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Book: Body Talk and Cultural Identity in the African World

Chapter: 4. Body Arts, Body Decoration, and Identity in Yorubaland

DOI: 10.1558/equinox.24092


Dress is generally discussed in the literature as cloth and clothing tradition while body arts and decoration are either treated as appendages to cloth and clothing tradition or submerged in the general discourse. This study, drawing on the biological and symbolic interaction theories, moves body arts and decoration from the periphery to the center of the discussion on dress, as any addition and supplement to the human body. Body arts and decoration, as conceived in this study, includes facial marks and scarification, tattooing and incisions, use of henna and other forms of permanent or impermanent artistic expressions done to or on the human body as beautification or for identification purposes. Using Yorubaland as example, the study examines the place of body arts and decoration in the construction of group and individual identity among Yoruba people of Nigeria. Among other things, the study aims at situating these items of dress within the broader understanding of dress as some of the material expressions of a people.

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