Sacred Meaning of Indigenous Face Paints: 22 Painted Faces That Tell Stories

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The reason tribes use face art to transform themselves may be varied. Sometimes they choose to do so as a part of a tribal ritual or at other times they do so to mark their status (as is the case with some aboriginal tribes), but the colorful and dynamic language of the face painting remains the same.

Significance of the Colors: Colors in Native American culture have special significance. Red is a violent color; it is the color of war. Strangely enough black, which is considered to be an inauspicious colors in most cultures, is the color of ‘living’, worn on the face during war preparations. White predictably is the color of peace. The color green when worn under the eyes is believed to empower the wearer with a night vision. Yellow is the most inauspicious color, it is the color of death, as it is the color of “old bones.” Care should be taken not to wear a lot of yellow, and is worn only when a person is in mourning. Also yellow, means a man has lived his life and will fight to the finish. Each Indian tribe has its own and unique way of face painting. Face paintings can be the lightest streak of color on the face. It can also mean covering their faces completely.

Raw materials used for Tribal Face Painting: Face painting is considered to be an important tradition among Native Americans. It is much more than just a beautifying practice. It’s a sacred social act of distinction and a cultural heritage. On special occasions faces of the tribe members are painted to augment one’s appearance and power. Each tribe of the Indians has its own and unique way of face painting.

For Native Americans Indians, roots, berries and tree barks are most commonly used to make the dyes for face painting. These natural raw materials are ground and made to a paste to make the dye. Clay of different hues is also used in Native Indian face painting. These wonderful colors along with the ideal face painting designs do create a desired effect. The process envolved a strict ritualistic order, that is maintained during the application of these colors.

The colors are first applied around the nose and only the index finger and middle finger is used for the application. The rest of the face i.e. the forehead, chin and eye areas are then carefully covered with paint. For some face paintings they would cover their face and then plaster it down with mud leaving the holes for the eyes and mouth. Generally the warriors would paint their faces with colored clay. They would then do the design of their tribe. Each tribe has its own designs for war and ceremonies. For the Zuni, and in many other cultures, the paints are sacred and nobody is allowed to touch a painted dancer until he has washed his body.

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