The art of body painting in Nigeria

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By Apollos Ibeabuchi Oziogu

In the art of body decoration, color represents various things. It symbolizes situations, conditions and events. It can be used to convey a feeling of admiration or reverence. For example, red represents fertility and marriage, yellow represents disease, white represents purity or magic, black and indigo dyes are generally used depending on the occasion.

Body decoration is a culture universally practiced among the people of various ethnic groups in Nigeria to enhance beauty and for aesthetic, religious or ceremonial purposes.

Henna body decoration

It serves as a sort of expression of beauty and as an indication of one’s age, title, social status and membership in any revered group in society. Body decoration is an art of beautifying the body which includes the leg, hand, face, nose, eyes and fingers, among others, through processes such as wound healing or body cuts; Body painting; nail painting; filing and removal of the upper front teeth; lip, nose and ear piercing for various types of ornamentation as well as skin cleaning; body ornament with jewelry and pearls; hairstyles and elaborate clothing.

Nigeria is a land of cultural diversity and this is expressed in the differences in their beauty – the aids, despite their apparent cultural fusion. Among the inhabitants of Borno State for example, the Kanuri adopt a special way of beautifying their body through hair treatment, skin cleansing and body makeup. They engage in a type of body decoration known as henna art.

Henna art is a common name for a small shrub whose leaves are used for dyeing. The orange-red dye produced from the henna leaves is used to dye the body red. It is also used to stain the fingernails; above the fingers; feet; chest; hair and dye beards by men.

Henna dye is used in most parts of northern Nigeria, but it was once popular among southern women. It is used during the pre-wedding ceremony, known as “Henna Night”.

A tattooed hand

Northern Nupe women rub various colors on their skin and hair, ranging from yellow – dye on their lips, red dye on their teeth, indigo dye in their hair, as well as dip their hands and feet into the pot of henna. dye.

Dyes can be obtained from the leaves of special shrubs, insects, bark of trees, fruits and minerals or a mixture of any of them in crushed or powdered form with oils to paint the face or body in various patterns of their choice or specific to the community. or tribe.

Some dyes or paints are temporary or short-lived decorations, mainly used for ceremonies or festivals, while others are permanent or long-lasting decorations and the dye is usually stained deep into the skin.

Among the peoples of the Ibo land, Ibibio land and Efik land of ancient Southeastern Nigeria, the use of Uli dye is popular mainly during fattening isolation and cultural festival. Uli dye is made from the juice of the plant, randi cordata. It is used to paint the hands, legs and body.

The use of the juice, Iran ‘for tincture, is also made from pounded caterpillars, mixed with potash and lime juice. When the juice is painted on the skin, it causes the appearance of welts or ridges that persist for a good period of about three or four months. The juice not only causes welts on the skin, but also stains the skin for a short time.

“Tiro” is a kind of traditional antimony which is commonly used especially among women. It is made from lead ore, crushed and mixed with soot and indigo to achieve the desired color. This is used to draw the upper eyelid. In Hausa land, women use the traditional antimony called “Kwalli”. Men also use it.

Their eyelashes are blackened with a powdered black mineral substance and transported in decorated leather bottles. A small mirror is usually part of the kit to facilitate makeup.

Among the Hausa, Nupe and Peuls, vegetable dyes are produced from a type of savannah shrub for body decoration of palms and feet of a burnt sienna color.

It is only the left hand that is dyed, not the right hand that is used to handle food. This type of herbal dye is also applicable to Yoruba women and their neighbors.

The decoration of the teeth is not to be outdone. It is commonly practiced among the Hausa and Kanuri. They stain their teeth with special brands of cola nuts, both men and women.

Kanuri women in particular color their teeth red with tobacco flowers. In addition to staining their teeth as part of body decoration, people of different tribes in Nigeria consider it a form of embellishment by filing their teeth or removing their upper front teeth to create a space between two upper incisors.

This is commonly practiced by women who do not have a naturally existing space between the upper front teeth. The Yoruba call this type of traditional front tooth extraction “eji”. Most often, the gap is not central.

In the North as well as in parts of the South, the nose, ears and lips are pierced for ornamentation. The Kanuri as well as other tribes use gold rings in the nose ornament, similar to the Indian female ornament while large coral beads are used by the Yoruba women in the nose ornaments.

The pierced lips are also ornamented. This is commonly practiced among the Jarawa tribe of Bauchi State in which the lips of women are closed to prevent them from talking to other men, especially when they are outside their villages.

Face marks are common among people of various ethnic groups in Nigeria. Facial marks in the form of deep scarifications are made not only for aesthetic reasons, but for identification and protection purposes, especially during the slave trade era.

Facial marking is common among the Yoruba, Gobirs and Kanuri as well as other tribes. It is more pronounced among the Yoruba. This is because they have different names for different types of facial markings depending on the number and length or width of the lines and their arrangement.


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