October 13, 2011

History of Makeup - Native Americans

Makeup has come a long way through the ages, and in different cultures people used different techniques and materials to achieve their looks. The majority of early products were made from natural ingredients, such as berries, beeswax, egg, ash, flower petals and even animal blood. Some people - most famously, Queen Elizabeth I - would even use dangerous materials such as lead to make their skin pale, which would pose serious dangers to their health. Other toxic materials used included mercury and arsenic, and in 16th Century Europe, women even bled themselves in order to make their skin pale. Beauty really was pain for them!

However, for a lot of cultures, makeup was used to define social/military status or even to assert their ferocity. This is mirrored in nature - animals use the markings on their skin to their advantage, whether it is for hunting purposes or to defend themselves against predators.
For Native American tribes, cultural face painting was used since ancient times and each tribe had different patterns and designs which were unique to them. It is an important tradition which allows the people to connect with their heritage, tell stories and to assert their social standing and power. They used all natural products to create their looks - a common tradition for Native Americans, as they worshipped and appreciated nature - and a variety of items such as roots, berries and tree barks were used to make dye. They also used clay, mud, plants, copper ore and even duck droppings, and these were chosen because of the variety of colours they provided. The artists would simply add warm water to the products and apply them to the face and body using brushes, again made from natural materials such as willow sticks, chewed cottonwood or even buffalo bone.

Colour was a very important element when it came to face painting - each colour had a symbolic purpose, and their placement on the face helped tell the story. Red was the colour of aggression, danger and war. White, as you may guess, symbolised peace. Black was the colour of living, and was worn during war preparations. Green was worn under the eyes and was believed to give the person night vision. Yellow, interestingly, was the colour of death and was worn when a person was in mourning, and on men it conveyed that the man had lived a long life and would fight to the end.
These colours would be applied in a variety of patterns, which would range from a few lines to the whole face being covered.

To us, makeup may seem like something which is used to make the wearer look beautiful, but across different cultures it holds varied meanings. I am really interested in Native American culture, art and literature, and to them makeup holds something which lies beneath the surface - it tells the story of their lives and the lives of their ancestors. This is really inspiring to me :)

Gill x

1 comment:

  1. Do you know if blue makeup had any symbolic meaning to Native American makeup?