Native American Face Painting Styles

Written by heather robson
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Native American Face Painting Styles
Face painting is a deeply rooted tradition among many Native American tribes. (native American image by Joy Fera from

Face painting in Native American tribes held great significance. Tribal members had numerous ways of painting their faces, and would paint their faces for different reasons at different times. Some of the reasons were practical and some were spiritual. While many Native American tribes did use war paint on their faces during times of battle, war was not the only reason for face painting.

Reasons for Face Paint

Native American tribes in earlier times used face paint for many reasons. This remains true even in modern times. Different patterns, colours and styles are used to mark different occasions. Tribal warriors would paint their faces and bodies before a battle in hope the symbols they used and the prayers they said over the paint would protect and empower them. Paints were also used in important ceremonies like naming ceremonies and healing ceremonies. Paints could depict belonging or status. Often, families within a tribe would have their own symbols and style of face paint that would not be used by other families.

Significant Colors

Early on, face paints were derived from natural materials like clay, berries and even animal droppings. Different colours symbolised different things for different tribes. Red was often used during war, and black was used upon return from a dangerous outing or during war preparations. White was used to convey peace and yellow to symbolise mourning.

Personal Symbols

Native American individuals would often establish their own style of face painting. They would adopt personal symbols and patterns that held significance for them. Such personal symbols were thought to bring luck and success. Often, they were passed down through generations with younger members of a family earning the right to wear the personal symbols of their elders.

Tribal Differences

It is impossible to group all Native American tribes together and expect to find all but the broadest of common threads. This is true for face painting, too. While face painting was common to most, if not all, Native American tribes, the significance of colours, the materials used and the symbols associated with different ceremonies vary from tribe to tribe.

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