The notion of beauty in Africa as in the rest of the world is a polysemic notion with variable contours. How to give a prescriptive definition, that is to say a solid, strict and scientific definition of beauty with the assurance that it is unanimously accepted? According to the Larousse dictionary, beauty is anything that gives visual, auditory, intellectual or moral pleasure, etc…
As we can see, this definition of beauty leaves a large place to subjectivity. In fact, is what is beautiful for X necessarily beautiful for Y? The canons or standards of beauty in Africa, for example, are not always the same in the rest of the world. Each human being, even each society, produces its own criteria, its own models, its own references in the field of beauty. Will a top model in Europe be perceived and appreciated in the same way in Africa and in the rest of the world? Doesn’t the old scholastic meaning say that “Tastes and colors are not to be discussed”? Who has the final say on what is beautiful and what is not?
Read also : WHO DECIDES IF YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL OR NOT?
Without claiming to be exhaustive, we will approach this question under its following essential articulations:
visual beauty, that is to say physical, corporal, clothing.
The inner beauty, that is to say spiritual, that of the soul with identifiable visible manifestations. Oral beauty, i.e. all the sounds that touch our sensitivity, music, poetry, stories, choirs, theater and public speaking, etc.
The olfactory beauty, that is to say the smells and the aromatic essences: the smells that come from the kitchens of different regions or ethnic groups, the smells of natural essences.
The aesthetic beauty of the arts with paintings, sculptures, masks, old and new writings…
One study indicated that the concept of beauty in an African context is communal and functional, unlike the individualistic conception of beauty in Western philosophy. Therefore, the communal conception of beauty means that whatever is deemed beautiful should not be socially disharmonious, but should also enhance the balance of the community. The functional conception of beauty implies that beauty, in an African context, must serve to lead to a certain purpose [see this study in detail on ” jpanafrican “ ]
In Africa, beauty is linked to the development of moral consciousness; there is no beauty for beauty’s sake, it must serve a purpose. Finally, beauty is a reality with two components: inner beauty and outer beauty.
Inner beauty refers to good behavior; outer beauty refers to physical attractiveness. A person or a thing is judged beautiful if and only if it reflects these two aspects; because the absence of one cancels the other. This means that beauty in an African context is complementary in the sense that good conduct must complement physical attractiveness and vice versa in order to make an aesthetic appearance complete, as both aspects are relevant for a valid aesthetic judgme
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african beauty : Visual beauty in Black Africa
In most human societies, the woman, more than the man, is the unit of measurement of beauty. Not that men are not as beautiful as their fellow men, but our societies want that when we talk about beauty, it is the women who embody it primarily. The men will embody on the other hand more the force and the power.
beauty in Africa : The African beauty of antiquity to our days
The African beauty comes from a long genealogy whose starting point is exactly in the black continent, called today Africa, but whose original name, that is to say the one used by the ancient Africans, we mean, here, the ancient Egyptians, is kemet, or kama. This means: the land of the Blacks in “Medu Netjer” which is the sacred language of the ancient Egyptians.
The African, like his ancestors, has a black physical appearance, otherwise called a black phenotype. The scientific term for the black man or woman is melanoderm because of the large amount of melanin that gives them this color to protect them from the sun, and much more.
Objective historians, be they Europeans, Africans or ancient Greek scholars teach us that: Ancient Egypt, whose genius is so highly praised today, was essentially populated by blacks. Women with a light or white skin as it is the case in North Africa are the product of successive migrations and the crossbreeding generated.
Visual beauty of Africa
Beauty, understood as a physical and visual notion, is thus manifested in the African and particularly in the African woman through her face, as everywhere else in the world, but also through her forms which, unlike in the West, should not be too thin.
This does not mean that women with a very generous build are the model of beauty in Africa. It is a balance between the 2. The attire of the African woman as well as the African man also contributes to his originality and beauty.
