In Madagascar it is not only the flora and fauna that is both unique and intriguing but the people as well. There are so many customs and traditions that are particular to the country, stirred together from a melting pot of cultures that span Africa, Asia, and even Europe. Travellers to the country may be surprised to see women walking around with beautifully painted faces and wonder whether there is a festival that they were unaware of, or whether it is a connection to a specific tribe or group. The patterns and area of the face covered may vary but one thing remains consistent: the colours of the paint. Why is this so? What is it made of and why do they do it? Read below to find out more about Madagascar face paint.
Some Malagasy women paint their faces with beautiful patterns or flower designs in white and yellow paint that provides a stunning contrast to their dark skin. It is a custom associated with the women of the Sakalava tribe. The Vezo women the southern coastal areas of Madagascar paint their faces as well, the Vezo tribe is considered a subset of the Sakalava group.
The “paint” is actually made from a special type of wood, specifically the bark of a tree that is ground into powder and then mixed into a paste. These elaborate patterns aren’t merely decorative but also are applied to protect the skin from the damage of the sun as well as ward off insects such as mosquitoes. It is also believed to make your skin more beautiful, much like a face masque or cream would. The mask is known as Masonjaony. The custom is also a common occurrence in the nearby Comoros islands and it is said to have originated there.
When you are on your dream holiday in Madagascar look out for the Malagasy with women with beautifully painted faces and bright traditional clothes who will surely bring a smile to your face, and don’t be too shy to ask for a picture.