Before westernisation and the coming of the colonialists, make-up existed in pre-colonial Africa. Nigeria was no exemption to this, as there are recorded use of body alteration and beautifying products. In recent times, popularly known make-up products are a little different from what was used in traditional Africa, and some might argue against the existence of make-up before westernisation. This begs the question, what exactly is make-up?

Make-up is best described as the composition of ingredients to enhance or alter natural physical appearances.

In Nigeria, the use of make-up originated from the traditional Nigerian theatre, ritual festivals and other forms of organised entertainment. Among these are the Bornu puppet show, Annang drama of Ibibio, Alarinjo of the yoruba tribe and many others. Make-up and masks were present in all Nigerian traditional cultures and festivals, for instance the use of powder on the face, to reduce oil, or the use of white chalk/clay, charcoal and uri (indigo).Make up practices in traditional Nigeria. 1














Festivals and fun make overs!

During festivals, unmasked dancers and women used chalk to paint their bodies, to symbolise peace and harmony. The make-up routine usually involved two attendants, decoratively dabbed in white chalk and kaolin. This was widely used in the Mbom, Gelede and Ofrima festivals.

Uri (indigo) was used elaborately with cam-wood to make the women fetching parade colourful during the Mbom festival. Women also used cam-wood and palm oil to make their bodies beautiful during the Ofrima and Iria festivals.

Gburumo and Idela are types of indigo used in the Niger-delta region. The idela was popularly known for its ability to stay on the body for over a month, while the gburumo came off the moment you break a sweat (totally relatable).

Kajal, was also used by both men and women to line the eyes, as it was believed to see bad spirits better, while charcoal was used to make the war dancers look fierce.

The fun fact about make-up products of that time were the long-lasting abilities, and natural components. Producers and beauty technicians should probably introduce these traditional products and concepts when coming up with new products.

BY: Ifeanyichukwu Okpala

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