Black Adornment Practices Are More Than Fun – They're Sacred

“The will to adorn is the second most notable characteristic in Negro expression.” – Zora Neal Hurston. Our people have always made something out of nothing, and that includes our “adornment” practices. But how are our clothes and jewelry tied to our faith?

Black Adornment Practices Are More Than Fun – They're Sacred
Via Wikimedia Commons

How we dress and accessorize isn’t just fun – it’s spiritual too! Historic African adornment practices predate enslavement and colonization, with multiple African cultures practicing different forms of adornment – and all of them have meaning.

Body painting has often been used for celebration and mourning rituals. Scarification – decorative cuts on the skin – is performed to mark monumental moments like childbirth, puberty, or marriage.

Jewelry, gold, and cowrie shells are also worn to show wealth or for protection to ward off dangerous spirits.

Some of these practices traveled with enslaved Africans after being kidnapped and brought to the Americas, but some new practices formed as well.

Enslaved Africans were forced to wear whatever their enslavers provided them with, but on Sundays they would put on the few special clothes and accessories they owned for church services. Thus, our “Sunday bests” were born.

White supremacy tried to strip our ancestors of adornment practices, but we see evidence they survived in our daily lives, pop culture, and deities. Of course, white people love to appropriate these!

But only our community will ever understand the true ancestral and spiritual powers behind these practices.

You know the saying, “my body is a temple?” Another way to phrase this is “my body is a living altar.”  How can your adornment practices show that your body is a divinely powerful altar?

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