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OF SHAVING AND PRE-CONQUEST: How Native Americans Shaved Before Columbus Came

October 07, 2018 5 min read

OF SHAVING AND PRE-CONQUEST: How Native Americans Shaved Before Columbus Came

Naked Armor

Was shaving a thing among the Native Americans before Columbus came?

Published by Naked Armor

As America gears up to commemorate the man who “discovered” the New World, we at Naked Armor were spurred into thinking about how Columbus might have also been responsible for spreading the gospel of shaving here on these shores.

If you think about it again, it’s not really a farfetched hypothesis.

After all, shaving was already part of European culture in Colombus’ time. In the 15th century, men like Columbus would have had their beards shaved by barber-surgeons, who would flit between shaving their steel straight razors on the scalps of the nobles to lancing the wounds of the sick and injured.

In fact, becoming a barber-surgeon was a very important trade in those days. Among the noble houses, it was customary to have one’s very own barber-surgeon.

Now that we thought about it, it would have been standard practice to have one on long voyage ships like the one Columbus sailed on. Because dude, that beard!

The Beard Behind the Man

Now really, no one’s actually sure whether Columbus wore a beard throughout his years as an explorer. That’s because nobody today knows what he looks like. But the image of him that persists throughout the pages of history books is the one that is familiar to us: a tall, vigorous Italian guy with blond beard and hair and blue eyes.

And if that is an accurate depiction, then it would have been one hell of a beard. No way would he not have someone on board to trim that beard into shape.

So yeah, somebody could really have had their own set of razors stowed away on the ship’s journey to the Americas.

Of Beards and Conquest

Growing a beard in a culture which valued facial grooming as a measure of social standing would have also affected his attitude during his First contact expeditions. In fact, we happened upon an interesting academic paper of how beard culture has helped explorers like Columbus conquer the Americas.

Alex Kerner, in his paper Beard and Conquest: the Role of Hair in the Construction of Gendered Spanish Attitudes towards the American Indians in the Sixteenth Century, said that the absence of beards among Native Americans gave the conquistadores a sense of superiority that ultimately fueled their perception of the natives as beings that could legitimately be subdued.

He wrote that:

The reference to hair is sometimes made in conjunction with or right next to a description of what in the view of the Christians, was the natives’ low moral standards, as if the natives’ different attitude to hair also expressed their lack of virtue, their non-observance of moral codes pertaining to sex, and even worse, as an expression of the male natives’ natural tendency towards homosexuality.

Apparently, for Columbus and his ilk, the general absence of facial hair among Native Americans showed their weakness as a race because he thought it characterized submissiveness and inferiority. His European beard, meanwhile, gave him moral superiority and the license to subdue just about everyone in the New World.
 
But did the Native Americans really preferred clean faces? Perhaps they were more like Egyptians who shaved frequently because they did not think that having facial hair was hygienic.

Here at Naked Armor, we prefer to shave in comfort and luxury with our collection of straight razor blades made from high grade Japanese steel.

We’re sure Columbus would be amazed with this since it’s the same quality steel that was used by the Samurai, centuries ago

— Derek, Naked Armor Founder

It’s All in the Genes

As it turns out, most Native Americans didn’t really need to shave. That’s because genetically they are not predisposed to growing thick hair, unlike Europeans. Whatever sparse hair that grew on their faces, they plucked it out because it was an inconvenient thing for them.
 
It was also frowned upon in Native American society. At the time of Old World contact, it was considered a sign of being uncivilized and unintelligent. So you can just imagine what they thought about the shaggy Spanish conquistadores when they first saw them shambling on to their shores from big wooden, leaking ships.

So, did Native Americans Shave?

In general, Native Americans plucked their facial hairs and eyebrows, rather than shaving them, because they were sparse and soft to begin with.
 
They used tweezers made of wood or pinchers made from the shell of a freshwater mussel. The shell was an ideal tweezer because it had a natural spring hinge. It could be held easily in one hand and its sharp lips would cut into the hair at its roots so that it can be pulled off easily.
 
In instances where the hair on the scalp needed to be shaved off, Indians used obsidian flakes. An obsidian is a type of hard, glasslike volcanic rock that is used by Indians as knives. These are very sharp and cut with great efficiency. However, when they become dull through constant use, they cannot be resharpened. Instead, the Native Americans recycled them into smaller arrowheads.

Shaving with an Obsidian

Because we were intrigued, we researched it further and found out that obsidian razor shaving is apparently a thing these days.

You know how people like to talk about taking on a paleo-diet, that Stone Age nutritional menu that makes you sprightly and strong? Well, this guy’s on that similar spectrum; only this time, he’s touting the benefits of wet shaving with a Stone Age tool.

Meet Mike Cook, flintknapper and primitive skills educator. In this video, he shows us how wet shaving is done using flakes chipped from a block of obsidian. It’s a bit scary, considering there is no handle attached to the obsidian blade. But hey, that’s how they did it in the olden days. We bet that Columbus would think twice about using obsidian for shaving though. Go ahead and watch.

Straight Razor Shaving

Having watched that video, we can honestly say it’s an acquired taste. Here at Naked Armor, we prefer to shave in comfort and luxury with our collection of straight razor blades made from high grade Japanese steel. We’re sure Columbus would be amazed with this since it’s the same quality steel that was used by the Samurai, centuries ago.

But of course since he was a prig and a product of his century, he’d probably give it a side-eye at first. But with its hardness rating of 61-65 HRC and a blade so sharp it can serve as one’s own samurai weapon, he’ll be thinking twice.

We don’t use it for anything other than shaving, though. One of the reasons why the Solomon Straight Razor blade cuts cleanly and smoothly is because we designed it to be a hybrid of a full hollow and a half hollow, to make sure that we capture all the best aspects of razor shaving.

If you are a newbie looking to experience a new level of shaving with a straight razor, we recommend you check us out. If you’re a professional, we guarantee our razors will add a luxurious dimension to your shaving experience.

And so, in the spirit of Columbus Day, we encourage you to set foot in a whole new world of luxurious shaving by trying out a Naked Armor straight razor. Click Add To Cartnow to order.



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