During war in the old days, warriors painted their faces and sometimes chests in mainly red or black colours.
Traditionally, the Fijians painted their face and bodies in a range of different colours and patterns, not only for cosmetic decoration but in terms of tribal warfare, when a more serious make over was called for!
An indigenous palette of red, yellow, black and white was used, which was later joined by blue and vermilion with the arrival of the Europeans in the 1800’s.
In fact vermilion had become equivalent to gold by the mid 19th century and the Fijians swapped baskets of the seafood delicacy, blanche-de-mer, with European traders for the valuable red pigment.
Black pigment was obtained from the soot of burnt candlenut or kauri resin, or from charcoal or fungus spores, then mixed with coconut and other oils.
Yellow was derived from a type of ginger root as well as turmeric. For everyday decoration, faces were striped, zigzagged, spotted, bisected or plain black except for a red nose.
For wars, men would paint their faces and sometimes chests in mainly red or black – colours that were associated with battle, blood and death.
Tumeric was used to paint babies and women for the first three months of pregnancy and after the birth, until the baby was weaned.
During this time, a woman was sexually ‘tabu’ and if a man was found with traces of yellow on him, he was seriously teased!
Tumeric was also used for young boys’ puberty ceremonies or renaming ceremonies celebrating the first killing.
While men favoured red and black for war paint, the women preferred to use brighter colours or yellow, red and pink.
Fine black circles around the eyes were considered beautiful.
Before painting, skin was oiled and scented with coconut oil – a practice that many Fijian women still include as part of their beauty routine.
After the European settlers and missionaries arrived in Fiji, tribal warfare and rituals such as initiation tattooing were discouraged. Eventually, the practise of Fijian face and body decoration also disappeared.
Today, face painting is reserved for cultural performances only.