In discussions about the history of scents in the world, cities like ancient Mesopotamia are mentioned alongside Egypt, and while these are very valid places, there is a lingering belief that In fact, scent and perfume creation has existed right from prehistoric times.

Some have speculated that following the discovery of fire, men and women would gather around to burn certain resinous branches and inhale the odour from the smoke rising into the night sky leaving peaceful and uplifted.

As most may know, recent archaeological studies confirm the origin and evolution of man can be traced to Southern Africa, therefore if the history of man lies within South Africa, then it is only right that if the history of perfumery was traced, we look to South Africa.

Commonly known in the fragrance community, the word perfume was derived from the Latin words PER FUMUS meaning THROUGH SMOKE, directly linking the first known form of perfumery to burning Incense.

Incense is often defined as an odour of spices, or various substances, producing a pleasant odour when burned in religious rites.

There is documented evidence that proves the oldest bushmen known as SANS have a history of in fact burning aromatic plants during their spiritual rites, much of which is explained In J. David Lewis-Williams book; Images of mystery: rock art of the Drakensberg.

Also, development in perfumery was found in the introduction of Unguents, however, it was also found that SANS made these scented substances using dried and powdered leaves of Buchu mixed with sheep fat to anoint bodies. Buchu, which is a collective term for dried herbs among the San, could also make one speculate that these mixtures could have been more complex.

For years, it has been believed that since perfumery is such a sophisticated art, that it’s origin must have been as a result of a culture from a sophisticated civilization rather than from what had been considered as a primitive culture, as in the SANS.

Another group that traces perfumery back to prehistoric Africa is the HIMBA people from the western part of Africa, most of which are believed to make up a huge population of what is known as Ghana today.

They also are believed to have been in the art of creating Unguents but rather than Sheep fat, they were known to use butterfat.

Arguments often arise that since these aromatics were created for ritual purposes they cannot, therefore, be tied to perfumery, but it has been proven that the people from these parts indeed rubbed these balms on themselves to be ‘anointed.’

Also, it was discovered that they made use of what historians call a dry perfume made from tortoiseshell, decorated with ostrich eggshell beads, seeds, grasses and roots, the women in these regions are also known for taking what is called SMOKE BATHS, which involved the burning of aromatic plants.

There is no doubt that indeed perfumery is as old as man, and in celebration of its roots in Africa, Abela by scents of Africa created the Rustic Africa Collection, which embraces aromatic elements such as were in these time.

You can now shop the collection in our online store.

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Photo of Himba woman was taken by Dominique Brand

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