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Tribal Face Paint

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When a native tribe, group or clan of some kind is shown, in a lot of cases they tend to have exotic patterns of face paint or facial tattoos on. This is a special type of Facial Markings and Body Paint, in that they're exclusive to that tribe, and don't have to be exclusive to a certain type of being. This can also cover warpaint and other marks exclusive to a single group.

Another, less flattering version of this can also commonly be seen in some older, stereotypical depictions of Native Americans too (alongside Braids, Beads and Buckskins), but due to it being considered by some to be pretty offensive nowadays, this version isn't very popular in the media today.

May also have Savage Piercings. If they only put it on when preparing for battle, see This Means Warpaint.


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    Anime & Manga 

    Comic Books 
  • Batman:
    • Minor Batman opponent Matatoa has Maori facial tattoos.
    • The members of Black Mask's False Face Society wear masks as a sign of belonging and loyalty to Black Mask. However, one of Black Mask's lieutenants—the aptly named Tattoo—chooses to go in for elaborate facial tattoos rather than wearing a mask (with the effect being the same, i.e. giving him a 'false face').
    • In the Batman Civil War Elseworld The Blue, the Gray and the Bat, Bruce's Native American sidekick Redbird has face paint that just happens to resemble a domino mask.
  • In Shaman's Tears, Joshua Brand acquires tribal face paint when he transforms into his superpowered form.
  • The Swoofs in The Smurfs comic book story "The Astro Smurf" (and its Animated Adaptation) either wear white painted rings around their mouths (including Smurfette in the cartoon), or it's actually Flintstones-style Perma-Stubble.
  • Snowman: The people of the Oushua tribe, whom The Snowman was part of when he was alive, had tribal paint all over their bodies. Naturally, this included face paint.

    Film — Animated 
  • The Atlanteans in Atlantis: The Lost Empire have varied designs on their faces. This is especially most noticable with Kida and her father King Kashekhim Nedakh, who both wear this as royalty. Also, at the end of the film, Kida ends up gaining more tattoos on her face (one on her right cheek and another on her forehead), as with her new husband Milo Thatch, who gains one on his shoulder.
    • However, Kida for some reason actually lost all but her first tattoo in the sequel.
  • Lord Macintosh from Brave, whose design appears to be a Shout-Out to Braveheart.note 
  • In Disney's Peter Pan, the Indian chief and a couple of his warriors wear it, as does the boy Michael while he's their guest.
  • Pocahontas: The Native Americans do this. Also, a doll based on John Smith apparently has an eagle tattoo under his shirt.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • In Avatar, when Jake is inducted into the Na'vi they paint his entire body with a white paint of some sort. Also, some of the Na'vi (e.g. Neytiri) wear a different kind when going into battle.
  • Cloud Atlas: The film gives the Valleysmen facial tattoos and the Kona intimidating, skull-like warpaint. Real-world facial tattoos from Australasian tribes also appear in "Pacific Journal".
  • Sarah in His Only Son has (probably anachronistic) Bedouin facial tattoos.
  • In King Arthur (2004), the "Woads" (the film's term for the Picts, non-Romanized Celts from northern Britain) wear blue face and body paint in battle.
  • The characters in Krippendorf's Tribe use it.
  • In Major League, when the Indians are close to winning the division we see a sportscaster dressed in full (sterotypical) Indian gear including a Chief-sized feather headdress and warpaint.
  • In Medicine Man, the natives paint a blue design on Bronx's face. She later discovers that it is permanent.
  • In Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, when the group finds Jack he has a pattern on that makes his eyes look like they're open when they aren't. Perhaps he used it to sleep in meetings?
  • Predator. Billy, the Native American scout of Dutch's team, is shown applying his facial camouflage in this manner.
  • At the beginning of Raiders of the Lost Ark the Hovitos Indians have Tribal Face Paint.

