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How Body Art Differs Around the World

Art is one of the many ways that people and cultures express themselves. Since the beginning of its existence, art has stood as a symbol of creativity, a declaration, and the method of body art is no different. 

Furthermore, countries and continents all across the globe practice varying forms and methods of body art with different reasonings. Once you analyze the differences, it’s eye-opening to see the limitless possibilities and formats that art can inhabit. 

You might be thinking, what’s beyond henna, tattoos, the everyday piercings. Therefore we will journey around the globe, exploring different continents to discover the traditional forms of body art that take place in each location and identify their meaning, methods, and representations. 


Scarification has become a present cultural passage for the Sepik tribe in Papua New Guinea. Moreover, this practice permanently alters the texture and surface of the skin by creating scars through scratching, cutting, etching, burning, or branding. Many view this act as an initiation rite for young men to test self-discipline and strength. Cuts are made of bamboo edges. According to As We Travel, “the Sepik tribe believe that crocodiles created the humans, and the scars in their scarification represent teeth marks of the crocodile that ‘swallowed’ the young man during the ceremony.”

Maori Face Tattoo

The Maori people are indigenous Polynesian people of New Zealand. These high-ranking Maori people would receive moko, which resembles tattoos most commonly on the face. To receive moko was a form of social status.

Neck Stretching


Neck Stretching has been observed in some African and Asian cultures. It was thought that an elongated neck was sign of the utmost beauty. To appeal to these beauty standards, people used neck rings made of spiral coils to stretch the neck. As more coils are added, weight bears heavier on the shoulders. This could potentially result in the deformation of the shoulder blades thus giving the appearance of a longer neck. This practice is more so about illusion than actual stretching.

Yaping Hullo

Nose Plug’s are considered a form of body art, more specifically identified as a piercing. They are present among the women in the Apatani Tribe in India. Many know very little about the tribe’s history and customs besides what can be observed such as the aforementioned nose plugs. The plugs are made from wood and called Yaping Hullo. According to legend, women in the Apatani tribe were so stunning that they were often kidnapped by neighboring tribes because of their beauty. Yaping Hullo served as a solution to prevent the kidnappings by making the women “less desirable.” However, this ritual hasn’t been observed to be in practice since the 70s after the government had banned it.

Body Art in Every Culture

Whether body art is a means of status, beauty ideals, identification, spirituality, self-expression, or protection, there’s no doubt that it can be a very important part of society. That said, anthropologists have found that body art is one of the only things found in every existing culture. Therefore, as an art appreciator, it’s important to be curious about the differences of similar practices across the globe to further educate oneself and make new discoveries.

Featured image source from: Pexels.com

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