The Scarification: The Facial Scarification in South Sudan

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It is possible that Aborginal Australians pactised ritual scarification many thousands of years ago. Unlike shaped bones and shaped teeth, skin rarely survives in the archaeological record but the artistic output of many ancient cultures helps provide clues as to the long history of scarfications: many of the human figures in the prehistoric — BC rock paintings found in the Tassili n'Ajjer mountain range in the Sahara show markings that may well represent scarification, and Olmec stone scultptures dating from around BC found at Villahermosa in Mexico feature incisions on the face and shoulders.

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Photographer unknown, courtesy of Allen F. The forms of scarification still found around the world today can vary greatly in appearance depending on the technique used. Cutting along the skin with a metal, glass or stone tool leaves 'flat' scars, whereas rounded wounds are made by raising portions of skin with a hook or thorn then slicing it across with a blade. Different effects are created by either rubbing the wound with ink, 'packing' it with clay, ash or even gunpowder to create rasied keloids, or forcing it to remain open by keeping the skin either side pulled taut to form a permanent gouged scar.

Although such extreme forms of bodily decoration might seem alien to outsiders, scarification as practised along traditional lines by experienced hands has a serious ritual purpose connected to social systems and cultural beliefs. As an act of self-mutilation it cannot be regarded separately from tatooing, piercing or plastic surgery.

The Scarification: The Facial Scarification in South Sudan by John Monyjok Maluth

The main point of African scarification is to beautify, although scars of a certain type, size and position on the body often indicate group identity or stages in a person's life. Among the Dinka of Sudan facial scarification, usually around the temple area, is used for clan identification. In southern Sudan Nuba girls traditionally receive marks on their forehead, chest and abdomen at the onset of puberty. At first menstruation they receive a second set of cuts, this time under the breasts. These are augmented by a final, extensive phase of scarring after the weaining of the first child, resulting in designs stretching across the sternum, back, buttocks, neck and legs.

For instance, among the Tiv ethnolinguistic group in Nigeria and Cameroon, raised keloids have been described to induce strong erotic feelings when touched, both among women and men Scarification is believed to indicate resistance to pathogens and to demonstrate attractiveness and, thus, a superior value, together with health, of potential sexual partners.

Experimental data of animal models support the Hamilton—Zuk hypothesis 17 , Although these theories are well suited to explain many aspects of scarification, not all forms and types of scarification can clearly be assigned to one of these hypotheses.

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Other reasons exist, such as purely aesthetic or medical explanations, religious justifications and social motives. Further body modifications are prayer bumps as found among devout Muslims, and cheek gashes developing into a typical scar, acquired in duels among homosocial members of collegiate unions. The latter ones could be traditionally found among academic circles in several parts of Europe, for example in Germany and Austria, but have become rare and are considered anachronistic. This is performed repeatedly for hours, regardless of continuous bleeding, to achieve a pattern of lesions which later will form the adornment Figure 2.

Coagulated blood is occasionally removed with unsterile water, and the lesions are impregnated with ash and mud.

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Wound healing is purposely retarded by inserting unsterile materials, among others crocodile dung, into the lesions and by repeated removal of scabs; in fact, inflammatory processes are intended to occur and favour keloid formation for an extended period of time.

Fishbone patterns, avian designs and the imitation of crocodile bites or crocodile skin are motifs that can be observed in several ethnic groups. These motifs shall frequently indicate closeness to or even identity with ancestor initiation animals.

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  • The Nigerian Bali and the Tanzanian Bondei and Shambaa groups perceive their scars as manifestations of their mythological ancestor bird, conferring reincarnation. Similar skin ornaments are also common in New Guinea among some ethnic groups of the Sepik area Scars may be indicative of secret society membership, which aims at shaping the body to perfection through ritual scars 8. Successful hunting or even killing an enemy allowed the fortunate huntsman to decorate himself with keloidal scars on the forehead, cheeks, shoulders and upper arms If dermal space had become scarce, skin surfaces of his wife s or his favourite livestock were ornamented.

    Typical for Bantu Tonga tribes in Zambia, Malawi and Zimbabwe was a long keloid scar reaching from one eyebrow to the other in order to achieve the appearance of a buffalo and to demonstrate resolute acerbity and decisiveness The belief is that blessed hunters will experience a beneficial spiritual transformation and reincarnation, and slayer scars symbolise achievements on the way to reach that aim.

    In some Kenyan and Tanzanian Maasai communities, circular and semicircular slayer scars on the cheeks may be observed.


    Even young boys are decorated with circular brandings as a tribal identification marker and as a sign of the desire to become a brave man in the future Figure 3. Tribal scars are frequent and may be observed in many ethnic groups. Thus, in the ongoing civil war in South Sudan, members of the conflicting ethnic groups and clanships are easily recognisable. Although now forbidden in parts of South Sudan, tradition still dictates scarification. Impressive adornment are the tribal marks of the Schilluk and Toposa groups in South Sudan.

    A pearl necklace of punctuated round keloidal scars reaches from one ear to the other, forming a semicircle around the eyebrows. Similarly, Barabaig women in Tanzania wear dotted scars surrounding the entire orbital region to signal female perfection. Comparable scars, in addition partly covering the cheeks, are found among Bumi men in Ethiopia In fact, the ornaments may serve in these tribes as identity cards, indicating age, puberty, marital status, social status and merits, and they are perceived as signs of attractiveness Members of the Yoruba in Nigeria have typical face scars, called kolo.

    Kolo ornamentation is intended to express audacity, perseverance and resolution, but also feelings e. During scarification, the wounds are treated with grime and powdered coal to achieve a darker appearance of the scar pattern Tribal scarification is frequently found in northern Ghana among members of the Mamprusi, Nanumba, Gonja, Frafra, Dagomba and other ethnic groups.

    The meaning of the scars has been described in detail for Ghana 26 , 27 and Burkina Faso Scarification is also performed to find relief from distinct medical conditions and to improve physiological functionality. Punctual branding can be applied for cleansing and disinfection of locally infected lesions or to distract from a source of severe pain, such as toothache and cephalgia and other neuropathies.

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    Febrile convulsions and epilepsy may be treated by branding or cutting the skin In Togo, scarification for epilepsy treatment is mostly applied on the forehead, clearly identifying individuals scarred in such a way as epileptics Among the Sudanese Nuba, deep temporal cuts are applied to treat headache, while supraorbital scars are administered to improve vision Ritual scarification of adults, young children and babies in some Congolese groups has served explicitly prophylactic and therapeutic purposes Prevention of diseases through scarification is also sought frequently in South Africa 30 , Scarification may also be performed to apply traditional remedies, mostly substances of unknown composition 30 , and to treat splenic enlargement in childhood malaria as observed in Nigeria It is worth mentioning that there is no proven evidence of causal relationships between scarification and the therapeutic success of any disorder.

    John Monyjok Maluth. Learn about many facial scarification in different tribes.

    Discover different views for and against facial scarification. Learn in what age does it take place, in which season and why? Understand the author's arguments why this practice must stop.