Uses for Aboriginal Body Painting

Published on March 12, 2014 by Amy

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Aboriginal Body Painting
Aboriginal Body Painting

The United States is home to over 20 individual yet unified tribes of First Nations people. Each of these tribes share a history steeped in tradition and cultural practices. One such practice being the use of face paint as a representation of spiritual beliefs. Traditionally, Aboriginal body paint is created using materials found in nature, such as colored clay, berries and roots. Aboriginals use body paint for a variety of purposes, such as celebrating a special event or preparing themselves for battle.

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Native American history is one that contains a lot of warfare as Aboriginals had to fight to protect their land from European settlers. When preparing for battle, Native Americans used red paint because of its likeness to blood. Aboriginals would paint their faces, chests, arms and even their weapons in preparation for war. Today however, Aboriginal people do not partake in battles, therefore this use for body paint is outdated.


Aboriginal people are known for their elaborate ceremonial rituals. One such ritual is the Pow-Wow, which is believed to have originated from an Algonquin native word that means “To Dream.” During a Pow-Wow, Aboriginals get together in celebration. In the past, Aboriginals might celebrate a battle victory but modern-day Pow-Wows serve as a means to foster a sense of community within the tribe. During these ceremonies, natives wear body paint in various colors and patterns to symbolize their unification as a tribe as well as to outline their position within the tribe.

Personal Use

Aboriginals use paint to create symbols on their face and body. They believe that in doing so, the universe will help improve their own powers and strengths. Different symbols and colors are used to signify different attributes. For example, purple is a color of royalty and might be worn by the tribe’s leader to signify his position. Aboriginals also use face paint to display their feelings. Black is seen as a symbol for death, so those in mourning use black paint to symbolize their grief.

Tribe Unification

Although Aboriginals use face paint to set themselves apart, they also use it as a means of identifying their tribe. Each different tribe has different meanings for various colors and symbols. For example, the Comache tribe identifies itself by painting their faces black, painting two stripes of red on the chin and forehead, and putting red paint inside the ears. Historically speaking, tribes could identify each other based on the type of body paint they wore.

Source: ehow Unabridged
Based on the collective work of, © 2015 Native American Encyclopedia.
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