One of the major priorities of Atacora Essential's operation in Benin is to create employment for women, who have always been economically marginalized. We produce Baobab and Neem products to further this goal, but the work is only seasonal, so there are several months where there is little work for them to do. Mind you, they make Tchoukoutou (sorghum beer) and grow crops, but they don't make alot of money this way. We just had some inquiries about African Black Soap, and it immediately occured to me that production could keep our Fair Trade Co-op ladies gainfully employed for much of the year!!
What is African Black Soap?
African Black Soap is the only soap that is not made with lye. Recipes vary by region, but in general, it is made with natural plant oils and ashes The ashes turn the oils to soap (saponification), performing the task of lye. Typically, palm oil, coconut oil and shea butter are mixed with the ashes of burned plantain leaves and peels, as well as some bark ashes. This produces a non-homogenized, crumbly, earthy smelling, brownish soap that can be used for just about anything.
Black Soap benefits
Because there is no lye, parabens or other nasty chemicals in black soap, it is very gentle and non-drying for skin and hair. I have never used any soap that cleans so well, rises thoroughly and makes my skin feel so healthy. It even works on tough automotive grease better than hand cleaner! It controls dandruff, eases rashes, fights acne and diminishes scars! It's very effective at removing make-up. I wish I could tell you that it enables you to fly, too! Once you use it, you will want no other soap, and can throw out all of the other lotions and potions in your drawer!
ORIGINAL OTAMMARI BAOBAB, SHEA and NEEM AFRICAN BLACK SOAP (TM)
The are a variety of sources to obtain black soap in the US, and recipes vary. Some are the real McCoy, and others are adulterated poor facsimilies. The Otammari people of Northern Benin and Togo have their own, extra-special preparation. Oil palms and coconuts do not grow there, so they are not used. Shea butter is produced locally, and there is an enormous Baobab resource, so these are the primary ingredients. When we produce Baobab Fruit Pulp and Baobab Oil, we purchase whole fruit and are left with huge quantities of discarded husks and fibers. These we burn to produce ash, which we then decant with water and filter to produce potash. This is our saponifying agent! Zero waste! Soap made with Baobab ash is known locally to have enhanced skin healing properties. Add a little of our handcrafted Baobab and Neem oils for their healing and nourishing properties, and you have a truly extraordinary soap!
Traditional knowledge, sutainable resources and African pride
Our soap is handcrafted by the ladies using traditional methods handed from mother to daughter for countless generations, thus helping to preserve this tradition. All ingredients are locally custom wild harvested with no harm done to the trees. When people see that these resources are being revalued with increased market exposure, they are even more likely to be good environmental stewards. A majority of people in West Africa prefer to use store-bought, soap laden with chemicals and perfumes due to the (sadly mistaken) notion that Western or Western-like products are automatically superior. Clever marketing with white women on the label drives the sale home. As people start to see that their own indigenous products are highly valued in the West, the hope is that their pride in what is truly African will also be restored.