Scarification: What exactly are we blabbing about?
The term “scarification” may sound a little too intimidating, but you may have made it part of your body art wish list without knowing. Simply, scarification is a radical body modification practice, where an incision, a scratch, an etch or a burn-mark is made on the surface of the skin. What results is an ink-less permanent decorative scar.
So, how do we come in?
When tattoos just don’t make sense anymore, you should try scarification. It is simply akin to experimenting with ingrained African traditions.
Adele Dejak is a true advocate of the African Renaissance. In the spirit of rebooting the endangered we look back at those practices that were fundamentally ours.
So, what do we know about scarification?
It is deeply rooted in most African cultures. A simple internet search reveals that it was largely performed using very basic tools like a knife, glass, stone, or coconut shell, to make a controlled incision on certain sections of the body.
In recent years, contemporary laser technology has inspired significant creative flexibility for adding designs on the surface of the skin, leaving indelible embellishments. The patterns of choice are pretty limitless, and there is every chance that this could mark the rebirth of scarification.
But there is something else.
What you may not know is that the practice has long been existence. In fact, Western ideals have been disparaged for rendering the practice practically outmoded. Strong justifications have been made for its rather washed-out popularity. One reasoning that we find to be unquestionably plausible is the need to keep body incisions at a minimal because of a steady surge in HIV/Aids infections in the last 3 decades.
In recent years, Joan Choumali’s portraits have had a reinvigorating impact on scarification, showing that this invincible art has not outlived its significance. On the contrary, there’s an expected resurgence. Her Hââbré, the last generation project showcases the last of the dying breed of facial scarification. Choumali explained to Afropunk: “This practice is disappearing due to the pressure of religious and state authorities, urban practices and the introduction of clothing in tribes. In many villages, only the older people wear scarification.”
Choumali’s eye-opener into the disappearing body art could be a concern.
But, there is hope as evidenced by director Ryan Coogler’s film Black Panther (2018), where ritual make-ups and body modifications like scarification took the center-stage to embed the theme of African-ism. According to Coogler, indigenous African tribes inspired much of the body-art.
What have others said?
A body of thought posits that this practice doesn’t fit into the western standards of beauty. This is debatable, but in truth, it makes sense as Western beauty ideal is has stood tall as the hallmark of the contemporary beauty industry.
Besides, Westernized body still remains idealized to an extent that people who once wore their scars with pride are targets for ridicule.
It is hopeless to belittle the significance of scarification to African traditional lifestyles. We used the marks to uniquely distinguish an individual from anyone else, tell her/his rank in society, family, clan, and tribe, as well as symbolize her beauty or strength.
Who does this?
An African tribe that has kept the practice a live to date is the Luba People of The Congo Basin. For these noble people, scarification – or kulemba as they call it – still serves as a way of encoding memories regarding person’s history and their place in society.
The practice is unisex, and bodies metaphorically serve as books for preservation of knowledge. Skins are carefully incised with a design or text to tell a story or mark certain stages of life cycle like puberty and marriage.
Among the Kikuyu of Kenya, marks could be made under the eyes of brides as a marker that they had assumed a new, elevated status in society.
In the end.
Scarification represents an opportunity for Africans to connect to their society and community, embrace their culture. It can’t be something that we allow to die out. Our cultures have come full circle, the African Renaissance Movement is growing and so should the support for our homegrown aesthetics, beauty and tastes.