What Is African Scarification?


African scarification is the scratching, cutting or burning of patterns and designs into the skin practiced by numerous African tribes. Because many designs consist of raised scars, scarification practitioners irritate the wounds at specific intervals to interfere with the healing process and promote the development of scar tissue. Tribes in numerous African countries, including Sudan, Ghana, Ethiopia and Nigeria, practice scarification, but it is becoming less prevalent.

African tribes practice scarification according to strict social rules that differ from one group to another. Designs typically indicate a person's social rank, and some tribes apply scars from birth. In many societies, scars enhance beauty and are attractive to the opposite sex. Traditionally Nigerian Ga'anda women received eight different patterns of scars across their bodies and were considered unsuitable for marriage without completed scar patterns.

The placement of scars varies according to customs and gender, but typical locations include the face, arms, torso and back. Scarification is painful and expensive, with special practitioners completing incisions and designs. Despite government bans, many societies continue to practice this tradition and often see those without scar patterns as unattractive, cowardly and poor. Scarification is becoming an increasingly popular form of body art in the West, according to National Geographic, although it is not as popular as tattooing.