The art of body painting is very important to Amazonian cultures. In most regions of the Brazilian Amazon, people use a wild fruit called ‘Genipapo.” About the size of a grapefruit, the genipapo has a fleshy consistency that, when mixed with charcoal, oxidizes and becomes a semi-permanent ink. Women do most of the painting, and they use their fingers, fine sticks, feathers and other tools to patiently and carefully apply the paint to people’s bodies. It can take many hours to paint somebody head to toe.
The geometric designs and patterned motifs they create have many meanings, depending on who wears the paint. Children tend to opt for playful paintings, and it is common to see little boys painted with spots, like the jaguar, or fully black, like the spider monkey. Girls are more sophisticated and often prefer basketry or nature designs, practicing for when they are old enough to paint others as their mothers and grandmothers before them.