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  • B.M. Allsopp

Fiji faces: fashion or war-paint?

I want to share with you the engraving below by Rev. Thomas Williams in his 1858 landmark work of anthropology, Fiji and the Fijians.

I'm sure you'll agree the designs are very sharp, even though the resolution is not.

historic Fiji face-painting designs

Williams wrote only a few words about face painting, in contrast to his detailed treatment of Fijian hairstyles, the subject of my blog post Cannibal Coiffure. He implies that face painting was purely decorative. Jet black was restricted to men, but both sexes used vermilion "applied in spots, stripes and patches".

However, I wonder if face painting may have been used in battle. I recently watched a documentary about World War 2 camouflage of Allied vessels, designed by avant-garde artists. The patterns deceived watchers from both air and sea, saving many, many lives. Some of these pre-colonial Fijian face designs are similar in principle to those used on the ships. Just a thought!

My personal favourite is 2nd row, far left. What's yours? If you encountered any of these faces on a dark street, how would you feel? Amused, bamboozled or petrified?

Fiji book cover

I would love to answer any questions from readers about Fiji, or indeed about my books. Just leave me a message on or email me at

I look forward to hearing from you!


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