It is clear that the African clothing model made of loincloths, colored fabrics, boubous, fez, marks the difference with other peoples of the world. A famous proverb of our villages says that: “the dress is the first gray”. This shows how much the external physical appearance can influence human relationships on a daily basis.
The visual beauty of Africa can also be seen in the natural landscapes with virgin forests, gigantic rivers and other landscapes of exceptional beauty. As for the traditional African architecture, little known in the world, it reveals the beauty and genius of African engineers and architects of the past. This is precisely the hypothesis of the pyramids of ancient Egypt, Sudan, etc., The talent, the exceptional genius of their builders has remained unmatched until today.
In the same vein, one cannot ignore all the beautiful architectural achievements of the Dogon Country, the marvelous city of Timbuktu, etc., which by their exceptional originality and beauty, are part of the world heritage of humanity protected by Unesco. All in all, the true African beauty, which gives consideration and respect in all the layers of the society, is the one which combines the physical beauty with the interior beauty.
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black african beauty : The inner beauty
Like physical beauty, the so-called inner beauty can also be appreciated in different ways. However, the qualities of generosity, humility, empathy, the capacity to love one’s neighbor, to be at the service of others, starting with one’s own, are the criteria that determine who is truly a beautiful person and who is not.
The consideration of a human being within his social space, I was going to say, of the city, will depend not only on his physical beauty and other appearances but also and especially on his inner beauty. This dimension, which is not visible to the physical eyes but to those of the spirit, will bring more light, grace, beauty and consideration to the said person within his community and beyond. Is it not true that the lights that spring from within a human being eventually illuminate his entire being?
The tales and legends handed down since the dawn of time by the griots in Africa, and even in the Bible, notably in the Song of Songs, tell us the story of an extraordinary woman of exceptional beauty and wisdom. It is about Queen Makeda, also called the Queen of Saaba. She heard about King Solomon and his rare gifts of wisdom. She wished to meet him and made the journey from Ethiopia to Jerusalem to meet and listen to the wise man whose fame went beyond her country.
King Solomon was fascinated by the enlightenment of the Queen of Saaba and wrote her a poem known as the Song of Songs.
Beauty in the arts or the African artistic aesthetic
In fact, beauty in African art is not the main goal; this does not detract from the beauty of the works of art themselves. Whether it be sculpture, painting, crafts, etc., art in Africa has a social and spiritual mission first. It serves as a link between the men of the visible world and the souls of the invisible world. In other words, it connects the world of the living to that of the dead.
Almost all of the masks, sculptures, canes, brooms, and other objects that were found in African chieftaincies and that can be found today in private collections as well as in Western museums, notably the one in Berlin, the Louvre or the Quai Branly, are all ritual objects that were used by the initiates during cult ceremonies. Their authors, who consider themselves to be the sole intermediaries between themselves and the creator, very often live and die in anonymity without the real recognition of their African contemporaries.
It should be remembered that ancient African masks and sculptures are worth their weight in gold on international auction sites such as Chrities, Sothebys, Artprice. This is because of their exceptional originality and beauty but also because of their age.
On the other hand, the debate on the restitution of works looted during the period of aggression of Africa by the West (slavery and colonization) is open in France since the advent of President Emmanuel Macron. After hundreds or even thousands of years of being outside their natural African space, should these African masterpieces be returned to their original continent? The major question is whether these desacralized, demythologized objects could regain their rightful place in traditional Africa?
Moreover, in its current state, Africa is confronted with multiple crises: identity, geography, politics, economics, and money. Does it have all the means to guarantee their perfect reintegration and exploitation? Could Africans who do not have the culture of museums and galleries appreciate and value the global aesthetics of these works which, by their journey outside the continent and outside their cosmogony, have lost their sound, that is to say, their sacredness?
beauty in Africa : Olfactory and sonic beauty
The Egypt of Pharaoh Ptah-Hotep was already considered as the cradle of perfumery. The Egyptian perfumes were appreciated all over the world and justified a certain celebrity. This tradition of perfumers stemmed from ritual and funeral ceremonies. The olfactory beauty is therefore of African origin.
