Light, Bright, Damn Near White: Biracial and Triracial Culture in America and Beyond (2009, Praeger Press/Greenwood Publishers) Sticks, Stones, Roots and Bones Hoodoo, Mojo and Conjuring with Herbs (June 2004, by Llewellyn Worldwide) and “Four Seasons of Mojo: An Herbal Guide to Natural Living (Llewellyn Worldwide, 2006). Bird has published numerous articles and columns including “Sage Woman,” www.naturallycurly.com, “Witchvox,” “PanGaia” and the “Oracle.” She is the mother of four, married to her soul mate and companion to four feisty animals. Bird teaches magickal Herbalism, painting and herb crafting as well as aromatherapy. She lives and works in the Chicago area. You can reach her at www.stephanierosebird.com or at www.authorsden.com/stephanierosebird.