Once widely practiced across Africa, the tradition of Scarification and Cicatrisation is on the decline. Depending on the location, the extent to which people scar themselves, along with the way the procedure is done varies widely. In Ghana, the practice is usually much more minimal, with only a few scars on the face, whereas in Nigeria a person’s whole body may be covered with large, bulbous markings.
While the origins of the practice are unknown, it is believed by some that it dates back to a time when African kings would invade and conquer other tribal lands. The scars were used for identification purposes, so that when rulers and warriors would return, they would be able to identify the previously “acquired” citizens. The practice later developed into a way of identifying family members, with each family having their own distinct markings.
It is also used by some for medicinal purposes. Childhood diseases, including convulsions, measles, pneumonia and stomach pains, along with a host of others, are treated by making an incision in the skin. The incision, which is made in the joints, chest, stomach, or waist, is then rubbed with either a power or a potion so that the medicine should go directly into the blood stream.
In Nigeria, the practice of scarification goes much further. Cicatrisation is like scarification to the extreme. Immediately after an incision is made it is purposefully irritated with the juice from plants. This irritation causes the wound to heal much more slowly, thus giving a raised bump where the incision was made. To make them even more pronounced, while the cut is still open charcoal or gun powder is rubbed in so that it should have a darker look than the surrounding skin. The Nigerians who have scars generally have many more than their African neighbours. The women of the communities will obtain new scars throughout their lifetimes, denoting different life stages, such as puberty or marriage.
Along with familial and tribal identification, the presence of scars is said to make people more attractive to the opposite sex. The scars are also said to remain sensitive for a very long time, thereby increasing pleasurable sensations during sexual intercourse. Among some people there is a belief that scarification is one of the main differences between humans and animals. Since the animal kingdom is unable to deliberately scar themselves, people should take advantage of the opportunity.
Within the past two generations the practice has been on the decline, which has been cause for societal problems within rural and tribal areas. People who opt out of the procedure are routinely mocked and taunted by community members who have honoured the tradition. As a result of this mentality, the practice of scarification, while in decline, doesn’t appear to be ending any time soon.