Scarification or carving the body with decorative scars is one of the oldest traditions of many African tribes. Among certain tribes, children get their first scarification just after their birth!
In Sudan and Ethiopia, women have to get scarification in different phases of their lives. They withstand this painful body art to indicate one’s age and rank in the social structure and for the men, scarification signifies their courage, strength, and velour.
In the past, a woman or man would have scarification marks that will distinguish her/him from anyone else, tell her/his rank in society, family, clan, and tribe, and symbolize her beauty or strength.
In some African tribes, it was like wearing your identity card on your face. True, some may hate that, but this was a mark of pride, not shame.
In most African cultures, it was a major aesthetic and cultural component as can be seen on sculptures in museums around the world. Scarification patterns on sculptures are not only marks of beauty, but marks of one’s lineage as well, and in some cases protection against evil spirits.
Lastly, in Africa like in Polynesia, scarification is more visible on darker-skinned people than, say, tattoos. There are aesthetic, religious, and social reasons for scarification.
For example, scarification has been widely used by many West African tribes to mark milestone stages in both men and women’s lives, such as puberty and marriage.
It is also used to transmit complex messages about identity; such permanent body markings may emphasize fixed social, political, and religious roles.
Tattoos, scars, brands, and piercings, when voluntarily acquired, are ways of showing a person’s autobiography on the surface of the body to the world. Tribe members unwilling to participate in scarification were generally not included in the group’s activities.
According to anthropologist Grace Harris, group members lacking the normal characteristics consistent with the group are not considered as acquiring the full standings as agents in their society.
They would also lack the capacity for meaningful behavior, such as greeting, commanding, and stating. Therefore, scarification can transform partial tribe members into normal states entirely accepted by the group.
Scarification a form of language not readily expressed, except through extensive and intricate greetings, gives the ability to communicate fully, which is a key element for being considered as a normal member of the group.
As painful as Scarification is, this practice is performed on children as well. Once they reach a certain age (basically from baby to toddler), they are marked usually on their faces to mark a new part of their life.