Ancient Africans and their fascinating art of hygiene and cleanliness

Alice Otchere Johnson July 04, 2018

An Egyptian royal about to clean himself


Originally only water was used to clean the body. With time, people realized that water alone was not sufficient in taking care of body odour issues. Ancient Egyptians took long beauty baths with water mixed with aromatic oils and spices to keep them smelling and looking good.

For royals, some oils were prepared and smeared on their bodies after which they soak in a bath of warm water. Servants then scraped off the oils from their bodies revealing clean and sweet smelling skin. This method can be likened to skin exfoliation of today.

Ancient Egyptians further came up with so many perfumes and aromatic scents to fight off the strong body odour that arose from their hard work.

They invented globs of scented wax that they put on their heads early on in the day. These globs melted throughout the day and kept them smelling good.

Dinka man having a bath

Men of the Dinka ethnic group in South Sudan bathe in the urine of their cattle to keep themselves clean. The urine is believed to have antiseptic tendencies and act as a mosquito repellent.

They also smear their bodies with the ash from burnt cow dung to serve as a sunblock and to ward off foul body odour. For the women, they wash their bodies with water from the Nile river.

Among the Himba tribe, women smear a reddish paste called ‘otjize’ on their bodies and hair. The paste is made by mixing grounded pieces of hematite also known as ochre stone with sap and butter and subsequently heating the mixture.

A Himba woman — CNN

Women also take daily smoke baths to maintain good personal hygiene. The baths are prepared by burning herbs from the Commiphora trees in smouldering charcoal. They would stand close to or over the fire to allow the smoke to do its work.

Sometimes, the women cover themselves with a blanket over the fire for a full body bath that will cleanse intense perspiration. Interestingly, women are not even allowed to use water to wash their clothes. Only men use water to clean themselves.


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