A look at the beautiful African body art – now and then

Ama Nunoo Ama Nunoo | Editor January 21, 2020

Photo: Pinterest

Many tribes in Africa view the body as a canvas for decoration and would prefer to wear little to no clothing. Body decorations and transformations were made to mark certain milestones in a person’s life.

For most tribes, the decorations elevate a person’s status and enhance a person’s beauty. It is not uncommon to find authentic African decorations that include beadworks and jewelry as a form of beautification. However, the following body arts were prevalent.

As many tribes are leaving behind these practices, they are beginning to gain popularity in the western world. Scarification is being chosen over tattoos by some body artistes as a form of body alteration in the United States. Face painting and body painting have now become activities that are undertaken during children’s parties and festivals like Coachella.

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Photo: Daily Mail


Some tribes scar themselves in decorative patterns that are infused with inks or dyes that appear as amateur tattoos. The scars are given to their clansmen when they enter puberty, to commemorate a special event, marriage or to show a person’s social status.


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Body Paint and Mud

Oil, clay, plant dyes, and chalk are some of the ingredients used in body painting and they are used to show a significant stage in a person’s life. Some tribes walk around in body paintings rather than clothing and they are just aesthetically a sight to behold.

Mud is not only used for the body but for the hair as well. The mud is mixed with animal dung and other ingredients that are meant to signify a stage in a person’s life and at times, the mud is infused with certain jewelry that are worn by the women.


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Photo: Pinterest

Body Piercing

Piecing different parts of the body is an indigenous form of African body art. The is no limit to the types of jewelry that is worn after the piercing. It ranges from metals, ivory plugs, shells, fish vertebrae, metal plates, and bones.

The rare types of jewelry are valued and they showed a form of affluence and status.


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Some women in certain tribes shave their forehead for beauty purposes. Some men also shave their hairline and cover it with mud when entering puberty.

Some people in the western world also now engage in extreme body piercings like some indigenous African tribes. There is no doubt that the history of body art is from Africa and though some tribes are gradually letting go of the extreme forms of these practices, they are still widely practiced on the African continent and now in the western world as well.