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African Face Painting

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His face is covered in rich, dark luminous tones, of raw minerals dug from the earth. The designs are elaborate and painted with extreme detail, showing his striking features. Shades of yellow surround his cheekbones leaving his eyes bare, full of power and masculinity. The festival has begun and he must prove to her that he alone is the most beautiful and captivate her with his vigorous moves. Like many other tribes of Africa the Wodaabe tribe uses face painting to draw beauty. African face painting has been a thing of curiosity to many in the western civilization. Many tribes in Africa practiced face painting for reasons of festivals, rituals and status symbols and for other events.

Face painting is often seen in tribal festivals. The Wodaabe tribes of Niger apply face paint in their famous festival of beauty known as the Gererwol Festival (African 1). In this festival the men apply charismatic colors of gold and rich colors of red on their face and dance to win the hearts of the surrounding women. Like James wood said “the women do the judging and reward the winners with a night of love”(wood 1). This festival is a like beauty pageant in the west but the men are the contestants and they paint their face instead of putting on mascara. The Gerewol festival is where men and women go to find their spouse. In this festival a man can come with his wife and leave with a different one just as a woman can come with her husband and choose a new one(wood 1). Wodaabe men go to the festival looking for a new wife and knowing that theirs wives might not be theirs anymore so they dance to seduce the women around them. In the Wodaabe culture, beautiful eyes and white teeth are found attractive by women so the men paint their lips black to make their teeth brighter. They also paint their cheekbones and noses with colors like yellow and red to draw attention to their eyes and their facial bone structure. This festival is all about expressing beauty through dances and about men showing off their looks and the men of the tribe use paint to show beauty using diverse colors.

In some ancient Tribal religions face painting along with masks is used during rituals. In the article titled “cultural face painting”, it states that, “ancient rituals often summon dieties, spirits of ancestors and animals”(Sevcenko 1). During these Rituals either a mask or a face paint of wild and eccentric designs are applied which implies that the wearer was possessed by the spirits or anima1s (Sevenko1 ). Also the Podo tribe of South Africa celebrates a tradition called umgidi. This ritual is where a woman is initiated to become diviner or a priestess of the tribe (African 1). She appears naked to the waist with her body painted with white clay and embellished with leaves. These patterns are complex and they symbolize the link to her ancestors who are believed to be the reasons for her illness and wellbeing. The Xhosa tribe also in South Africa uses face painting during the rite of manhood called the Abakwetha. To begin with, the young men paint their faces with white mud, then they are circumcised and their face is painted with red mud to signify the readiness for adult male responsibilities (African 1). In each of these rituals the art of face painting holds different meaning and symbolizes different stages of a ritual.

Face painting is also used to symbolize different statuses. Like for Example the Karo tribe of Africa have three types of designs painted on their faces. One type was for the tribe chief. The Chief’s facial paint is more elaborate and neater then everyone else’s. Almost his whole entire face is covered in white paint but his jaw line, his cheek bones, and his nose were left bare showing his dark and smooth skin in two perfect straight lines (Erick 1). The other design is for a warrior the design is like the chiefs but a lot less neat (Erick1 ). The last type of design is for the regular commoner which consists of plain white paint. Face and body painting was extremely important and symbolic to tribes like the Karo because it showed who they were and where they belonged.

African tribes also use face painting for other events. The Sumra tribe of Ethiopia use face and body painting during their wild and violent stick fighting contest called the donga. Unlike the Gerwol festival, this no dance or beauty festival, it is but a contest of nerve and brute strength that is meant to settle personal Vendettas and to win wives. During this contest hundreds of men come to a specific place to fight with 15 feet sticks refereed by the chief (Donga 1). The fight done in heats and is done in rounds until there is only two remaining. The winner of the last round wins the whole thing. Any man can challenge hover he wants and death is not uncommon. The only rule is no man can hit another man when he is down (Donga 1). The competitors fight to be the greatest warriors and to win so that they can give a girl the honor if being their date or wife if she wishes (Donga 1). When the men fight they are completely naked except for paint that covers them from head to toe. The constructions of the body paint have a lot of lines and are completely done by hand. The designs painted on the man’s body represent his masculinity and is meant to strike fear into his opponent’s heart. The painting is an important part of the contest and because the more captivating and terrifying it is the more attention and fear the contestant will get from his opponents and the crowd.

With his last effort he gives the women his most seductive look and he dances in a more enthralling manner. The dance is done and he stands in the sun with the bright red and yellow paint looking as though the sun was radiating from him. The woman he has been eyeing through the whole festival comes and they leave into the sunset. With the help of his beautiful paint on his face his goal has been fore filled and he leaves with a wife. African tribes apply face paint at festivals, during rituals, to symbolize status and for other reasons and events. The art is harmonic and beautiful and it connects all the tribe of the vast continent.

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