  • Chronicles of Ancient Darkness: All people have a clan-tattoo, usually on their face, to signify their clan. Torak has two lines of dots on each cheek (the Wolf Clan symbol), with a scar running through one dot. The scar becomes important when it's revealed in the fourth book that he's clanless, not a member of the Wolf Clan as he'd previously believed. He's also given a Mark of Shame on his forehead in that book, when he's formally made an outcast. Renn has three parallel bars on each cheek (the Raven Clan symbol), and gets a special marking when she starts menstruating. Dark is one of the only characters to not have a tattoo (at least until Skin Taker), since he was abandoned as a child before he was old enough to get his.
  • Discworld: The Nac Mac Feegle have elaborate clan tattoos. To the extent that the books sometimes seem contradictory as to whether they actually have blue skin or not.note 
  • Earth's Children:
    • The Clan use red ochre to paint a line down an infant's face and paint on the symbol of their totem during their naming ceremony, as demonstrated when Ayla is adopted into Brun's clan. When boys reach manhood, they have their totem symbol tattooed on their bodies. When Ayla decides to adopt a foal she names Whinney in The Valley of Horses, she uses red mud to paint the horse's muzzle similar to the clan's naming rituals. When a person dies, their body is painted with ochre before they're buried to represent the blood of the womb.
    • The Zelandonii wear face paint with intricate designs on formal occasions; the paint is also sometimes used to complement or accentuate piercings. In The Shelters of Stone, Marona and her friends offer to paint Ayla's face for her welcoming ceremony so she'll fit in, but she declines. It's just as well, as they would probably have used the paint to make her look ridiculous like they did with her clothing.
    • The Cro-Magnon tribes featured in the books sometimes use facial tattoos to mark a person's status; shamans of the Mamutoi have tattooed cheeks, while Zelandonii shamans and leaders tattoo their foreheads with different designs.
  • Evolution: Early humans identify kin groups by ochre markings scrawled on their faces, hands and arms.
  • Gaunt's Ghosts: The people of Tanith (who make up a substantial number of the main characters) all have blue facial tattoos of some pattern or another. This is one of the cultural identifiers of their world of origin, and also unfortunately one of the reasons some other regiments assume them to be crass savages.
  • Lord of the Flies features this with Jack and the hunters. One of the chapters is, after all, named "Painted Faces and Long Hair".
  • In Moby-Dick, Queequeg is a massive Polynesian cannibal with tattoos all over his body, emphasizing his outsider status among the Pequod crew, most of the other named characters aboard being white American Quakers.
  • Sten: As part of her pre-mission preparation ritual, ace tacship pilot La Ciotat "painted her face in the ancestral battle pattern of her house."
  • In Taggerung, all the Juska clans have tattoos to signify which clan they are from. Tagg has an extra one on his cheek to signify that he is an unusual creature. Can be seen on most versions of the covers, probably best on the British one.
  • At the end of Tunnel in the Sky, the kids are rescued but Rod is unwilling to leave. A reporter interviews Rod but is uninterested in the truth of their civilized town and wants to sensationalize it into a "kids gone savage" story. While he's distracted, one of her aides starts spraying "war paint" on his face.
  • The Cetagandans in the Vorkosigan Saga wear elaborate facepaint, with different variations for caste and rank.
  • The War Against the Chtorr: The wearing of tribal facepaint has become a trend among younger folks in American society. (Along with kilts.)
  • The Race in World War don't wear clothes due to the hot climate on their home planet. Instead they have an elaborate system of body paint denoting caste and rank. By the Colonization sequel trilogy, 20 years after the Race comes to Earth, some young humans, especially in warmer areas of the United States, have begun wearing body paint modeled after the Race's due to cultural diffusion.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The tribe that Cole is an adoptive member of at the beginning of Power Rangers Wild Force has this.
  • Commander Chakotay in Star Trek: Voyager has a facial tattoo that doesn't resemble anything worn by any Native American tribe. The episode "Tattoo" reveals that a fictional South American tribe, the "Rubber Tree People" uses the tattoo.
  • In Survivor, at least once a season the tribes are given paint to wear to the challenge.
  • The Munchkin members of La Résistance seen near the start of Tin Man have faces fully painted in bright red and blue.
  • The kids in The Tribe sure do love their face paint.

  • Iron Maiden's Eddie has this in the Maya-inspired artwork of The Book of Souls.
  • To an extent, one could say KISS has this, in that they all have the same visual motif and the band could be considered a "tribe". Maybe.
    • In general metallers who paint their faces desire to invoke some variety of this trope, provided they don't want to invoke another one.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • Wrestlers with tribal gimmicks will usually incorporate face paint into their ring attire. Kamala, Tatanka and Umaga are examples.

    Tabletop Games 

  • Mortimer in The Fantasticks is a white guy (usually lower-class British) dressed up as some stereotypical presentation of a Native American, often including tribal warpaint.

