Native Indians have long embraced the practice of face paint to communicate messages via colors and different symbols, especially during wars. You may not want to miss out on learning about different symbols and meanings of Native American Indians.
Did You Know?
Beothuk, a Native American Indian tribe, used red color extensively. They used to cover almost everything from their hair and face to clothing and belongings, even in burials. Although the exact reason is unknown, it is speculated that it was for protection from insects.
Face painting holds a unique significance for Native Indians or Native American Indians. The use of symbols is what distinguished the tribes from each other. They were highly spiritual people who conveyed and communicated their thoughts and ideas through symbols and colors. They were usually based on geometric drawings of celestial bodies, thunder, lightning, animals, birds, reptiles, etc.
Apart from decoration purposes, the paint colors and symbols were mainly used during wars to convey secret messages to the other members of the tribe. They were also used as a camouflage while hunting or during wars. Even the horses were painted or imprinted with symbols and signs to communicate with each other during wars. Each color and symbol had its own significance. They believed that the designs that they painted had certain magical powers that would protect them. The symbols and colors were a reflection of the happenings and events during a war.
First let us see the meanings and symbolism of different war paint colors.
Paint Color Meanings
Red color symbolized war, violence, blood, strength, energy, power, and success in a war, and also symbolized happiness and beauty in face paint. Red-colored paint was made from clay containing iron oxides, roots, berries, beets, etc.
Black color symbolized “living” and was considered to be an aggressive color. It was painted on the face to prepare for war. It signified strength and also that the warrior had proved himself in the battle. It also symbolized victory and homecoming to the camp. It was made from coal or charcoal.
White was a color for mourning, but also signified peace and prosperity when used as a face paint. It was made from clay, limestone, ground gypsum, eggshells, and seashells.
Yellow was a color of death. It also meant that the warrior was a hero, led a good life, and was willing to fight till the end or death. It also symbolized intelligence. It was made from Bixa plant, which is a bushy shrub or small tree. It was also called annatto. The Native Americans made it into a paste for a bright yellow or orange paint.
Green color symbolized endurance and harmony. It was believed to have great healing power and improve one’s vision. It was associated with nature. Green paint was made from moss, algae, flowers, or berries.
Blue color meant wisdom and confidence. It also denoted the sky, rivers, lakes, and water. Blue-colored paint was made from duck manure, clay, oxides, sunflower seeds, flowers, etc.
Purple was not used as a war paint. However, it symbolized power, magic, and mystery, and was considered as a sacred color. It was produced from blueberries, coneflowers, and hibiscus.
Indian War Paint Symbols and Their Meanings
Certain symbols were used by the tribes to communicate with other members. The secret messages were also conveyed through symbols. Each symbol had its own significance. They were painted on an individual’s clothes, tepees, and other belongings to mark his heroic achievements. Given below are the different symbols with their meanings.
Eye of a Medicine Man Symbol
It was a very powerful symbol that represented the Medicine man or Shaman. They were believed to have magical powers of spiritual healing, and also see the future. The outer lines of the symbol signified the four directions: North, South, East, and West. The inner line signified the Spirit world, which the Medicine man was knowledgeable of, and the circle in the center signified the eye of the Medicine man and his spiritual vision.
It was a common symbol that was seen painted on the face or across the forehead of almost all the warriors. It was believed that it brought power and speed to the wearer. A lightning and zig-zag symbol, if painted in red, also symbolized the Thunderbird. It was considered to be a powerful spirit, which flashed lightning from its beak and eyes.
Two arrows in opposite directions symbolized war. The decision of taking part in the war was completely voluntary, and the acceptance to go on one was made through public gestures.
Four Ages of Man Symbol
It signifies the four milestones i.e,. four stages of a man’s life. They were childhood, youth and adolescence, maturity in middle age, and wisdom in old age. It is mainly used by the tribes in Southwestern USA.
Indian Camp Symbol
It signified an Indian village that consisted of Tepees. Tepees are tent-like houses of the Native Indians. They were constructed from wood and animal skins. They were made in such a way that it was easy for them to set up and dismantle quickly.
The hand symbol meant that the warrior was successful in a hand-to-hand battle. It was painted on the faces or on the horses. It symbolized ‘life’ and was perceived to impart energy to the warrior.
The homecoming symbol signified the return of a warrior. A number of ceremonies were held to welcome the brave warriors after the war was over. During festivals, homecoming dances were held for the warriors.
The culture of the Native Indians was highly influenced by rituals and different beliefs, which were depicted in their use of symbols like the star symbol. They were mainly used for the warrior’s gallantry acts and other major events of his life.
Indian War Paint Symbols on Horses
The Native Indians considered their horses as highly valuable assets, and would often protect and honor the war horse by painting certain symbols on its body. They were made for its protection to indicate them of troubles and warnings, or in its affections. They made horse war paint of different colors from the materials that were available to them.
A circle around the eyes and nostrils of the horse indicated alertness and a keen sense of smell.
The arrow pointed in a certain line would mean that it brought victory.
Thunder stripes on the front legs of the horse were meant to please the God of war.
Arrowheads meant that the horse was swift and agile.
Fire arrows in a zigzag fashion pointing downwards meant trouble for the enemy, which in turn became the strength of the warrior.
The right/left handprints on the horse’s chest symbolized that the enemy had been knocked down by the horse.
Hailstones were made symbolizing prayer for hail to fall on the enemies.
Two Crossing Lines
Two crossing lines symbolized that the warrior had escaped the trap.
Hoofprints were imprinted on the horses to convey the number of horses that were captured in the raids.
Battle Scars and Pat Handprint
Battle scars were always painted in red, and the Pat handprint was drawn on the right hip of the horse. These were the highest honors a horse could get. The Pat handprint was for the horse who brought back his master unharmed from a dangerous battle.
It was the most prized symbol that a warrior could draw on his horse. It was meant for warriors going on a do-or-die mission.
Handprint in Red
The warrior who died in the war would leave the blooded handprint on the horse’s right shoulder for the people to know that he had died.
So, these were a few war paint symbols along with their meanings. These were some of the generalized symbols. Each and every tribe had different symbols and colors, which signified different things. They were not only used during wars, but also for hunting and decorations.