Face Paint, Piercings and Lip Plates: Beauty and Adornment in Ethiopia

Posted on 03 November 2017

The idea of adornment is diverse and holds different meanings in various cultures. It has probably existed since the beginning of time. People feel a sense of belonging to the society if they dress a certain way or adorn themselves and one identifies with a community based on the way its members dress. Most people find it a way of expressing themselves too. Adornment in Ethiopia is particularly interesting, so let's explore some native ideas.


close up of an ethiopian tribe woman with ornament

picture of a woman and her baby from an ethiopian tribe

The Idea of Adornment in Ethiopia today 


Today beauty and fashion also define a culture or a movement and represent a reflection of time. It is fascinating to know that tribal communities in Ethiopia have been following such beauty rituals for many decades and choose this as a method of identity even when clothing, cosmetics and jewellery have progressed in the rest of the world. Omo valley, ten hours south of Addis Ababa holds many tribal communities who use native ways of adornment interesting for the modern eye. 



woman from an ethiopian tribe with a lip adornement

picture of a child from an ethiopian tribe

Creativity in Ethiopian Tribes 


Techniques of face painting, piercing or markings on people's bodies are commonly seen in these tribes. Use of beads and shells and sometimes even bottle caps to make wigs are seen in special tribes like the Dassanach Tribe of the Omo valley. Mostly the idea of adornment in Ethiopia also arises with the wish to attract the attention of the opposite sex. One such tradition is when a woman is of a marriageable age after puberty. She then wears a lip plate making cuts on her lips. This is a symbol of status in Mussi, Suri and Karo tribes. Materials like white ash are used by men to paint their bodies. I find it fascinating how creative these tribes are when it comes to using limited materials and resources to adorn themselves. The people of another tribe make wigs out of dry lemons and shells and paint themselves with clay as they are considered of high value.

picture of an ethiopian woman and her baby with maize on her head

picture of children of a tribe in ethiopian


Techniques of Beauty


Scars and cuts would usually not be considered appealing in a metropolitan perception of beauty, but they are considered to be a mark of beauty in these tribes. This is of cultural importance to the tribes. Even recycled beads come in use by these creative minds. To find love in these tribes, chalk and red ochre paint are used in different patterns like circles and stripes to increase sex appeal and other techniques are used to visually stand out in a crowd. Some of these images depict the use of colours and textures by these tribes for the purpose of adornment.

woman and children in traditional outfit in an ethopian tribe

woman and her baby of an ethiopian tribe


Author: Sayali Goyal

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