    Video Games 
  • The Zaulia tribe in Brütal Legend have facial paints based on KISS's masks.
  • BioWare also used it in Dragon Age: Origins, where the Dalish elves, the Chasind, and the Avvar all traditionally have facial tattoos.
  • Fallout: New Vegas: In the Honest Hearts DLC, one of the two tribes of Zion Canyon, known as the Dead Horses has a custom where members earn a facial or body tattoo for every major achievement they accomplish. The vicious White Legs tribe, who came to Zion to wipe out the Dead Horses and Sorrows tribes, wear red and white face and body paint with a yellow highlight beneath the chin.
  • The three tribes occupying the Oros valley in Far Cry Primal each wear a distinct paint colour on their bodies. Player Character Takkar's tribe, the Wenja, wear white paint, none more so than tribe shaman Tensay. The Udam tribe paint themselves with blood, being a Cannibal Tribe. And the Izila tribe paint themselves blue, with their High Priestess Batari covering her exposed breasts entirely blue.
  • The Miqo'te race in Final Fantasy XIV all wear facepaint. Miqo'te males, for instance, always have some paint below their eyes, but both races have options to add more paint on as desired.
  • Horizon Zero Dawn: The Nora use blue facepaint to denote family allegiance. The actual shapes and patterns seem meaningless; all that matters is that all members of the family have the same pattern. Aloy, as a motherless outcast, is therefore completely barefaced, which is why everyone immediately recognizes her as such. The exception is the High Matriarchs, who wear no facepaint to show their allegiance to the tribe instead of their families. The parallel is likely an intentional story choice.
  • Kirby: Wing Kirby originally featured two red stripes on each cheek in place of his Blush Stickers, tying in with the Native American war chief theme of his getup. These would be removed from Kirby's Return to Dream Land onward.
  • This is used in Mass Effect, where the turians have facial markings defining the wearer as a member from one of the colonies where they were born, all stem from some sort of civil war. For example, the turian Councilor is from Tridend and Garrus Vakarian hails from Palaven. It is mentioned in the Codex that turian culture considers turians who forgo facial markings untrustworthy, owing no allegiance to anyone else. As it happens, more than one turian villain in the games is barefaced, such as Warden Kuril who tries to capture Shepard and their squad. Tries. The term "barefaced" is also a slang term used by turians to denote a politician.
  • Unique facial markings are worn by the Tribesmen in Tribes: Vengeance and, ironically, by the anti-Tribal extremist Julia, who is unknowingly a half-Tribal by blood herself.
  • Weaponlord weaves this into Korr's story as his tribe's Rite of Passage into adulthood, allowing him to take the lives of his opponents. When his brother Kӓng was about to get his, marauders came and abducted the boy who was unable to fight back since his face paint was unfinished. When Korr investigated these marauders later, he found all of them dead and thus subject to another law of the face paint: Those who break the rule and kill before their markings were made were subject to death.
  • Trolls in World of Warcraft have an option for different face paints, ranging from a few lines on their cheeks and note to covering the entire face.

    Web Comics 
  • The tribesfolk in Vattu wear symbols on their foreheads. Every single tribe member has a unique symbol; if the priest removes that symbol, that signifies exile from the tribe.

    Web Original 
  • In The Chronicles of Taras, Taras Jacobs slaughters a Dingo-Snake (Essentially a velvet-skinned, three-foot-high Dog with retractable, venomous fangs and a whip-like tail) and uses its oily black blood to paint her face (And give herself a new coat of mascara).

    Western Animation 
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender - the Southern Water Tribe has face paint for when they go to battle. And for after the ceremony after ice dodging.
  • The Stalker from Batman Beyond paints his entire body with tribal markings before going on the prowl.
  • In the Dexter's Laboratory "Dial M for Monkey" episode "Huntor", Monkey is forced to fight without his powers, and "goes native", which includes putting on face paint.
  • Il Était Une Fois...: In the episode set in Cro-Magnon times, Maestro invokes this trope. When he and Pierrot find some red dirt, he proposes that Pierre's tribe uses it to decorate their leader, his wife, and their dead.
  • Jonny Quest episode "Pursuit of the Po-Ho". The title opponents have a variety of white markings on their faces to indicate their tribal nature.
  • Queen La from The Legend of Tarzan, despite being an evil Atlantean Queen living in Africa and ruling over an entire race of Leopard Men, actually wears dark red tattoos on her face. Normally, tattoos worn by Atlanteans (especially if they're royal members), as mentioned above, are supposed to be blue.
  • In the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episode "Over a Barrel", the buffalo (who are depicted as a native tribe) put on face paint before going into battle.
  • On Disney's Recess, the kindergartners were depicted as a native tribe, complete with fingerpaint facepaint; in the episode "The Legend of Big Kid" when T.J. is captured by the kindergartners, he atavistically adopts the facepaint fashion as well.
  • An episode of The Simpsons has this at one point in a parody of Lord of the Flies. When the Model UN (basically Springfield Elementary's entire student body) gets stranded on a desert island and Milhouse is accused of stealing food, when he makes a break for it, Nelson takes ashes from the fire and stripes his face with them as he says "The hunt is on".

    Real Life 
  • The native people of New Zealand, the Maori, traditionally decorate their face and body with ta moko, in order to indicate status and rank and attract partners. It should be said that it isn't "paint" but traditional tattoos, made by grooves etched into the skin and marked with pigment made from fat and soot.
  • Martin Van Crevald in The Culture of War said effectively that he almost thought camouflage cream was more for this purpose than for practical reasons. But then one of the themes of his book was that Humans Are Warriors and we aren't so different from our "primitive" ancestors as we think we are.