Colors, too, were carefully chosen by individual warriors, or ‘braves’ – black was often thought to signify power, red would provide vigor, whilst yellow was a sign that the warrior was willing to fight to the death.
After the battle, the braves would often repaint their faces for the victory celebrations, with black paint symbolizing a crushing victory!
In Britain and parts of Europe, the Druids also painted themselves with various symbols as part of their ancient rites – symbols such as the triskele were thought to bring the blessing of the triple-aspect goddess, while the circle or ‘wheel’ represented the cycle of life and the seasons.
Similar examples of shamanistic face-painting can be found from African tribal cultures and the Aboriginal tribesmen of Australasia – religious face-painting was incredibly widespread.
Early man devised body-painting pigments, such as ochre, long before they started drawing on cave walls.
What we know from ancient Mesoamerican tribes is that early body painting was not just used to denote tribal identity, but was also used to break up the silhouette of the tribesmen’s bodies, thus camouflaging them in the dappled light of their forest homes.
The most famous proponents of war paint, however, were the Native Americans, who applied face-paint for this purpose for thousands of years – right up to the plains wars of the late 19th century.
This bizarre practice would ultimately evolve into the cosmetics used today.
The Kabuki of Japan, for example, is a traditional form of entertainment featuring ‘singing, dancing and skill.’ The dancers are famous for their elaborate face-paint.
This type of entertainment in turn gave rise to the traditional circus clowns that we all know today. There are many types of clowns depending on which part of the world you’re in, and professional clowns take great pride in designing their own unique make-up, because it’s integral to their identity.
This article seeks to redress the balance, by looking at the history of face-painting, from its beginnings in ancient warrior societies through to modern usage.
The history of face-painting dates back thousands of years, and has been used for all manner of purposes: camouflage for hunting, war paint for intimidating the enemy, magical designs for use in religious ceremonies, and, of course, beautification.