Body adornment is an art and involves the decoration of the body through various techniques which vary with different communities. In Africa body adornment is common and has been successfully integrated into the community culture and traditions. There are various types of body decorations which include body paint, ochre, clay feathers, masks and headdresses (Brakspear, pg 190). The various types of body decoration differ with region, cultural background and ethnicity. This explains the diversity in the types of body adornments.
Body decoration may also differ within the same community. This is because there is symbolism associated with each type of body adornment. The type of adornment or body decoration is usually linked with a certain event or an individual’s stage in life. Occasions in this case may include marriage, circumcision, burial or thanks giving ceremonies. The Maasai community in Kenya is a good example of a community that uses various types of body adornments. For example during the circumcision ceremony, young Maasai boys dress in traditional white and black paint to symbolise the coming of age (Brakspear, pg 189). When they pass this ritual the young men apply red ochre on the hair to symbolise their maturity and conversion from boys to young warriors.
Scarification and piercing is used to symbolise bravery in men and body beautification for women (Brakspear pg 192). Women belonging to the Mursi community of Ethiopia for instance wore five inch clay plates in the lower lips usually in the presence of men (Blakspear) Masks and other form of headdresses were used during ceremonies such as dances or during the arbitration of traditional cases mainly to hide the faces of those who passed judgement.