What is bluing and where does it come from?

Blue. What is it? Where does it come from and what can you use it for? Blush seems to be an old-fashioned product that was used long ago to make white laundry even whiter. Blue cubes were found in the Netherlands in the days when shopping was still done at the grocery store. Yet bluing has not disappeared. Blue is still widely sold, especially in stores. Moreover, the number of applications only seems to have increased. Because what does bluing have to do with baby’s bottoms and why do the sales of bluing increase around the turn of the year?

The origin of bluing

Blue is originally made from the cobalt-containing smalt that used to be mainly prepared in Saxony, Germany. As early as the 17th century, there were bluing factories in the Netherlands that ground the bluing into powder using specially designed bluing mills. In 1826 it was discovered that synthetic ultramarine blue could be produced from kaolin, soda, sulfur and pitch or charcoal. This invention made bluing a lot cheaper. From this time on, the use of bluing as a laundry whitener gained popularity. The most famous blue was Reckitt’s Blue from Hull, England, which originally sourced its raw materials from France or Germany. Production later moved to France. In addition to bluing being an indispensable factor for radiantly white laundry, it was used in industry in the 19th century as a dye and as a whitener in the sugar industry.

The cultural application of bluing

Blue is still used as a whitener, but it now has another important cultural application. Certainly in the Surinamese community, both in Suriname and among people of Surinamese descent living in other countries, bluing is frequently used against the evil eye, the so-called ‘ogri ai’.

What is ‘ogri ai’, or the evil eye?

The evil eye, better known in Suriname as ‘ogri ai’, is a gaze that is believed to harm or even kill others. Certain vulnerable groups, such as children, animals and pregnant women, are said to be more susceptible to the evil eye than others. According to Surinamese culture, a child affected by the evil eye shows certain symptoms such as drowsiness, no appetite, vomiting, crying a lot and exhibiting strange behavior. One of the ways to protect babies, small children and even unborn babies against the evil eye is by using bluing.

How is bluing used as a protectant against ‘ogri ai’?

For example, babies are washed in a bath of bluing and bluing is smeared behind their ears, on their feet, above their bottoms or on their foreheads. With this extra protection, the baby is ready to go outside or can receive maternity visitors. Pregnant women wash their bellies with bluing or make a cross of bluing on their bellies to protect themselves and the unborn baby from the evil eye. On New Year’s Day it is tradition in Suriname to do a ‘wasi’. A ‘wasi’ is a ritual herbal bath to cleanse you and gain spiritual strength. This bath should be invigorating and give you a good start to the new year. One of the main components of the ‘Swit’ watra’, with which these so-called ‘wasis’ are done, is again bluing, intended as protection against the evil eye.

Where is bluing available?

In the Netherlands, blues can be found in all Surinamese shops, which are mainly located in the Randstad. Do you live a little further away? Then bluesel can also be ordered online. In Suriname, blue is available in every supermarket. Not all blues have the same quality, ask the retailer for advice if there are multiple brands of blues.

Tip for using bluing for white laundry

If you are going to use bluing for white laundry, it is advisable to inquire carefully about the dosage and precise application. If the quality of the bluing leaves something to be desired or if the bluing is added too much or too concentrated, the wax may turn blue instead of whiter. Some people soak their white clothes in water with soap and bluing for a while and then put it in the machine, others add it straight to the detergent in the machine. Ask about experiences or try it first with a little bit of white wax and judge the result.

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