Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Scarred for Life

  We all have them, either stretch marks from pregnancy, or surgical incisions, or just careless mistakes. I know each scar tells a story,  and since living in Nigeria I have been obsessed with finding out more about these stories.....

The Driver that picked us up from the airport was named Mohammad, and he three severe scars on across his cheek.  It looked like he had been scratched by an angry tiger.....except the pattern was perfectly identical on the other side of his face.  Suddenly my mind was filled with questions?  Where did he get these scars?  Were they punishment for some horrific crime?  Prison markings maybe, or was he face destroyed to make a public example of him for doing something unforgivable?!  Before I could pull my husband aside to have my questions quietly answered, a saw a women with similar scars!  The scars were all over her face, but slightly different than the man's.  Before we'd even left the airport I had a few more scar sightings.......and thousands since. 

Getting to the bottom of the facial scarring was a little more difficult than I expected.  It's kind of hard to walk up to someone on the street and say, "hey, what do those hideous marks on your face mean?" or better yet, " Did that hurt?" But I've been intrigued by the  different patterns  I've seen as well as people from all walks of life with the markings.  "Facial Scarification", as it is known, is not isolated to people in poverty living villages (although it is more common in rural areas).  Bankers, doctors, teachers, store clerks, our house keeper and even influential Ogas (the Nigerian word for powerful boss-man), can be seen with the markings given them by their tribe in infancy.  
These markings identify this woman as belonging to a certain tribe.  The scars are seen as attractive beauty marks to some.  Beauty is in the eye of the beholder I guess!
Nigeria is made up of 371 tribes with unique cultural identities. Of these tribes, there are three main groups, the IGBO, HAUSA, and YORUBA.  Although not as common as it was in the past, the scarification is done at a young age to identify the children as belonging to the individual tribes.  In one article I read, it said this began with the slave trade, when children would be abducted and sold.  Clear facial markings made tribal members easy to identify in order to keep families intact.  Knowing that the different markings represent unique groups, I have spent a bit of energy trying to discern who is related to whom.   I've noticed that one of our security guards has the same horizontal lines as my friend's nanny, and our gardener shares the marking of a man I know at the embassy.  It is interesting to have a bit of one's genealogy so visible.
 Here is a link to a great article written by a man who lived with a tribe to learn more about their tradition of scarification.  Lars Krutak's article on Scarification

At a few months old, this baby is being initiated into the tribe by the local Medicine woman using  a traditional technique to give her markings that will stay with her through out her life.
The teardrop scars on Baby Enitan are being rubbed with charcoal dust and snail secretions to help control bleeding and to insure proper scarification.  A chicken will be waved over her at the end of the ceremony to chase evil away. 
This interesting article from CNN gives more interesting insight into the tradition of purposeful scarring. CNN Story of Nigerian Facial Scarification

“It’s a shallow life that doesn’t give a person a few scars.”
– Garrison Keillor
This little girl is about Alexis' age....The spiritual and traditional conviction must be overwhelming because I can't stomach the thought of allowing this to  happen to my little princess. 
Some of the common tribal marking in this area.

While on the subject of facial markings, I couldn't help but add a picture of Vladimir Franz! In case you haven't been watching BBC (it's one of the few channel at the gym), he is one of the current presidential candidates in the Czech republic. Vladimir is a composer, professor, presidential hopeful, and a body-art enthusiast! His entire body is covered with tattoos..... and has been nicknamed the Avatar because of the blue tone of his face........
Vladimir has permanent facial markings that differentiate him from the rest of the population... the difference here, is he has chosen to look this way!
Vladimir Franz, university teacher, painter and composer. (Reuters / David W Cerny)


  1. holy wow Diana! That is just crazy! purposeful facial scarring?! and those pictures and the article of the little children and babies getting it done?! I just started crying. How painful and traumatic and sad. Makes me want to just scoop them up and love on them before it's even done to them!

    thanks for sharing and opening my eyes. love your posts

    1. No kidding candy! It would kill me! Thanks for caring about what we are up too!

  2. Wow!! I can't imagine being a mother to one if those babies!! It breaks my heart. I understand it is their tradition, but I just can't imagine. What a neat experience you are having!

  3. I just read a book about the slave trade and this was definitely spoken about in the book. The main character would look for certain markings throughout her life to try to find someone from the tribe that she was taken from.

  4. Oh wow Diana, this was fascinating. I had no idea about all this. Your blog is so interesting to read! You guys are having such a cool experience over there.

  5. So when I was young, Tys was merely trying to mark Kyle and I as belonging to the same fam by giving us scars, right?

  6. Amazing! That made me teary!