Many (land) artists have worked with the earth in its clay, sand, soil or mud forms.

Pigments, cosmetics, writing, drawing, tracing, dyeing, sculpting….the creative possibilities are endless.

The women in the Comoros Islands have joined personal beauty to the functional. They wear masks, resembling mud or clay masks of an unusual type.

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A small smattering of islands located in the northern Mozambique channel, the Comoros Islands are known to be culturally hybrid, located at the crossroads of Africa and India.

Several local tribes have a tradition of preparing masks….. primarily with the bark of trees. Referred to as Mussiro (n’siro) for the Macua women and msinzano for the Mahora, depending on ones island origin, the paste is made with water and a few other scented ingredients.  Applied directly to the skin, the paste may be made with a mix of ground sandalwood and ground coral, or in other cases ground Olax distiflora, a regional shrub. Sometimes curcuma, a yellow spice (pigment) may be added to the paste or jasmine for a varied floral scent.

Intricate, a little like a henna design, or simple and more covering, the masks may tell stories about the women, signaling marital availability for example. Offering protection from the sun, the masks also hydrate and soften the skin, hence their beautifying qualities in the eyes of their wearers. The masks are worn all day.

Those in european countries who are in the habit of clay skin masks may be surprised to learn that sometimes, somewhere, there is no rinsing involved.