Magazine article Geographical

Scarred for Life

Magazine article Geographical

Scarred for Life

Article excerpt

In Benin, traditional scars are still worn proudly by the West African country's numerous tribal groups. The symbols communicate personal information, and are cut into the skin from a young age. The process is painful and bloody, but parents worry that without such adornments, their children won't be fully accepted into the community

RIGHT: a scarificator displays his cutting tools, which are typically made of iron or scrap metal. The scarificator is called the warito or wasam in the local language, meaning 'he who writes: Although the scars they create are perceived to be beautiful, their primary purpose is to communicate information such as tribal membership. Early evidence of African scarification can be seen in rock art dating back beyond 4000 BC, and the practice became widespread in Benin during the 18th century, when intertribal conflict increased. The indelible markings prevented warriors, who wore little clothing, from killing members of their own tribe, and ensured corpses received the correct funeral rites. The scars also helped to prevent wearers being taken into slavery because traders viewed unscarred faces as a sign of good health. Benin was a slave-trading centre for hundreds of years due to its accessibility from Europe and the New World. In Benin today, people who don't have traditional scars are still considered to be the descendants of slaves, immigrants or refugees

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ABOVE: a traditionally scarred man from Cotonou, the largest city and economic capital of Benin: ABOVE, CENTRE: a man with tribal scarification on his face stands in front of a wall that also bears symbolic markings. some tribes in northwestern Benin and northeastern Togo are so proud of their scarification that they copy the designs onto the walls of their Tata Somba (house). This communicates to visitors the identity of those living inside. Previously, tribespeople would also use parts of their tattoo designs to mark their personal property; ABOVE, RIGHT: a woman with tribal scars that show that she is from the Djougou region. Most people who live in Djougou have six long scars, three carved onto each side of their face. young women often have two extra scars to show that they are fertile and will bear children once they are married. Young adults who stay in their home region and don't have the traditional scars often have difficulty finding a spouse; RIGHT: a scarified child from the Djougou region. Children are often scarred when they are weaned to show that they have progressed from being an infant to being a child. The ceremony usually lasts only ten to 15 minutes but, due to the blood loss and pain caused to the children, parents can find it difficult to watch, while outsiders often perceive the act as violent and unnecessary. Afterwards, a traditional salve is applied with a feather. Children may also be scarred later in their lives to show their progression from childhood to adulthood; RIGHT, CENTRE: a young boy displays the 'two-times-five' scarification, which represents the 'voodoo phython' and consists of two small pairs of scars etched in five different places on the face; FAR RIGHT: female scarification typical of the Djougou region

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ABOVE, FAR LEFT: an example of body scarification. …

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