Body Art and Ornamentation in Different Cultures
Introduction to Cultural Anthropology ANT101
July 28, 2013
There is no culture in which people do not, or did not paint, pierce, tattoo, reshape, or simply adorn their bodies (Schildkrout, 2001). Throughout history, body art and ornamentation has become a worldwide phenomenon and has played a key role in our lives, yet there is a social stigma which we cannot seem to rid ourselves of. It is most commonly misunderstood and misinterpreted which can be attributed to the fact that the symbolism and significance of the body art and/or ornamentation doesn’t always translate the same among the cultures. Although Western culture views body art and ornamentation as being associated with mischief and rebellion, Japanese and African cultures use it as a way of expressing spirituality as well as cultural expression. The existence of body art and ornamentation can be traced all the way back thirty thousand years or more back to when cavemen drew pictures on the cave walls. According to Kuhn & Stiner (n.d.), the alteration and enhancement of one’s body originated from the Kapthurin formation in Kenya. Anthropologists even believe that body art and ornamentation was present during the Middle Pleistocene in both Eurasia and Africa.
Expression and art are two factors that play a fundamental part in African culture. According to Clarke (2006), many African societies symbolically view body art and ornamentation as a special role in guiding one’s destiny and success, mediating between world of the living as well as the spiritual world, expressing community ideals, defining power and leadership, protecting and healing, and celebrating or commemorating the cycles of life, human and agricultural.
African culture uses a variety of ways to display their body art and ornamentation depending on which society they live in. These ways include: incorporating shells, teeth, or...