“Until lions have their own historians, tales of the hunt shall always glorify the hunter” – African Proverb
This is the first in a four-part series of posts about the presence of African-Americans and people of African descent in the clothes free community for Black History Month. This series will look at a brief history of naturism, nudism, and clothes free living in connection with African-Americans and their participation in the clothes free community. Hopefully, this series will accomplish two things; deepen the awareness of the African American community about the historical practice naturism among people of African ancestry. Also to encourage dialogue between the African-American community and the clothes free community about the lingering limiting factors that impact their participation.
In order to understand the current state of African-Americans and naturism, nudism and clothes free living, we have to look back at the history of naturism, nudity and clothes free life among people from the African continent. With few exceptions most examinations of the history of naturism in the clothes free community start with the Greek culture and its penchant for naked athletic events and recreation. However, if one resists the temptation to see the world through a purely Eurocentric lens, one could make the case that naturism existed on the African continent. For no more complex reasons than geography and climate the African continent was more inclined to have people who were nude, naked or clothes free in daily life.
“Anything from complete nakedness to casual body covering was a lifestyle component from prehistoric times through the Greco-Roman civilizations and into part of the Middle Ages.” Aileen Goodson’s Therapy, Nudity & Joy
According to the XIV Congress of the International Naturist Federation (Agde, France, 1974), naturism is: a way of life in harmony with nature characterised by the practice of communal nudity with the intention of encouraging self-respect, respect for others and for the environment.
While I do not want to suggest that naturism and clothes free living was universally practiced on the African continent, if one uses the definition of naturism from the International Naturist Federation it is fair say that naturism was widely practiced among pre-colonial Africans. Experts in the field, suggest that the start of organized nudism can be traced back to Africa in the practice of sun worship in Egypt. Archeological evidence to that effect goes back as far as 1383 B.C. Modern day home nudists should note the experts say that under the rule of Pharoah Ahken-Aton nudity or wearing the lightest and most transparent clothing was a regular practice in the royal palace.
“They practiced a religion and nudist way of life that was far ahead of their time,” Aileen Goodson’s Therapy, Nudity & Joy
The colonial cover up
One could also say with a fair degree of accuracy, pre-colonial indigenous peoples of sub-Saharan Africa practiced different levels of social nudity, top free and clothes free living. The practice varied according to tribal customs and culture, gender, and religious beliefs. It would not be overstating the facts to say pre-colonial Africans specifically those in sub-Saharan Africa wore much less clothing, and were more apt to consider nudity, normal than European colonists.
When the European colonists arrived on the continent, the call for indigenous people to cover up came with them. They brought with them European values, custom and norms, that perceived the clothes free cultures of Africa to be an indication of savagery. The practical nature of limited or no clothing was lost on the colonists, who were embarrassed by such “uncivilized and barbaric” ways of living.
Their sad experience was a familiar story of colonialism: that is, cultural genocide, including a compulsory cover-up of naked savages in the name of civilized modesty. Instilling body shame became an essential element in the conversion and control of native peoples.
…European colonial/religious authorities made wearing clothing the most visible sign of subservience to the new order. Body Acceptance: A Brief History of Social Nudity
While some today would suggest, (see video below) that social nudity is not indigenous to African culture, I think that is not an entirely correct statement. It might be more accurate to say that social nudity as practiced by modern European and western cultures, was not a part of the pre-colonial African cultural landscape. It is prudent here to make the distinction between social nudism, nude recreation and naturism. Making this distinction, once again using the definition from the International Federation, it would be a valid point to say that prior to colonialism on the African continent, social nudism or nude recreation was not necessary.
It could be said that social nudity is a First World European problem.
Naturism, living, working and functioning in community clothes free, was just a natural everyday aspect of life on the African continent, especially sub-Saharan Africa. This writer believes that the advent of colonials’ powers with their Europeans values and norms of dress initiated a shift away from the “naturist” way of life by most if not all the tribal people of Africa. It is also this writer’s opinion that the legacy of this shift continues to impact the participation of African-Americans in the clothes free community today. We will take that up in the next post in this series.
Africa’s naked tribe – not the one you think