SCARIFICATION: CULTURE OR BURDEN

By Serwaa Ampaafo

Photo: wiki

Scarification is an extreme form of body art which involves scratching, etching, burning/branding, or cutting of decorative scars or words into the skin.  Scarification is similar to tattooing, except that the design is cut into the dermis, far above muscle matter and fatty tissues.

In ancient times, the scars were created in different ways. Some cuts were made with Y-shaped blades; others were made by pulling the skin up with fish hooks before slicing the flesh. Once the wounds were made, they would be scratched or rubbed with charcoal or some other substance to irritate them so they would swell and leave a heavier scar. This would delay the healing so that a more distinctive scar would be left behind.

A child crying painfully during the process
Photo: wiki

Those with scars were thought to be more attractive than those without them. Many of the reasons why this was so are probably because of what the scars symbolized.

This process is quite painful. To go through it without screaming out in pain was a sign of strength and courage. The more scars a person had, the stronger and more courageous he was thought to be.

Abdominal scars showed that a woman was fertile and willing to bear children. They were also believed to make a woman more receptive to her husband’s advances.

At a point in time, scarification did have its benefits. The scars that showed one’s rank in society were believed to make one less attractive to the spirit of death. Even better, slave traders would assume that those who had these marks were diseased and unfit to be sold.

Many tribes and cultures would use scarification to show that certain rites of passage had been completed.  But why not a tattoo? According to some, Tattoos would be hard to see on a person with darker skin, but a scarification symbol could easily be seen.

In a region of Papua New Guinea, young men were initiated into adulthood with scarification. The skin on their chest, back, and buttocks was slit with a sliver of bamboo to test their strength and self-discipline. I don’t see how that would prove one is strong, but to be able to stay still and not scream would show great self-discipline. 

In the Sepik region of the country, it was believed that crocodiles created humans. The resulting scars represented the teeth marks of a crocodile.

Among the Aborigines in certain parts of Australia, those without scarification marks were traditionally not allowed to participate in trading, singing ceremonial songs, or other tribal activities.

In Africa,  different tribes would perform this ritual at certain times.

Depending upon where you lived, children would receive their first scars when they were born. 

In the Sudan and Ethiopia, girls would receive scars on their torsos around age ten, and scars under their breasts when puberty was reached. After the birth of each child, the mom would receive more scars on her arms, back, and legs.

Photo: wiki

Young girls in some parts of Nigeria would receive their first scars when they turned five. Eight different scar patterns would cover their bodies by the time they reached womanhood. If they didn’t have a complete scar pattern, they weren’t considered suitable to be married.

In Ethiopia, men received scars on their bodies as signs of personal accomplishments in hunting and war.

If one was not scarred, one was thought to be ugly, antisocial, cowardly, or poor. Even though many of the governments in Africa have outlawed this practice, many societies still insist on practicing this ancient tradition; Northern Ghana, Parts of Nigeria, Sudan etc still engage in it.

How much pain would you be willing to endure to be thought of as beautiful or to be accepted by your tribe members? Do you think scars are attractive?

 

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