Painting your face with history

North African Harquus

In preparation of our Halloween performances I’ve been looking at some make-up. From there on I was lead further into the world of tribal fusion, where facial and body make-up, tattoos en marks aren’t a very uncommon sight. When I searched on “tribal make-up” I couldn’t find all too much; most of it was semi-tribal new-time fashionable half-arsed non genuine attempts of making it look tribal, but not quite. A bit of a let down; I was kind of assuming I wasn’t the only one who wanted to do some research on the subject. There had to be something else out there.

Eventually though, my hopes were restored. Turned out the information certainly was there, but I was looking in the wrong directions. This is what I found:

Harquus is a word for black facial ornamentation in North Africa and the Middle East. It can refer to both tattooing and skin painting. The patterns of harquus, tattooing, and henna often mirror each other, and were intended to enhance each other.”

Henna and tattooing have been used in combination with black eye and eyebrow cosmetics since the Bronze Age. Eye paints were nearly universal across North Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia. The black paint provided relief from the glaring sun and too reflection from the sand before sunglasses were invented.”

“Most women created their own cosmetics. Wealthier people used soot from burning amber or aloe wood to make their eye paints; poor women used common pot-black and animal fat.”

“The jaw line patterns are broken lines with a diamond at the end. These are situated over a muscle that flexes as a person grits their teeth, and they would enhance the expressiveness of unspoken emotional grimaces. The diamond shape is usually identified as an eye to repel the Evil Eye.”

“Nibbling the lower lip was a favorite sexual foreplay, so a tattooed lower lip was an
“invitation to nibble”.”

“The grouping of arm patterns was often called usada, pillow, implying that a woman’s lover would fall asleep with his head resting on her arm. Another term for arm patterns was kfafa, kfafet la-hlib, the end of suckling, referring to the way a woman wiped her breast with her forearm to catch the last drop of milk after her baby finished nursing, a reference to the belief that a mother’s milk was as precious
and beautiful as jewels.”

“Women were the tattoo artists in late 19th century Algeria and Morocco, and women wore the tattoos.”

Chin moko or Maori Harquus

It’s an interesting world we live in, right? And this sort of body modification; it isn’t/wasn’t just common in African and Arabic regions, it was also quite popular with the Maoris of New Zealand, the Indians, the Indonesians, the Japanese… It’s a very wide-spread cultural thing and only us in the “West” aren’t taking part of it. Most probably because of our Christian roots.

That they all know it and we don’t, paves the road for an entirely new set of challenges too; if the rest of the world has been using it for so long and we aren’t educated, we have to really make sure we don’t do anything silly. I don’t really want to end up with a pattern on my hands that has a complete awkward or weird meaning.. Like the western women who have Japanese signs tattooed on their backs or arms, to find out later that it’s the Japanese word for Coca Cola (or something far less innocent!)

If you’re interested, like me, in knowing more about these sort of tribal markings, there’s a lot to find on the internet if you just know what to look for (harhar). I took above quotes from who have a couple of PDFs with much, much, much more information than only the tidbits above. And they also have a tutorial on how to apply henna tattoos and how to get them to look prettiest. Not too prone on using soot or pot-black and think applying henna is too much effort? Apparently MAC cosmetics has a good alternative: MAC cosmetics Fluid Line

Well then. That’s my next hobby sorted!


8 thoughts on “Painting your face with history

    • At the end-of-year drink of our danceschool we had someone who was making henna paintings for a small price. Unfortunately those henna tattoos didn’t last very long, neither did they come out very colorful or strong.. so I think that MAC thing is a better choice maybe, if only it’s for one night 🙂

      • Yeah–it sounds like it! I used to have my Pakistani friends in London do henna tattoos on my hands, and they always came out well and lasted about a week, but it’s not every day that that can happen! (And I don’t know any South Asians in this part of the world. 😦 )

      • Awh, heheh. Well London kind of has plenty of that ethnic group, to be honest. You’re never going to find more than there, unless you actually are -in- Pakistan.

  1. Thanks for that. It is hard to find anything about true tribal design.

    Have you seen the ones on the Capella Palatina? They are on the Egyptian Fatimid dancer & musician.

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