Scarification: What exactly are we blabbing about?
The term “scarification” may sound a little intimidating, but you may have unknowingly added it to your body art wish list. Simply, scarification is a radical body modification practice where you make an incision, a scratch, an etch, or a burn mark 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 to create gorgeous body art.
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 our ancestors used to perform it 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 to the surface of the skin. This new technology leaves indelible embellishments. The patterns of choice are pretty much 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 existed. In fact, we can openly criticize Western ideals for rendering this practice practically obsolete. Strong justifications validate its rather washed-out popularity. One reason that we find to be unquestionably plausible is the need to keep body incisions to a minimum. This is due to 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. Pressures also come from 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). Coogler allowed ritual make-up and body modifications like scarification to take 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 the Western beauty ideal is has stood tall as the hallmark of the contemporary beauty industry.
Besides, the 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 gorgeous body art?
An African tribe that has kept this gorgeous body art alive 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.
The practice is unisex, and bodies metaphorically serve as books for the preservation of knowledge. Skins are carefully incised with a design or text to tell a story. It also marks certain stages of the life cycle like puberty and marriage. Among the Kikuyu of Kenya, marks could be made under the eyes of brides. It symbolized the assumption of 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.