As in the case of tattoo, the exact origin of the scarification is unknown. Several people around the world have been using their bodies as canvases for various reasons for thousands of years. Definitive marks are cultural inscriptions on the skin that demonstrate how deep the bonds between the individual and the social are.

Among the different stories passed down from generation to generation, one of the most widespread is that scarification began to be made when the Kings of Africa began to invade other tribes in search of conquering new territories. They developed their own scarification methods to mark selected family members to govern the land taken, so when they returned to the territories and saw the marks, they would know they already controlled the site. Thus, the practice also spread as a way for family members to locate relatives who had moved to other territories. Some of the tribes that adopted scarification in northern Ghana are the Gonjas, Naumbas, Dagombas, Frafras and Mamprusis.

Scarifications are made for aesthetic, religious and social reasons, conveying complex messages about the identity of the individual. They can emphasize the roles they play within a group, their social, political, or religious status, to which tribe they belong, and what experiences the subject has gone through.

Scarification of Woman of the Toposa Tribe

Those who do not pass the rituals and do not receive the marks are usually excluded from the group, as they will not have the characteristics necessary to be seen as agents of the society in question, as legitimate representatives of the tribe.

In this case, scars are considered marks of civilization, distinguishing humans from animals. Paradoxically, some of the marks are made precisely in reference to animal characteristics that individuals admired and believed to achieve through the scarification ritual.

In West Africa, large numbers of tribes use scarification to mark significant moments in the lives of men and women, such as puberty and marriage. The procedure is part of a trial ritual that indicates that one is able to move on in one's personal life and within the society in which one finds oneself.

Bodi Woman - Scarification

In the Benin region scars spread in the eighteenth century as a way of distinguishing warriors from conflicting tribes, and allowing the identification of the dead after battle so that they could receive the proper burial rites.

Some marks are used to distinguish certain beliefs, such as the followers of Ogou, the Iron God, in southern Benin, who have large, high relief scars on various parts of the body.

Scarifications on women's bellies, for example, denote their desire to become a mother; His ability to tolerate the pain of cuts would indicate the emotional maturity to bear a child in the womb. Usually the first cuts are made at puberty, emphasizing the importance of motherhood and new designs are added in adolescence and adulthood.

In the Atacora district in northwestern Benin, young women ask to be marked with puuwari (in waama language, puuku = belly and warii = writing) when they are in love, showing everyone that she intends to get married. These scars cover the body and belly with contours formed by small vertical and horizontal cuts, which take a long time to make when the design is complete, is an indication to the girl's mother that she is ready for marriage.

In the Bétamaribè tribe, brides undergo an additional ritual before becoming pregnant for the first time: vertical scars are made on their buttocks to ensure no complications during pregnancy and childbirth.

There are cuts made in honor of the gods or to thank them for a blessing or favor. An interesting example is the case of abikou children (abi = born; kou = death), ie those who were destined to die at birth, south of Benin and Nigeria. Those women who had suffered several premature abortions could appeal to the gods to help her have a successful pregnancy; if the child were born healthy and smooth, the story of his brothers killed before birth would be recorded on his face in the form of a horizontal line on his left cheek. If instead of asking the gods the woman sought the help of a "witch-healer", the scar to be made on the child would be the tribal mark of the "witch", identifying her as a yoombo (something like a "bought child"). ).

Another common function of scarification would be in healing practices; The scar would help the individual to stop being a victim and become a survivor. Anthropological research suggests that in the past, some scars also related to one's resistance to certain diseases, especially sexual ones. Men and women who bore the marks of their resistance to certain pathogens were seen as good partners.

Healthy women are preferentially marked on the breasts and stomach region as indicative of youth and fertility. Men are marked in places that represent courage, maturity, and physical strength, such as their shoulders, chest, arms, and face.

Shoulder Scarification

However, due to the association with the healing rituals that sometimes involved scarification so that the child could get rid of certain diseases, scarring could prevent the individual from being captured by slave traders who generally considered that people marked had poor health.

The choice of the cut to form embossed scars is due to the poor visibility of black ink on dark skin. The beauty and complexity of the designs will depend on both the artist's abilities and the pain tolerance of the artist being cut. During the process, the release of endorphin by the body can even lead to a state of euphoria, allowing the individual to support a larger section of cuts that will result in a more elaborate design and greater admiration for other members of the tribe.

The techniques used also vary by tribe. In the past, the procedures were performed with thorns, very sharp stones or fish bones, which over time were replaced by blades.

In some places, ashes obtained from soot or even burning the bodies of the deceased in the wounds are rubbed to give the effect of a tattoo and to aid healing. When the ashes are placed under the skin of the open wound as insertions, they activate the healing process by expelling the ashes through the skin itself and lead to the formation of high keloids.

There are also the scars from burns known as brandings, where warm wood is pressed into the skin; This technique is used in tribes in Ethiopia such as the Menits and Surmas.

Scarification of Surma boy
Scarification in Menit Tribe Woman on Face

To this day inhabitants of the southern city of Ouidah, south of Benin, still practice the scarifications they call “twice-five”: they are two pairs of vertical scars in the center of each cheek, one pair between the eyes and one pair of each. side of the temples. According to legend, this practice was first done in 1717 by King Kpasse. Threatened by a rebellion led by Ghézo and his warriors, Kpasse was in the minority and ran into a python-infested forest. Instead of attacking the king, the snakes helped him counterattack and surrender his enemies. Since then, all descendants of Kpasse bear the same scars in honor of the pythons, animals to which various festivals are devoted.

In northwestern Benin and north-east Togo, some tribes are so proud of their scars that the designs are also engraved on their home walls to identify who the residents are.

Scarification in Karrayuu Woman

The future of scarification, like that of many other tribal practices, seems to be the gradual disappearance. Many mothers today choose not to mark their children so that they do not stand out in a crowd and not be discriminated against in cities, especially when looking for work. The reaction of European settlers and the action of religious groups, especially Christians, seeking to indoctrinate the "barbarians" also led to a negative view of the practice, which was eventually banned in some countries.

Obviously, one cannot ignore the problem of unhygienic scarring, leading to infection and even death. The HIV virus and tetanus have become major threats to the African population and prevention groups are trying to raise awareness about the health risks of scarification.

Thamiris Vicente authored in the late Tattoo Tattoo

Tattoos, motorcycles, graffiti, music are some of my passions and my main topics on BlendUp.

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