Aboriginal Body Painting

Aboriginal body painting is a very old tradition.

It has been carried out for thousands of years. As with other aspects of Aboriginal culture, the body paintings varied depending on the tribe and where in Australia each tribe lived.

Different Kinds of Body Decorations
Australian Aboriginal people used different types of body decorations such as body painting, face painting, ornaments, feathers, and scaring. All those were more than just art. They all had a meaning, they related to laws, religions and conventions. They were a means of communication - they showed what age and status the person had and what relationship the person had to his/her family group. Different symbols were used in body painting, which told a lot about the person. Combinations of symbols could tell a story. A person couldn’t just go and change his/her painting, and people didn’t paint themselves – it was a task of a relative.

aboriginal body painting
       Aboriginal body painting by alexwon16 via Flickr.com

Spiritual Meaning

The body decorations vary between different regions. But commonly they had a deep spiritual significance, and in many cultures they were mainly used during religious ceremonies. During the ceremonies, body painting and dance together indicated the relationship Aboriginal people had to nature, their land, their ancestors, animals and environment. The colours used also varied between regions. Ochre paints were often used where available. Other source of colours was clay. In some cultures, the colours were paired, for example yellow and white, pink and red would go together.

Ornaments and Other Decorations
Ornaments used also varied depending on the region and tribe. Necklaces were made of animal teeth, bones and bird feathers. Coastal communities also made necklaces of shells. Scarring was used by men, and it showed the person’s social status. It was done by cutting the skin with a sharp rock or shell, and then rubbing ash or other irritating materials into the scar, which created permanent scars and discolouration of the skin.


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