Copyright 2014 by Gary Pullman
English 101F, Section 1002
10 February 2014
Out of Africa: Nubian Heritage's African Black Soap
In the United States, in times past, bathing was an arduous task. There was no indoor plumbing, and there were no water heaters, so water would have to be hauled from wells or creeks, heated in large pans atop wood-burning stoves, and carried, in wooden buckets or pails to free-standing bathtubs. After the bath, emptying the tub of the used water was no less laborious a task. Often, due to such constraints, water was a scarce commodity, and it was needed for much more than bathing. People depended upon limited supplies of fresh water for cleaning, cooking, and watering their livestock. Consequently, bathing was, at most, a weekly event, and some took a bath far less frequently. Today, in the U. S., water heaters and indoor plumbing are commonplace, and, thanks to river dams, reservoirs, and municipal water tanks, men, women, and children tend to bathe daily, and few people would question the need for soap, a product which sells well with little or no encouragement from advertisers. Indeed, to compete with one another, U. S. soap makers have found innovation a necessity, and many a creative soap product vies with others that are equally original: novelty and seasonal soaps shaped like cookies, Christmas trees, and footballs; Soap-on-a-Rope; scented soaps that smell like roses, rum, or vanilla; monogrammed soaps; herbal soaps; soaps impregnated with lotion; deodorant soaps—the list goes on—and on. Nowadays, it seems, it is gauche to lather one's body with anything so plain as ordinary bath soap. The time is perfect, therefore, it would seem, for Nubian Heritage's African Black Soap, especially since it not only accords with U. S. consumers' cultural values, but it is also both healthful and environmentally friendly.
Western culture, of which the U. S. is a part, originated in Egypt as well as in Arab lands, Greece, and Rome, so, despite the U. S.'s relatively late entrance to Western culture, it shares a rich history with Egypt no less than it does with Europe. Nubian Heritage's African Black Soap explicitly cites this shared history, or “heritage,” with the U. S. and, indeed, European nations in its website's “Product Information,” while identifying the soap's benefits to consumers' health: “The Nubian Heritage African Black Soap combines the ancient medicinal properties of black soap with the hydrating properties of Shea Butter to balance problem skin.” The shared culture represented by the product's Nubian origin is emphasized by the company's use of such terms as “traditional” and “traditionally,” as it is by the company's contending that the product is not so much an altogether new product as it is an “update” of the “traditional” soap. (It doesn't hurt the success of the soap's marketing approach that the text on the elegant black box in which the soap is packaged for export to the U. S. and other English-speaking countries appears in English.) This product, available to all today, was once used exclusively by Egyptian royalty, including Cleopatra herself! Obviously, if this soap was good enough for a queen, it should please any lesser mortal who is privileged to use it. Indeed, an inscription upon the very bar itself insists that those who use it are “Never Spoiled Enough,” perhaps, because, like Cleopatra, they can never be spoiled too much.
Moreover, Nubian Heritage's African Black Soap is chock full of natural, healthful ingredients that not only cleanse the skin but also balances “skin tone” and improves “skin texture,” qualities upon which many U. S. consumers insist in regard to any product they might buy:
This traditional African Black Soap recipe contains palm ash, plantain peel extract and rosemary extract. This powerful combination has traditionally been used to treat eczema, acne, oily skin, psoriasis, and other skin ailments. In the apothecary tradition, Nubian Heritage updates African Black Soap with active botanical extracts and salicylic acid to more effectively treat acne, balance skin tone and improves skin texture. Daily use will result in cleaner, clearer, healthier skin.
The website also spells out the benefits of the product to consumers: “Benefits: Effective Skin Care Targets Trouble Skin Without Over Drying,” and its use is effective against “Oily Skin, Combination Problem Skin,” and “Acne.”
Both the website and the box in which the soap is packaged testify of the product's environmentally safe ingredients, which is apt to appeal to the many U. S. consumers who demand that products be environmentally friendly. According to the website, the soap's ingredients are both natural and gentle: “Key Ingredients: “Shea Butter, Palm Ash, Plantain Peel Extract.” Likewise, the information on the box supports the environmental friendliness of the soap's contents: it is a “100% Vegetable Soap,” consisting of “African Black Soap Base, Coconut Oil* and/or Palm Oil, Butyrospermum Parkii (Shea Butter)*, Avina Sativa (Oat) Kernel Meal, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice, Plantain Extract, Tocopherol (Vitamin E), Vegetable Glycerin, Mineral Pigment or Vegetable Color, and Essential Oil Blend.” The company is considerate enough of its consumers' sensitivity to environmental friendliness to ensure that terms that might be unfamiliar to them are clarified: the somewhat intimidating-sounding “Butyrospermum Parkii” is nothing more than “Shea Butter”; “Avina Sativa” is “Oat”; and “Tocopherol” is “Vitamin E.” Nubian Heritage African Black Soap has nothing to hide, and even its list of ingredients is absolutely transparent. Moreover, the company assures consumers that those ingredients that are marked with an asterisk (i. e., “Coconut Oil” and “Butyrospermum Parkii [Shea Butter]” are “Certified Organic Ingredient[s].” In other words, these ingredients originate from organic farming methods, including the use of organic ingredients, without the use of synthetic or chemical products or processes, such as pesticides, fertilizers, or irradiation. Likewise, the product neither contains animal products nor engages in animal testing. Once again, for environmentally conscious consumers, Nubian Heritage African Black Soap fills the bill.
Nubian Heritage African Black Soap looks different from the other soap products with which most U. S. consumers are familiar. It looks different even than the more unusual soaps sold in novelty shops. Rectangular, with rounded corners and edges, it is a lustrous black bar, emblazoned with a crown, the base of which is formed by an abbreviation of the product's full name: “Nubian Heritage”; the soap's slogan, “Never Spoiled Enough,” appears inside the crown, in small, light gray letters as elegant as the product itself. It is an attractive bar of soap, but it is one that also embraces its common heritage with the U. S., Europe, and other members of Western culture; benefits consumers' health; and respects the environment, both by its use of natural ingredients and its avoidance of the use of both animal products and animal testing. With Nubian Heritage African Black Soap, everyone, everywhere can spoil him- or herself as much as Cleopatra did when, thousands of years ago, the queen of Egypt lathered and rinsed with what is essentially the same product that the company continues to offer today.