Scents & Sensibility with Roja Dove and UNESCO’s CBCIU

This carved relief decorates the tomb and commemorates the life of Ihat, a priestess of the Ancient Egyptian goddess Hathor and wife of Nikaure, Judge and Director of Mails and Chief Secretary of the Great Palace. The relief has been dated at 2453 BCE and is within Sakkara, the necropolis of Ancient Egypt’s capital city Memphis.

Ihat heartily imbibes the narcotic scent of the Blue Lotus flower which was a wonder of the River Nile and symbol of Creation, Rebirth and Regeneration.

The headily scented flower was representative of Upper Egypt, the sun god Atum-Ra and Nefertum the goddess of perfume.

A version of the Book of the Dead exalted:

“Rise like Nefertem from the blue water lily, to the nostrils of Ra (the creator and sun god), and come forth upon the horizon each day.”

Regardless of era, place or condition Africans and their descendants have been characterised by their spirituality, sensuality and adaptability: the very components of a fine fragrance that transcends time and commands a space.”


…Valentine’s Day has faded and with it the requests and intent to post some perfumed posts.

Yesterday was National Fragrance Day and luckily Mothering Sunday – that most fragrant of social festivals – will shortly surround us with billions of atoms of botanical matter suspended in varying ratios of alcohol, so I am spritzing some fragrant food for thought and gifting into the atmosphere.

Scent has always been a central sensibility to my life and social chemistry ever since I was a little girl walking amidst the dew-drenched bluebells in secluded West Country woodland or plucking petals from city gardens.

I used to muddle those delicately-scented pickings in jars of tap water that were then hidden in my closet or in the dark beneath the staircase until the magic that was perfume might happen.

The magic never happened.


Thankfully in the intervening decades from nursery and way past business school, I have graduated to appreciating nature’s fragrant bounty in more sophisticated products and developed a nose and spirit to discern those that work best with and for me and others too.

One of my most magical interactions with Scent was inspired by Africa and her global Diaspora and their rich history and fragrant stories.

It happened in 2012 whilst I curated lots for a charity auction executed by Christie’s:

“This lot is one of my favourites as the African woman was the first human being and throughout history has been characterised for her spirituality, sensuality and adaptability; all the components of a fine fragrance that transcends time, permeates the psyche as well a space and has the power to shape the zeitgeist.

I wanted to pay homage to the essence of the Feminine Divine and the Earth’s natural bounty by allowing each scent to tell a story or show a hidden chapter of history that would change the way Africa is perceived and appreciated using a fundamental sense.

Scent to me is a medium that connects humanity, praises the earth and illuminates the soul.

We all share the same senses and we all come from the same source, regardless of our spirit, ethnicity, programming or perceptions.”

With these facts and thoughts in mind, I created the fragrance concept of The Olfactory Voyage that would cross the oceans that flow from the African continent like amniotic fluid and tears of both joy and mourning to the soil of old continents and the New World.

I was accompanied on this journey by two eminent stakeholders: Roja Dove, a global ambassador, academic and celebrity of the fragrance industry whose background in perfume history and science enthroned him as the world’s leading perfume authority and the perfect navigator of my fragrant mission.

Professor Wole Ogundele, then the Executive Director of The Centre for Black Culture and International Understanding (CBCIU), a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) based in the city of Osogbo within Osun State, Nigeria proved to be a dedicated and nurturing man cast in the mould of the great men of Africa whose essence certain scents within The Olfactory Voyage sought to capture.

Via special dispensation, Professor Ogundele donated a generous and rare benefaction of indigenous Nigerian hardwood from the Osun Sacred Grove which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. He also presented a choice of Yoruba Sculpture Masters – of wood and bronze – to facilitate the enshrinement of The Olfactory Voyage within a divine vessel fit for a deity.


As well as a historic curation of Scent, my vision was also to create a detailed coffret carved with a bas-relief accord to celebrate the female deities of Beauty, Love and Self-adornment of both indigenous African and New World cosmology and legend whilst paying homage to the women, indigenous flowers and female grooming rituals of Ancient African, Pre-Colombian, Dravidian and Oceanic Civilisations including the Meriotic, Quimbaya, Berber, Olmec, Lucayan, Nubian, Nok and Andaman Islander.

The Coffret was to measure 13” square in order to create a perfect bespoke fit for the selected scents and was designed to reflect the heritage of the perfume industry with an aesthetic reminiscent of the iconic perfume bottles created at the Czech Desna factory or designed by Lucienne Coudert, André Jollivet, René Lalique, Julien Viard and other historic French designers.

Veronica Otgbo-Ekpei is a maverick Nigerian sculptress imbued with an exceptional gift and divine skill in a craft traditionally dominated by men and barred to female artists. Her work brings out the beauty of African hardwoods whilst tackling controversial subjects . She is critically acclaimed for her three-dimensional illustrations of the hidden and the taboo such as Woman In Labour and the transmission of HIV/AIDS. Her magnificent coffret designs submitted alongside those of other exceptional Nigerian were a highlight of the final shortlist.

Although the Coffret did not feature in the final lot, The Centre for Black Culture and International Understanding was bona fide in its commitment to holistically develop global Black culture and fostering cross-cultural harmony via appreciation and understanding of cultural difference via the project and I look forward to working with them again in the future.

“However far the stream flows, it never forgets its source.”

Yoruba Proverb

The Olfactory Voyage was and remains a unique and unprecedented cross-cultural concept and marketing platform that illustrates and traverses the botany, fragrant materials, history and personalities of Ancient and Modern Africa and her global Diaspora.

A curation of twelve of the world’s finest fragrances were brought together to collectively chart a voyage of historic and geographic Afrocentric discovery using a Metaphysical Calendar based on the medium and art form of Scent.

The twelve scents each corresponded to one month of a year that transcended time and place whilst collectively unifying and commemorating past civilisations, eras and personalities and were kindly donated by twelve of the world’s greatest perfume houses and cult brands who were inspired by the brief and aligned with the marketing potential of The Africa: Seen & Heard Diaspora Platform.

Diverse inspirations informed the painstakingly selected scents within The Olfactory Voyage: from the African faces in Pre-Colombian statuary and Eighteenth-Century Mexican Casta paintings to the portrait and contemporary reports of the black daughter of Queen Marie-Thérèse of France.

From a glass tube of vanilla pods infused with the legend of an enslaved boy’s innovation to the Art Deco bas reliefs of 1920s Paris and the ritual fumes of Cigars and cognac consumed after the signing of the European contract that carved colonies and capital gains from the continent of Africa.

Each selected scent tells either an unheard story of Africa and her worldwide Diaspora of nations, illustrates the existence of forgotten civilisations or brings to life legend whilst paying tribute to pivotal eras, personalities and spirits.

It was a great honour and pleasure to chart this historic voyage with the support of the iconic and divinely creative Roja Dove, whom I deeply respect as a discerning nose, inspired haute parfumeur and historian of fragrance with a masterful scientific background.

Over many months, Roja and I worked with care, dedication and a shared passion for fragrance to research and develop the historic and enlightening Olfactory Voyage which is yours to traverse in full or in part, via the written word or absorbed upon your skin or deeper still, to commune with your unique chemistry and spirit.


In the years since the debut presentation my Voyage has continued, but the first dive into the ocean of Perfume was a baptism of blossoms and their innate fire that will certainly inspire and enhance your own relationship with Scent and evolve your sensibility towards it…

© W. O. Adeyemi/ AFRICA: Seen & Heard Ltd and, 2017. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to W. O. Adeyemi, AFRICA: Seen & Heard and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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