History of Face Painting

February 13, 2008 fernemerrylees

Face painting can be dated back thousands of years. Many ancient cultures (and a few cultures still today) used face painting to identify separate tribes, to mark special occasions and to strike fear into their enemies as they went into battle. To Native Americans, face painting had a powerful spiritual meaning and was taken very seriously. Certain colours represented certain meanings that varied little amongst different tribes. A website Native Tech gives great insight into Native American attitudes and beliefs for face painting and provides the following colour meanings in more detail.

The use of colours might be as follows:

  • Red- the colour of war.
  • White- the color of peace.
  • Black- a “living” color, worn on the face to prepare for war.
  • Green- worn under the eyes was supposed to empower the wearer with night vision.
  • Yellow- represents death (the colour of “old bones”)

Native American’s aren’t the only one’s who used face paint in the past (or continue to do so). The ancient Celts, armies both in history and today, Chinese opera singers, the geisha, theatre actors, and court jesters all wore and some still do wear face paint.

Go to a sports match and you’ll see hundreds if not thousands of individuals sporting face paint in support of their teams. Face painting isn’t just a pastime used to amuse children, it’s roots are deep in our prehistory and for me that makes face painting all the more interesting.

For how to face paint in the style of Native Americans, see here.

Read a review of a book I recommend here.


Entry Filed under: History

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