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Abstract

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. The Black Soap (“Ose Dudu”)
  5. Osun” (Cam Wood)
  6. Oils
  7. Tiro” (Local Eyeliner)
  8. “Efun”
  9. Tribal Marks and Tattoos
  10. Beads
  11. Hair Care
  12. Henna
  13. A Move from Traditional Yoruba to Western Cultural Practice of Bodily Adornment
  14. References

The traditional practice of cutaneous adornment is rich and vast amongst the Yoruba in the south-western part of Nigeria. There are varieties of traditionally made products, such as oils, soaps, fragrances, and beads, that have been employed over the years to enhance body beauty. This rich cultural heritage, however, has more or less given way to the values of Western culture, together with the disadvantages of the latter, manifesting as sequelae on the skin.


Introduction

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. The Black Soap (“Ose Dudu”)
  5. Osun” (Cam Wood)
  6. Oils
  7. Tiro” (Local Eyeliner)
  8. “Efun”
  9. Tribal Marks and Tattoos
  10. Beads
  11. Hair Care
  12. Henna
  13. A Move from Traditional Yoruba to Western Cultural Practice of Bodily Adornment
  14. References

In ancient Egypt, men painted their faces and dyed their hair. Red, blue, and yellow were the fashionable colors.1 Cleopatra painted her eyelids blue and her lower lids green. She covered her face and neck with white chalk and used a golden dye on her cheeks and a red dye on her lips. Octavia, the wife of the Roman emperor Nero, slept wearing a face mask made of breadcrumbs mixed with asses’ milk. Isabeau, a French queen in the fourteenth century, used a face cream made of the following: boar's brains, glands of crocodiles, and wolves’ blood.1

There are regional variations in the methods adopted or favored, and these change over time. Nigeria is located in West Africa and lies in the tropics between latitude 3° N and 10° N. It has a population of approximately 110,000,000 people. It contains many ethnic groups, amongst which are the “Yoruba” in the south-western part of the country (Fig. 1). In the Yoruba culture, there is a thin line between products applied to the body for cosmetic and medicinal reasons.

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Figure 1. South-west Nigeria showing location of Yoruba

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The Black Soap (“Ose Dudu”)

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. The Black Soap (“Ose Dudu”)
  5. Osun” (Cam Wood)
  6. Oils
  7. Tiro” (Local Eyeliner)
  8. “Efun”
  9. Tribal Marks and Tattoos
  10. Beads
  11. Hair Care
  12. Henna
  13. A Move from Traditional Yoruba to Western Cultural Practice of Bodily Adornment
  14. References

The Yoruba words “ose dudu” literally translate to “the black soap.” This is because the common color of the soap is black. The black soap (BS), however, varies in color from black to grayish-white depending on the materials used in the production (Fig. 2).

image

Figure 2. Black soap and “Dudu-Osun

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The soap is made from palm kernel after the palm oil has been extracted. Alternatively, cocoa pods may be used. The pods are also dried, roasted, and cooked. The soap obtained from cocoa pods is grayish in color. Additives to BS include “osun” (described later), some ferruginous clay, and oils (mainly coconut and palm oil).2 For example, “osun” mixed with BS is used for washing babies. Some oils are then applied to the skin (including the scalp) after a bath. In the past, the addition of fragrance (perfume) to products was a rarity in Yoruba culture; however, recent versions of some products, such as BS, contain fragrance.

Osun” (Cam Wood)

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. The Black Soap (“Ose Dudu”)
  5. Osun” (Cam Wood)
  6. Oils
  7. Tiro” (Local Eyeliner)
  8. “Efun”
  9. Tribal Marks and Tattoos
  10. Beads
  11. Hair Care
  12. Henna
  13. A Move from Traditional Yoruba to Western Cultural Practice of Bodily Adornment
  14. References

There are two products referred to as “osun.” One is made from the leaves of Pterocarpus osun. The leaves are plucked, dried, and pounded, and change to a reddish color. The other product is made from “okuta osun,” hard ferruginous laterite-like stones which yield a reddish powder when rubbed against hard surfaces. When applied to the skin, the rough texture of the ground cam wood possibly causes epidermabrasion which results in the removal of dead skin tissue, encouraging new cell production, as well as opening up blocked follicles.

