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African ornament: stylistic features, symbols

Ornamentation is one of the first manifestations of the creativity of ancient peoples. In curls, dashes, circles, cross lines, people tried to reflect the surrounding reality. Often the patterns were given a mysterious and magical meaning.

The use of ornaments

The tradition of using ornaments in many countries of Africa continues until now. In each of the patterns, the wisdom of ancestors accumulated over the centuries, the world perception and faith is displayed. African ornaments and patterns were not created just like that, they made a special sense.

Depending on the value of the patterns used for different rituals and ceremonies. They could be applied to objects of everyday life and decorations, to things that were sent to the grave with the deceased, to objects that were used for rituals, to weapons.

Often, an African ornament was applied to clothing. In West Africa, for this purpose, special equipment was invented. Ornament scraped on wax, which was previously applied to the fabric. Then the tissue was boiled in boiling paint. Wax melted under the influence of temperature, but the pattern was imprinted on the fabric. Another way was to apply the ornament with wooden stamps, which were wetted in paint.

Another material for applying patterns is the skin. To protect themselves from enemies or to win the hunt, Africans paint themselves with symbols. Some are applied for certain occasions and rituals, others can be worn constantly.

Features of style

Like other patterns in the world, African ornament displays the reality of the people. Bright sun, exotic animals, of course, found their embodiment in folk art. The patterns of Africa are distinguished by contrasting combinations of colors, an amazing combination and the transformation of all possible geometric shapes. The use of cold colors and shades for Africans is not typical.

African ornamentation, as a rule, is proportional. Patterns contain many elements, and drawings are executed in the manner of primitivism. They do not draw small elements, the image is more schematic than the exact one. To decorate houses, Ethiopians often use geometric shapes, stripes are a hallmark of the Beninese people. Floristic drawings are often found among the inhabitants of Côte d'Ivoire.


Color played an unimportant role. In red, some tribes put the value of strength and health, in other tribes it was a mourning color. African ornament of white color meant a connection with ancestors and gods. In some tribes, boys could wear yellow only after a certain age.

Often the word was embedded in the meaning of the pattern, and sometimes a whole phrase or proverb. In the ornaments of Africa you can see rhombuses, circles, spirals. Among the symbol can be a picture of a crocodile, which means adaptability to different conditions, and, for example, a palm tree from the Ashanti tribe means wealth and independence. As military symbols used images of crossed swords, sharp horns.

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