What to say about the sound? Except that it is at the origin of everything. We hear it, we listen to it, we appreciate it in silence as in its articulation. It is then declined in the song, in the poetry and in the music.
The beauty of sound is identifiable in traditional Africa in the fields at the time of sowing or harvesting; during births, or in the songs of women who comfort their sick or crying children. But the true place of expression of the sacred sound in the form of mourning songs is at the time of saying goodbye to the deceased, the time of mourning. It is here that the griotes, the griots, the poets or Djellis, demonstrate their unparalleled talent. These moments are often rare moments of felicity; because it is there that the beautiful is sublimated by the cried song or the sung tears.
The beauty of sound is also manifested in modern music as practiced by Africans today. Some of the great names of this music and sound created by Blacks in Africa and its diaspora are unanimously recognized in the world today: Manu Dibango, Richard Bona, Salif Keita, Oumou Sangaré, Youssou Ndour, Alpha Blondy, Louis Amstrong, Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Billie Holliday, Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone. Michael Jackson, Bob Marley, Beyoncé, etc.
Moreover, contrary to a widespread false opinion according to which: “the African tradition is strictly oral” therefore, Africa would not have writing, it is necessary to note that the famous book entitled: The book of the dead or better articulated, the book of the exit to the light, is an exceptional condensation of ancient texts found in ancient Egypt and in particular on the sarcophaguses and in other places. This beautiful geometrical writing called hieroglyphs was in its time accessible only to an elite. In fact, the act of writing as well as the content of the writings were themselves sacred.
This is also the place to evoke the works of scholarly beauty of the Timbuktu manuscripts that date back to before the first great Western universities and whose disclosure contributes to the presentation and discovery of the beautiful unknown history of the peoples of the Black continent.
Finally, we can also detect beauty in the depths of the articulations of the famous charter of the Mande which lays the foundations of the first human rights in the 12th century, when it affirms in its provisions that all humans are equal regardless of their color, their origin and their sex.
What to conclude but that beauty exists and has always existed in Africa in many forms. Unfortunately, because of a history marked by the seal of violence which characterized the meeting between Africa and the white world, the beautiful in Africa like the Africans themselves, was victim of denigration, rejection, marginalization, with some rare exceptions.
The only model of beauty that has been imposed on the collective unconscious of the African people is the one coming from the West. Thus, for the majority of young women and men, as well as for the elite, millennial victims of what the writer Frantz Fanon calls: “cultural imposition”, the reference in any field and in particular in terms of beauty is necessarily white or Western. This is what black American intellectuals have called: “white man supremacy“.
Thus, in order not to feel isolated, despised, and left out of a world dominated and controlled by the West, the African is almost forced in all areas to copy, ape, and imitate, to the point of caricature, what comes from the white man. This will be so in architecture, clothing, literature, arts, sports, political and economic governance, etc.
It is because of this culture of assimilation that you will see many young African women, mostly urban, whitening their skin, wearing hair that is not theirs and adopting totally exogenous clothing models. Fortunately, these are not the most numerous, although they are sometimes the most visible. As you will have noticed, Africa, like the rest of the world, is also beautiful, even very beautiful. But it is necessary to discover it in its depths, in its soul.
It is definitely not what is often shown on Western television. Traditional Africa in its millenary spirituality is still very beautiful and carries virtuous values. In these difficult times when men have lost their humanity, it could become a model, an indicator of the path to follow, better, a reference in living together, solidarity, respect for the environment, the sacred place given to the elderly, the gift of self for others, etc. This Africa, where the human being takes precedence over devastating capitalism, must remain a reference and a compass for all men of the world. It is soon Africa’s time: its intrinsic beauty will save our world.
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