Oils

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. The Black Soap (“Ose Dudu”)
  5. Osun” (Cam Wood)
  6. Oils
  7. Tiro” (Local Eyeliner)
  8. “Efun”
  9. Tribal Marks and Tattoos
  10. Beads
  11. Hair Care
  12. Henna
  13. A Move from Traditional Yoruba to Western Cultural Practice of Bodily Adornment
  14. References

Oils commonly used amongst the Yoruba for cutaneous adornment include “adin eyan,”“adin agbon,” and “ori.”

Adin eyan” is made from palm kernel. “Adin agbon” is made from coconut. “Ori” is made from the fruit of the Shea butter tree, Vitellaria parodoxum syn. Butyrosporum paradosum. The stem of the Shea butter tree is also used to make a mortar, an important utensil for pounding drugs, herbs, and yam; the latter is a staple food in the region.

Shea butter trees are more common in the drier, more northerly Guinea savanna forest of the region under consideration. The oils extracted from the tree act as an emollient and help to keep the skin soft. The effect is especially noticeable during the “Harmattan” season, when the dry, dusty, chilly north-easterly wind causes drying and cracking of the skin and lips.

Apart from the use of these oils for cosmetic purposes, they are also used for cooking. They also serve as drugs, as alluded to above, for the treatment of fevers, soft tissue swellings, and arthropathies. They are administered topically and systemically.2

Tiro” (Local Eyeliner)

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. The Black Soap (“Ose Dudu”)
  5. Osun” (Cam Wood)
  6. Oils
  7. Tiro” (Local Eyeliner)
  8. “Efun”
  9. Tribal Marks and Tattoos
  10. Beads
  11. Hair Care
  12. Henna
  13. A Move from Traditional Yoruba to Western Cultural Practice of Bodily Adornment
  14. References

Tiro” is antimony, which comes as shiny silver-like pieces. When ground with a piece of charcoal, it can be applied to the eyelashes. The ground grayish black mixture is often kept in a conical dispenser made of metal (Fig. 3). A small rod in the container allows the application to the margins of the eyelids.

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Figure 3. Tiro” (antimony) container and crystals

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“Efun”

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. The Black Soap (“Ose Dudu”)
  5. Osun” (Cam Wood)
  6. Oils
  7. Tiro” (Local Eyeliner)
  8. “Efun”
  9. Tribal Marks and Tattoos
  10. Beads
  11. Hair Care
  12. Henna
  13. A Move from Traditional Yoruba to Western Cultural Practice of Bodily Adornment
  14. References

This is a white powder-like substance obtained from the pounding of the dried fruit of some trees in the locality, e.g. Huernia keniensis and Diplorhynchus condylocarpan. “Efun” and “osun” are often applied to babies.

Eku owo lomi. Se eti fi osun tabi efun ra omo lara?”

The above expression is a customary greeting on the arrival of a newborn baby. The latter phrase enquires from the mother if “efun”, the white powdery substance, or “osun,” the red powdery alternative, has been applied to the baby's skin.

Tribal Marks and Tattoos

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. The Black Soap (“Ose Dudu”)
  5. Osun” (Cam Wood)
  6. Oils
  7. Tiro” (Local Eyeliner)
  8. “Efun”
  9. Tribal Marks and Tattoos
  10. Beads
  11. Hair Care
  12. Henna
  13. A Move from Traditional Yoruba to Western Cultural Practice of Bodily Adornment
  14. References

Since ancient times, many African tribes have been recognized by the marks on their skin (Fig. 4). Women also acquire beauty marks on their faces, known as “pele,” which are not identified with any specific tribe. Tribal marks are usually inscribed very early in the morning (about 06.00 h) in the belief that such early morning surgery prevents excessive bleeding. The surgery is normally performed on children between the ages of 3 weeks to 10 years. In rare cases, however, when the child is sickly or is predicted by the oracle to die young, the operation is delayed until adolescence.

