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Body Art Across the Globe

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Body Art across the Globe
In this paper I will be discussing the differences in body art and ornamentation within three different cultures across the world. Each culture has a different way of defining their body art, whether it is with body paints, scarification, body piercing, body shaping, or tattooing. Each culture has different reasons and different ways of celebrating life, death, and aging within their tribe or group, each with a specific rite or traditional way of going about it. The cultures I will be going into are the culture of the Paduang women of Thailand, African tradition of scarification and the Polynesian style tattooing practiced among Samoan and Hawaiian cultures.
In a small village just within the Thailand border, there is a group of women known as the Paduang celebrate their culture by wearing what modern western society would consider being bondage rings. Our society calls it neck-stretching but in reality what they are doing is placing brass rings around their neck from early ages such as 5 years old which push the collar bone and shoulders down to make their neck elongated looking. The custom involves adding an extra ring to their next every two years or so (Padaung Woman, 2013).
Neck rings appeal to the men in their tribe and men in their tribes prefer to only marry women with neck rings. These neck rings often show status among their peers, however, it is estimated that in the next few generations that the practice will die out as more mothers choose this for their daughters to follow (Paduang Woman, 2013). While the rings represent status and respect, the removing of these rings is often a punishment for women of the tribe accused of adultery because their skeletal structure has been deformed which forces the woman to spend her life either laying down or finding some way to support her neck (Paduang People).
In an African tradition, there is a process called scarification which involves a process of begin cut with a blade in a pattern that sometimes cover half of the body. In order to achieve the raised scars, the cuts are rubbed or filled with clay or ash which will permanently raise the cuts. This process is extremely painful and often times the more scars that a person has the more that person is honored for having suffered through such a long process (Schildkrout). Scarification has been a process that was chosen for many African tribes due to the tattooing not showing well on their darker skin tones and the patterns of the scars will often coincide with traditions and ceremonies. Scarification is practiced in present-day tribes in places such as Ethiopia and Nigeria. Scarification designs are used to mark certain points in a person’s life, such as birth, puberty, marriage, etc.
Traditional Polynesian style tattooing was done by artists puncturing the skin using a needle and a small hammer to tap the needle into the skin. Polynesian tattoos were a way of delivering information of the person they were on such as status levels within their tribes, their “mana” or life force which is shown through their tattoos.
In the Polynesian culture, the tattoo artists or masters are important because they know every symbol by memory and know the right way to combine different symbols in order to make their artwork and tattoos exceptionally meaningful for each individual person. Each artist or master has a different style and way of doing their tattoos on people’s bodies. Some create simple patterns of lines or shapes such as those found in Hawaiian and Samoan cultures. Within the culture, tattoo ceremonies are considered to be sacred. The place on the body where the tattoo is placed often has to do with the social status and rank of that person within the tribe and those within the culture who were not tattooed were often looked at as people of the lowest social class. Before getting the tattooed each person must go through a body cleansing consisting of a fast for a certain amount of time as well as abstinence from one’s spouse.
Each culture partakes in different ways concerning body art and ornamentation whether it is something as extensive as body shaping or tattooing, or as temporary as henna or body painting. Each act of body art is in alliance with a major moment or stepping stone in each person’s life; either as a rite of passage when reaching a certain age to be considered an adult, marriage, or social status. It is within each culture, if we keep an open mind, that society would be able to appreciate and see the beauty in the ways that each culture celebrates life and its progression.

Body-marking. (2013). Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th Edition, 1.
Films Media Group. (2004). Taboo: Marks of identity [H.264]. Available from
Mallon, S. (2012). Patterns of the Past; Tattoo Revival in the Cook Islands. Journal Of The Polynesian Society, 121(1), 87-88.
Paduang people. (2013). In The Hutchinson Encyclopedia. Retrieved from
Paduang woman. (2013). In The Hutchinson Encyclopedia. Retrieved from
Schildkrout, E. (n.d.). Retrieved from…...

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