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Paint - Indians found many things in nature from which they could make paint.  They used fine clays containing different oxides of iron.  These they mixed with bear grease or buffalo tallow.  The hard, yellow substance in the gall bladder of the buffalo was prized as a medicine paint.  The Sioux used bullberries, a plant like sumac.  Flowers, barks, and other vegetable matter also provided paints and colorings.

Usually the Indian applied the paint with his fingers.  But sometimes he made brushes from sticks which were chewed or beaten on the ends.  Plains Indians employed a spongy bone from the knee joint of the buffalo which held paint as the modern fountain pen does ink.

the Indian painted himself to be admired or to strike fear in his enemy.  Sometimes he painted as a disguise and other times merely to protect his skin from insects and the wind and the sun.  he also painted for dances and other ceremonies.

Without a doubt Indians were first called Red men because of their use of red paints in decorating their faces and bodies.  Red was a sacred color with all Indians and usually stood for strength and success.  For this reason red was the favorite color for painting the face and body for dance and warpath, and for painting the war pony, lance, and other articles of war and ceremony.

While it might appear that the Indian's colors and designs were often put on merely to satisfy his own whims, the fact was he commonly followed a definite pattern and each design and color had a meaning.  however, when an Indian found a certain color had proved lucky, or had been "good medicine," he might continue its use regardless of any meaning that others might give it.

The meaning of certain colors varied among tribes.  War paint among the Plains Indians, for instance, might be an excessive use of any color.  White stood for mourning, black for joy, and red for happiness and beauty.  The Cheyenne used rings, strips of different colors when going to war, and on returning they used only black to indicate their joy at arriving back safely.  The Cherokee, on the other hand, used red for success, blue for defeat or trouble; black meant death, and white, peace and happiness.

Women beautified themselves with paint.  it was used to decorate lodges, totem poles, parfleche bags, robes, and for ceremonial pictures.  Red paint might be daubed on stones, trees, or other objects to which the Indian wanted to show respect.  Ponies were painted for war, and in historical paintings men were shown with blood red wounds.

Related Information within this Site
[ Bear ][ Blanket ][ Buffalo ][ Costume ][ Hair ][ Horse ]
[ Parfleche ][ Picture Writing ][ Red Man ][ Red Sticks ]
[ Sand Painting ][ Tattooing ][ Tepee ][ Totem Poles ][ Women ]