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Figure 4. Scarification marks on the abdominal wall

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The procedure is similar to that used for circumcision in the same environment.2 A cold bath is taken between 05.00 and 06.00 h. The subject lies down on a wooden plank as appropriate, e.g. face down if the marks are for the back. Women stand around reciting the “Oriki” (family praise or songs) of the child and praying that he/she may grow old and be able to witness an occasion when tribal marks are inscribed on his/her own offspring. The surgeon (“okola”) takes out his knife from his leather jacket, dips it into water, rubs the cold water on the cheek of the subject to constrict the blood vessels, and then makes sharp but thin cuts on the cheek in straight lines. Medication is then applied to the incision. A solution of spent native dye (portion left after dyeing of clothes) is first splashed on the cut areas. After 2 days, palm oil is applied with the aid of a feather. The patient either does not bathe or the affected part is kept dry. On the third day, the patient bathes and rubs the area with a face towel and BS (sometimes mixed with maize pap) to absorb the fluid oozing from the sores. After thoroughly cleansing the wound, various herbs which have astringent, hemostatic, or antimicrobial properties, e.g. Hoslinda opposita, Ocimum gratissimum, Dissortis rotundifolia, are wrapped in a banana leaf, heated in hot ash, and the leaf juice squeezed onto the sores. The juice is applied once or twice daily, and the tribal marks usually heal within 3 weeks. The marks are often pressed into shape with a thumb during the healing period to avoid hypertrophic scar formation.

Decorative markings in the form of tattoos are common amongst the Yoruba. The abdomen and arms are common sites for these decorative markings. Unlike in other racial groups, black is the only color adopted. The pigment is usually carbon in the form of burnt organic materials, usually from plants.

Beads

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. The Black Soap (“Ose Dudu”)
  5. Osun” (Cam Wood)
  6. Oils
  7. Tiro” (Local Eyeliner)
  8. “Efun”
  9. Tribal Marks and Tattoos
  10. Beads
  11. Hair Care
  12. Henna
  13. A Move from Traditional Yoruba to Western Cultural Practice of Bodily Adornment
  14. References

Beads used to be worn around the waist (Fig. 5) and around the neck and wrists. Some 40 years ago, the waist of virtually every female was adorned with beads. They served two functions – to assess waistline growth and for aesthetic value. The beads were worn by both genders. Traditional chiefs of both genders wore beads on both the neck and the wrists. Younger females wore beads in these two anatomic regions, as well as on the waist, during festivals and some traditional rites/initiations, e.g. transition to womanhood. The status of the individual in the past was assessed by the types, sizes, and quality of the beads.

image

Figure 5. Beads around the waist

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Hair Care

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. The Black Soap (“Ose Dudu”)
  5. Osun” (Cam Wood)
  6. Oils
  7. Tiro” (Local Eyeliner)
  8. “Efun”
  9. Tribal Marks and Tattoos
  10. Beads
  11. Hair Care
  12. Henna
  13. A Move from Traditional Yoruba to Western Cultural Practice of Bodily Adornment
  14. References

Plaiting/braiding of the hair used to be the main method of hair care in the Yoruba (Fig. 6). The hair styles differed with age group and occasion, such as for marriages. This method of hair care was introduced to the West Indies by descendants of slaves from West Africa. There has been a resurgence of this traditional practice, with some slight modification, among American blacks, encouraged further by migrants from West African countries, as hair plating/braiding styles run across this subregion. “Irunbgon,” the beard, is said by the Yoruba to be suggestive of old age, in contrast with the moustache, “tubomu,” which is grown precociously and encourages the young not to respect those who are older than they are.

