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ANT 101 A look at Cultural Body Art and Ornamentation Final_draft

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Cultural Body Art and Ornamentaon
1
A look at Cultural Body Art and Ornamentation
ANT101: Introduction to Cultural Anthropology (GSF1341H)

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Cultural Body Art and Ornamentaon
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Every culture in one way or another has been exposed and influenced by body art. Body
art and ornamentation are more than just the latest fad. As far as scientist can tell body art has
been around since the beginning of civilization. Body art and ornamentation are visually based,
so to understand the art one must know the symbolic meanings from the culture presented in the
art work. Focusing on different cultures in the world and comparing an area of each others body
art there are some vast differences and similarities. Tattoo meanings vary greatly depending on
which culture derive from. The value and perception of ornamentation and how it’s used varies
greatly as well. Different cultures, the Chinese, the Yanesha (indigenous Peru), and the Batlokwa
of the Mt Fletcher district (Eastern Cape, South Africa) use different methods of body art and
ornamentation and each culture has different meanings for the visual messages.
From piercings, to head shaping, to tattooing, body art has been around for at least 5,000
years. Some scientist say the paint used for cave wall drawings, may have also been used for
body paint that date from over 30,000 years ago. Some cultures have been known to use quail
pens, fish and or bird bones when applying tattoos and piercings while decorative jewelry
became purposeful adornments and clothing varied from culture to culture.
There will be three main cultures focused on in this paper. Starting with the Chinese
persuasion of tattooing that are now international. I will be focusing on 9
th
century techniques
and the stigmas that go along with the time periods and the culture. Next a Peruvian style of
body art and ornamentation from the Yanesha with Amazonian influences. The last culture I will
be discussing is a South African tribe focusing on the Tlokwa people and how their unique use of
bead ornamentation has crossed over into western society.

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Cultural Body Art and Ornamentaon
3
As we look further into the differences, we will also come across many similarities that
will help give us a better understanding of the influences of body art and ornamentation.
Chinese tattooing has influenced the world with its amazing portrait style of tattooing.
From water, wind, dragons, Koi fish, tigers, along with other natural elements and symbols.
Compared to the marking styles of Europeans who used a simple badge and branding style. They
were also among the first to start sleeves and full body suits, these were not easily accepted into
society causing some to be outcasts. “Partly due to the early and long-lasting association of body
marking with peoples perceived as barbaric or with punishment and the inevitability subsequent
ostracism from the society of law abiding people” (Reed, 2000). Most believed the body is a
sacred gift from ones parents and those who chose modification were looked at as “wild”.
Asian tattooing was first thought to be around 100-200 BC and describes the Yue people
who decorated themselves with tattoos in order to help protect them from dragons and sea
monsters. Chinese slaves, criminals, prostitutes, servants, concubines, and soldiers all wore
tattoos giving birth to tattoo stereotypes. The tattoos were meant to show ownership and inflict
permanent punishment. If a wife cheated her eyebrows would be cut off and filled with pigment.
A person caught stealing would have a ring tattooed behind the ear while a person who
repeatedly commits adultery will have one on the forehead. Anyone with a facial tattoo was
regarded as a social outcast. Army generals used this to add to their ranks, kidnapping farmers
and tattooing them immediately so that they had no choice but to remain in the army. Tattoos
became so common in the armies, and with individual additions they became less of a stigma.

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