The Evolution Of Scarification.

The history of body scarification in African history shows that while scarring may seem like a new and Avant-Garde form of body art, the practice is an ancient one.

This ancient African tribal body art involves purposely scarring the skin to create raised marks and or complete patterns.

It’s generally believed that scarring was developed because the dark pigmented skin of the indigenous African people was not ideal for tattooing.

By opening the skin, the uppermost layer of pigment was broken and filled in with slightly lighter shades of scar tissue. There was just enough contrast for the marks to show after the wounds had finally healed.

As much as we might think that this form of body art is dying, we would be surprised to learn that it has just evolved. There are many African practices that have faded away over the years and some that are now illegal in some parts of Africa and this also includes scarifictaion. Some tribes have done away with this tradition of marking their skin while some are still standing proud of this tradition.

The evolution of Scarification

Scarification definitely did not die but has evolved into a new era. African tribes might find it as something that is slowly dying but the world at large has embraced it as another way of modifying your body to look more attractive.

Traditionally, in tribes around the world, scarification was used to mark important moments in a person’s life, like marriage or puberty. Nowadays—in Europe and America, at least—it tends to be more about aesthetics, but can, of course, be prompted by anything, and represent whatever the recipient wants it to represent. 

This procedure, known as scarification, is a form of extreme and permanent body modification that is offered in many tattoo and piercing stores across the country and is gaining popularity.

The practice is illegal in some countries such as Britain and several U.S. states. Most recently, the practice was banned in Arkansas, though that bill was overturned after public outcry against the decision.

The process involves cutting out skin using a scalpel, before rubbing the open wounds with peroxide or lemon juice to keep the wound from becoming a raised scar—the usual aim is for an indented scar. It isn’t an exact science—people react differently to the scarring process—but it is an art form that takes great skill.

Is this the last Generation Of Scarification In Africa?

Joana Choumali‘s series “Hââbré, The Last Generation“ traces the final remnants of a dying tradition. The Kô language word means “writing,” but also stands for the practice of scarification that’s common to West Africa. Followers of the custom place superficial incisions on their skin, using stones, glass or knives, amounting to permanent body decoration that communicates a myriad of cultural expressions.

Ms. K. Djeneba, shop owner, Ko tribe from Burkina Faso. “People find it pretty, but I think it’s ugly. We are not like others. In the past, when you had a smooth face, you were rejected! I used to like my scars; they were beautiful. We used to brag about them. But, now, in the city, it is definitely out of fashion. You are called names like ‘torn face’ and it hurts.”
Mr. Mien Guemi, painter, from Ouro Bono, Burkina Faso. “I was a kid, but I still remember the wounds on me. When you didn’t have them, your friends would laugh at you, and put you aside. During wars, Mossie and Ko tribes would recognize each other, and therefore avoid killing one another. It was a way of recognition. When you would look for work, no one would ask you where you’re coming from… It is already done, and I like them. I cannot change. No need for an ID card, I already wear my identity on my face. This is the reason why people did it: to recognize one another. But now, this is over. We can no more be recognized.”
Boudo B., 45, taxi driver, Ko tribe from Burkina Faso. “It was fashionable at some point. Today, if there was a way to erase them, I would… It is not easy to hit on girls with that. Especially, the Ivorians. I think it is not very attractive.” 

So, is scarification a dying African practice? we don’t think so. Although other parts of Africa have done away with this tradition, we believe that there are tribes in Africa who still hold on to this tradition, refusing for their culture to die with time. But while Africa contemplates the tradition, the rest of the world has embraced this practice as a growing form of body modification.

More Stories
A brief history of the Ghanaian delicacy, Waakye
Hadithi Africa