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Figure 6. Traditional Yoruba hair style

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Henna

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. The Black Soap (“Ose Dudu”)
  5. Osun” (Cam Wood)
  6. Oils
  7. Tiro” (Local Eyeliner)
  8. “Efun”
  9. Tribal Marks and Tattoos
  10. Beads
  11. Hair Care
  12. Henna
  13. A Move from Traditional Yoruba to Western Cultural Practice of Bodily Adornment
  14. References

Amongst the Yoruba, henna, from the Egyptian privet (Lawsonia inermis), is used for coloring of the nails and palmoplantar areas of the extremities. Its use in the south-western region of Nigeria is, however, much less than in the far north, amongst the Hausa, Fulani, and Nupe. It imparts a reddish-brown color to the skin/nail plates.

A Move from Traditional Yoruba to Western Cultural Practice of Bodily Adornment

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. The Black Soap (“Ose Dudu”)
  5. Osun” (Cam Wood)
  6. Oils
  7. Tiro” (Local Eyeliner)
  8. “Efun”
  9. Tribal Marks and Tattoos
  10. Beads
  11. Hair Care
  12. Henna
  13. A Move from Traditional Yoruba to Western Cultural Practice of Bodily Adornment
  14. References

All the chemical products used in the traditional methods of adornment are natural and devoid of additives, such as fragrances and synthetic colorings. There has been a steady increase in the incidence of eczema/dermatitis,3,4 mainly due to the importation into and development of cosmetic products within the country.4

The traditional products were cheap and readily available. The beads used locally (“iyun-ileke”) hardly ever resulted in contact dermatitis. Nickel in items of jewellery has become a common cause of dermatitis in Nigeria.5 Coral beads are becoming a rarity amongst < 40-year-old females. They feature more as ornaments for both males and females who have been made traditional chiefs, however. The high cost of natural beads (as opposed to synthetic ones) has also contributed to the movement away from this item of adornment.

Marginal traction alopecia used to be a common finding in women over the age of 35 years, resulting from the plaiting of hair and partly from ischemia from tight-fitting “gele,” the traditional head scarf.6 The various natural oils applied to the skin probably contribute to the high incidence of pityriasis versicolor, similar to observations in some tropical and semitropical regions of the world. In South sea island people where, in addition to climatic factors, it is customary to apply coconut oil to the body, pityriasis versicolor is present in every man, woman, and child, partly due to the lipophilic nature of the causative fungus.7 Conjunctivitis has been implicated in the application of “tiro” to the eyelashes due to physical irritation by the ground substances and possibly from transmission of infection by the applicator from one person to another.

Facial marks and tattoos have resulted in keloids and foreign body reactions. From studies carried out in south-western Nigeria on Yoruba myth (oral literature) embodied in the Ifa corpus (religious creed), and from the terracotta (Italian for baked earth; indicated by statuettes made from baked earth) found at the different groves in Ile-ife, the religious capital of the Yoruba, there is indication that the ancient Yoruba knew about keloid.8

Over 80% of cutaneous sarcoidosis in this part of Nigeria is due to scar sarcoidosis resulting from scarification and tattoos.9

It has been postulated that the widespread distribution of lichen planus lesions in the West African Negroid is due to koebnerization from the use of the coarse traditional sponge.10

Nearly all the traditional methods of bodily adornment in south-western Nigeria have been replaced by those imported from developed countries – USA and Europe. The young generation in this geographic (south-western) area of Nigeria are becoming increasingly unaware of the products used by their grandparents. They are more at home with talcum powder, compact facial powders, “powder puff,” artificial nails and eyelashes, wigs, artificial hair attachments, “perming,” and “Jerry curls.” The Federal Government, through the Ministry of Health, has tried without success to ban some products, such as the “bleaching” creams, including mercury-containing germicidal soaps, which have the potential for renal damage.11

Some health workers have documented and warned about health hazards, such as the increasing incidence of cataracts from the frequent use of steroid creams for bleaching the face.12,13 The need for legislation has also been suggested by some dermatologists.14

A few manufacturers have attempted to modify some traditional products, especially BS (“ose dudu”), which is still being used by the older generation and a few young people. A brand of BS is “Zee Black soap.” Another is “Dudu-Osun” (Fig. 2). The brochure indicates that “Dudu-Osun”“is a luxury milled native black soap with osun (Cam wood extract), citrus juices, native honey, high unsap shea butter, Aloe vera and natural vitamins.” It lacks the advantages of the traditional BS. The roughness of BS is a major reason for its function. Some high school students use BS as a “facial scrub.” They claim it helps facial acne. The physical properties of BS were compared with some toilet soaps used locally (including Lux toilet soap).15 It was revealed that BS was very rough to touch and did not lather readily.

