African Body Art

Visitors to the various regions within the African continent are frequently surprised by the lack of clothing worn by traditional or rural people. Despite few cloth coverings, though, the locals are draped in jewellery and decorations. Indeed, using the body as a canvas for a particular type of art has long been a tradition amongst many of the world’s earliest inhabitants. The African tribes have five main ways of beautifying or decorating their bodies. These are:

1. Scarification
2. Body painting
3. Beadwork
4. Jewellery
5. Mutilation
Scarification involves cutting, burning or whipping the body to create permanent scars. These are frequently inflicted in specific shapes and sizes, and indicate something about their host. For example, the pubescent girls of the Nigerian tribe Ga’anda are scarred with delicate designs on their stomachs, backs and shoulders to indicate that they are entering womanhood. The Sudanese tribe of Shilluk uses scarred dots across the forehead to convey details about that person’s heritage.

Body painting is a common method, and is used in religious rituals, celebrations and to indicate sexual maturity. The colours frequently represent the tribe (as a sports jersey would indicate what team the spectator supports), or can be used to convey a specific message about that person. Oil, clay, chalk, ash and plant products (fruit, sap etc…) are traditionally used to create different colours and textures. The Nuba males in Sudan are painted and decorated all over their body between 17 and 30 years of age to indicate their life stage, while other tribes only use the paints for worship or mourning.

Africans are famous for their use of colourful beads, both on their body and in their accessories, hair and clothing. Certain colours and patterns usually represent certain aspects of the wearer, such as gender, number of children, power, achievements and so on. When colonialists began to arrive in Africa, they brought with them exquisite glass beads, which the Africans held in such high regard that they even traded human slaves for them. Apart from these, they also used ivory, fish bones and shells for beads.

Jewellery was made using leather, hair, grasses, beads, bones, shells and seeds. It came in the form of traditional necklaces, bracelets, ankle chains and rings, but also as headdresses, foot detail, and strings of decorations draped over the hair, back and stomach. When jewellery was made from a rare or valuable substance, like coral or certain types of woods and shells, they became more valuable to those wearing them.

Mutilation includes lip plugs, earlobe plugs, neck rings and similar methods of changing the body structure and appearance. These take years to effect, and become the identity of the tribes making use of them. They often result in a bizarre physical feature, such as bottom lips that have a disk the size of a dinner plate in the soft tissue, or elongated necks that have been stretched by gradually increasing the number of copper rings around them.

Art is a fascinating way of identifying a group of people, or of expressing personal ideas and preferences. The African people have used it extensively to establish their own identities and cultures.

For more information, please view: African Body Modification

Effects Of Climatic And Environmental Changes On Ancient African Civilisations

Hundreds of thousands of years ago, the entire planet earth looked very different to what modern man experiences today. Continents were not yet divided, and the vegetation and animals were different. Significantly, the climate was also vastly different to what it is today. Climate plays an integral role in determining the plants and animal that live in a certain areas, as well as how habitable a place is for human beings.

In fact, even the theory of the evolution of man was dependent largely on the climatic influences on our ancient ancestors. It is hypothesised that the ancient versions of man were forced to walk upright, lose body hair and develop their coordination for survival in a changing environment. New skills also needed to be learned as farming techniques and living habits had to be adapted.

Ancient Africa experienced major vacillations between mega-droughts and Ice Ages, although these fluctuations occurred over thousands and thousands of years. As humans continued to develop and evolve through these phases, they needed to make major adaptations, not only to their ways of life, but also to their personal body structure. Prior to 135 000 years ago, the whole of Africa was lush and fertile, with a tropical climate. Then, the most intense mega-drought ever to occur hit the continent in the period referred to as the early part of the Late Pleistocene epoch. This is believed to have led to the migration of most of our human ancestors into other areas that were more habitable and fertile. Lake Malawi has been used by scientists as a rain gauge to ascertain water levels in ancient times. Research has shown that, during this mega-drought, the lake’s level dropped at least 1968 feet, or 600 metres! Evolutionists claim that this severe lack of water not only pushed ancient man from the area, it also forced aquatic animals (such as fish) to develop the facilities to be able to survive on dry land, thus evolving into land animals.

As people flocked out of the continent, only a very small proportion of this specific generation remained. Humankind as we know it is widely believed to have come from these few remaining on the continent, who evolved significantly and in response to the climatic changes.

These conditions continued until about 70 000 years ago, when the climate was again characterised by wetter conditions. These led to the growth and renewal of fresh vegetation, as well as an increased water supply to the region. More people were in the area during this time of abundance, and the population grew. This increase in numbers eventually led to migrations due to space limitations and the ownership of land.

Then, about 20 000 years ago, an Ice Age overcame the entire earth. This meant that the planet underwent a long-term period of cold temperatures over most of its surface. In places like North America and Eurasia, giant ice sheets covered enormous proportions of the land, making it impossible to farm and, sometimes, even live in these areas. This final Ice Age lasted for about 9 500 years. It forced most of the populations to migrate to the highlands, where they would be relatively protected from the ice sheets. Again, these civilisations had to adapt their farming methods, and change their diet, social habits, clothing and migratory patterns. This forced an evolution to a certain extent. Body hair was necessary to keep people warm, their skin lightened due to a lack of the harsh rays of the sun that they experienced during the mega-droughts, etc…

When this Ice Age came to an end 10 500 years ago, areas like the Sahara were left fertile and healthy. This made it and the other areas like it the ideal spots in which to settle as ancient man began to descend from the highlands. Animals and plants thrived in this environment, which made it very desirable in the eyes of mankind. The abundance of food, water and sunshine again changed the habits and physical structures of our earliest forefathers.

These conditions lasted for some time, but the Sahara in particular continued to experience fluctuations between humid and dry conditions. These eventually left the entire area unable to yield crops or sustain life for any extended period of time. Today, it remains a large stretch of desert. Then, approximately 2500 years ago, the group of people who had made their home in the Sahara began to follow the direction of the Nile River, which held promise of a rich water supply. The arid conditions of the Sahara and its surrounds continue to the present day.

Africa has, since prehistoric times, proven to be a place of fascination, life and evolution. Changes in the climate were often dramatic, and these were, to a great extent, responsible for determining the ancient civilisations that inhabited this vast continent. It is no wonder that many researchers and scientists maintain that Africa is the Cradle of Mankind, and research continues to yield fascinating evidence of this theory.