Before you continue reading this third installation in the reclaiming the legacy series – emancipation, I hope you read the previous parts of this 2018 black history series. While not a prerequisite reading the previous offerings will provide a foundation for understating my effort to
examine the role of the African diaspora in reclaiming the legacy of afro-naturism. It is my contention that clothes free living was the normal natural way of life for our ancestors prior to colonization. Furthermore I suggest normal clothes free living is part of our cultural heritage.
The movie Black Panther presents many wonderful, positive and beautiful examples of African fashion. It imagines a world (Wakanda) where the symbols textures of African clothing are allowed to florish without the impact shaping or distortion from colonialism. However, one example absent for many obvious reasons driven by our western social morays is the clothes free African body in all its splendor. Happily we have arrived at a time when a movie about a black super hero with a predominantly black cast can break all kind of box office records. However, we have not yet arrived at a time the clothes free African body can be viewed with the dignity and beauty is deserves through an afro-naturist lens.
An African-American guest blogger at Felicity’s blog writes “clothing was a part of the enslavement of African and other people.” The writer goes on to describe the historical and social roots of what some today might call a slavery to textiles.
While most people don’t think about the historical political impact of the clothes they wear, textiles and the textile industry has in fact had a tremendous impact on societies around the globe, and still do today. It must be remembered that prior to the European Renaissance and Industrial Revolution, the majority of Earth’s human population was (and still is) centered about the equator in tropical and semi-tropical regions.
European and other temperate zone, sub-arctic, and arctic populations traditionally required hand-made clothing (typically of animal skins and furs, wool, insect by-products such as silk, hand processed leaves and tree barks, and hand/loom woven plant fibers such as linen, hemp, and cotton) for protection from the elements.
Desert dwelling peoples also traditionally required clothing for protection from overexposure to the harmful ultraviolet rays of the sun. In some of these societies handcraft textiles and loom woven fabrics became a valued art, benefiting prosperous weavers and merchant classes. People also wore clothes to indicate their socio-economic status, and religious offices.
However, for most people around the world, outside of small elite aristocracies, wealthy merchant classes, the religious establishment, and societies heavily influenced by handcraft textile and merchant guilds, clothing was primarily worn for practical functional purposes, and not required when impractical, such as for swimming, or for working in hot humid conditions.
Fabric body concealment was not ascribed any moral dimension as symbolic of modesty or purity. The naked human body was associated with poverty at worst, honesty and purity at best, and was, at the time, not directly associated with human sexuality by the majority of Earth’s peoples. Nudity, Colonization and the Textile Industry – Felicity’s blog
To reclaim the afro-naturist legacy, African-Americans and other members of the African diaspora must free our minds from the mental slavery of the western view of our naked clothes free bodies. When we liberate ourselves from the socially conditioned view of appropriate clothing we will discover that our ancestors had a talent for decorating their clothes free bodies. The used paints, beads and other natural items available to create highly decorations for the clothes free body.
Redemption song written and performed by the late Reggae superstar Bob Marley reminds us that emancipation must start with ourselves.
“Emancipate yourself from mental slavery nine but ourselves can free our minds”
Emancipating ourselves from the slavery of imposed clothing doesn’t mean hating clothes or discarding all your clothing. Rather, I believe embracing clothes free life as the cultural heritage of the ancestors means exploring the creative body decorations of our African cultural heritage. In recent years body painting has emerged as a contemporary practice of some naturists. Afro-naturists can reclaim that. Waist beads nose rings and the like have also become popular body decorations. Afro-naturists can reclaim that. Various body mods like ear lobe stretching tattoos, and to a lesser extent scarifications found their way in to mainstream society. Afro- naturists can reclaim that .
Africans have ancient traditions for decorating and accessorizing the body in rich and varied ways. Traditionally, many African peoples wore little to cover their bodies, leaving their skin exposed and available for decoration. Africans adorned themselves in four general ways: scarification, body painting, beadwork, and jewelry. Encyclopedia of Fashion
Some nudists are fond of memes that “if I was meant to be naked I would have born that way.” I think if not for colonialism some Africans would be born that way and stay that way. Traditional African ceremonial and celebratory included clothing but also body paints, beads and headdresses to adorn the clothes free body. I would like to call black African naturists and naturists in the African diaspora to re-envision a naturist type Wakanda. Imagine what dress might be without the impact of colonialism. What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comment section. Here are some images to spark your imagination and creativity.