Monthly Archives: November 2011

Perfume from Africa

Have you ever tried making your own perfume? And do you know that using solid perfume is an ancient African practice?  Finding a recipe for this took me on an interesting journey that I would like to share with you.

Perfumes have always played an important role in the life of the Khoisan people of Southern Africa.  Also known as Sanqua which literally means: “the people or men who use aromatic bushes to anoint their bodies” so the Dutch “bosjesman” became “boesman” in Afrikaans and “bushmen” in English.

This tortoiseshell powder compact is used for both fat and aromatic powder. It is tied to the body and is a symbol of a woman’s fertility. Buchu as main ingredient is symbolic of her feminine potencies, of fertility and giving life.

These are examples of fat containers. The Khoisan used to rub animal fat and powered aromatic plants in their skin for cosmetic reasons but also as an antibiotic protection. A practice that has now almost disappeared. A specific perfume named Sai was associated with potency and made of the fat of a wild cat and buchu. It was said that when a women wore that: “all the boys would come running!”

Due to the unavailability of wild cat fat I had to use beeswax, olive oil and essential oils for my own solid perfume. It is too soon to report on the potency properties but I will keep you posted.  Next time more about the fynbos essential oils that can be used for making your own indigenous fragrance.


1. Van Wyk, Ben-Erik and Gerick, Nigel. Peoples Plants: A Guide to Useful Plants of Southern Africa. Briza: 2000

2. Pitt Rivers Museum Oxford: Body Arts

3. Low, Chris. Khoisan Healing: Understanding Ideas and Practices. University of Oxford D.Phil Thesis 2004