n Indilinga African Journal of Indigenous Knowledge Systems - Ceremonial usage of clays for body painting according to traditional Xhosa culture

Volume 10, Issue 2
  • ISSN : 1683-0296



Cultural practices are explored and expressed in daily living through the creative abilities of every person. This article presents an analytical critique of the uses of clays for body painting and its ceremonial and ritual significance. It reports on an ethnographic study conducted to distinguish between various functions and reasons for the practice. The study is informed by cultural knowledge from rural communities within OR Tambo District in Eastern Cape Province of South Africa. Samples of clays used for ceremonial and ritual body paintings were analysed to determine their physico-chemical and mineralogical properties. The main objective was to investigate whether there is merit in this traditional practice. Using standard laboratory techniques, physico-chemical properties such as colour, particle size distribution, pH and cation exchange capacity of the samples were determined. Minerals identification was conducted using X-Ray Diffractometry. It was identified that the clay colours varied from white to yellow and red; and pH values ranged from 4.53 to 9.57. Whereas all the samples contained fractions of clay, silt and sand, their CEC values were between 1.02 meq/100g and 35.24 meq/100g. Mineral phases identified in the clayey samples include kaolinite, muscovite, hematite, goethite and quartz. The identified properties indicate that traditional usage of clays for body paintings by the Xhosas has scientific evidence which cannot be ignored.

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