A discussion on cutaneous bodily adornment in the south-western region of Nigeria would not be complete without additional information on the changing pattern of hair care. There are few streets in the south-western region of Nigeria without one or more salons visited by females for hair care. There are two methods employed for obtaining long-lasting waves:16,17 hot waving, referred to as “perming,” and cold waving, referred to locally as “Jerry curls.” Unfortunately, not all hair is suitable for perming.18 Hair straighteners are less popular than permanent waving in this region.

In conclusion, perming of the hair, attachments of synthetic hair pieces to hair, wearing of wigs, and the use of synthetic chemical products are the fashions in vogue.

References

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. The Black Soap (“Ose Dudu”)
  5. Osun” (Cam Wood)
  6. Oils
  7. Tiro” (Local Eyeliner)
  8. “Efun”
  9. Tribal Marks and Tattoos
  10. Beads
  11. Hair Care
  12. Henna
  13. A Move from Traditional Yoruba to Western Cultural Practice of Bodily Adornment
  14. References
  • 1
    Young J, Young P. Relevant Reading, Book 3. Edinburgh: Oliver & Boyd, 1985.
  • 2
    Sofowora A. Medicinal Plants and Traditional Medicine in Africa. New York: Wiley, 1982: 4647, 72.
  • 3
    Shrank AB, Harman RRM. The incidence of skin diseases in a Nigerian Teaching Hospital dermatological clinic. Br J Dermatol 1966; 78: 235238.
  • 4
    Alabi GO. Trends in the pattern of skin diseases in Nigeria. Niger Med J 1980; 10: 163166.
  • 5
    Olumide YM. Contact dermatitis in Nigeria. Contact Dermatitis 1985; 12: 241246.
  • 6
    CIBA. Dermatoses in Dark-Skinned People, Part III (A pictorial documentation in 8 parts). Basel: Ciba-Geigy Ltd, 1976.
  • 7
    Riciputo RM, Oliveri S, Micali G, Sapuppo A. Phospholipase activity in Malassezia furfur pathogenic strains. Mycoses 1996; 39 (5–6): 233235.
  • 8
    Omo-dare P. Yoruba contributions to the literature on keloid. J Natl Med Assoc 1973; 65: 367406.
  • 9
    Alabi GO, George AO. Sarcoidosis and tribal scarification. Int J Dermatol 1989; 28: 2931.
  • 10
    Alabi GO, Akisanya JB. Lichen planus in tropical Africa. Trop Geog Med 1981; 33: 143147.
  • 11
    Soap Creams Banned. Nigerian Tribune 2nd February 1988; 8731: front page.
  • 12
    Olumide YM. Abuse of topical corticosteroids in Nigeria. Niger Med Pract 1986; 11: 58.
  • 13
    Olumide YM, Elesha SO. Hydroquinone induced ochronosis. Niger Med Pract 1986; 11: 79.
  • 14
    Olumide YM. Cosmetic hazards and legislative needs in Nigeria. Niger Med Pract 1985; 9: 1214.
  • 15
    Olumide YM. The Nigerian black soap as a cleansing agent: a preliminary study. J Pharmaceut Med Sci 1982; 6: 5154.
  • 16
    Morrison LH, Storrs FJ. Persistence of an allergen in hair after glyceryl monothioglycolate-containing permanent wave solutions. J Am Acad Dermatol 1988; 19: 5259.
  • 17
    Wickett RR. Permanent waving and straightening of hair. Cutis 1987; 39: 496500.
  • 18
    Gan HF, Meng XS, Song CH, et al. A survey on health effects in a human population exposed to permanent-waving solution containing thioglycolic acid. J Occup Health 2003; 45: 400404.