Suffering for Beauty – Scarification

How much pain would you be willing to endure to be thought of as beautiful? Do you think scars are attractive? To me, scars show painful events that you have gone through. The huge scar on my abdomen is the result of a near fatal car wreck that I survived, but it isn’t something that I would have gone through willingly, nor would I have had that scar burned into my flesh.

scarification, Mursi Tribe, Ethiopia, flickr

scarification, Mursi Tribe, Ethiopia, flickr

What is scarification?
The scratching, etching, burning/branding, or cutting of decorative scars or words into the skin as a permanent body modification is an extreme form of body art. Scarification is similar to tattooing, only the design is cut into the dermis, far above muscle matter and fatty tissues. The raised scars left behind are known as keloids.

In ancient times, the scars were created different ways. Some cuts were made with Y-shaped blades; others were made by pulling the skin up with fish hooks before slicing the flesh. Once the wounds were made, they would be scratched or rubbed with charcoal or some other substance to irritate them so they would swell and leave a heavier scar. This would delay the healing so that a more distinctive scar would be left behind.

Before this process could be done in a sterile environment, why would people risk having this painful procedure done?

Those with scars were thought to be more attractive than those without them. Many of the reasons why this was so are probably because of what the scars symbolized.

Tribal crocodile scarification, wikimedia commons

Tribal crocodile scarification, wikimedia commons

This process is quite painful. To go through it without screaming out in pain was a sign of strength and courage. The more scars a person had, the stronger and more courageous he was thought to be.

Abdominal scars showed that a woman was fertile and willing to bear children. They were also believed to make a woman more receptive to her husband’s advances.

When coming of age, a young man would ask his sisters to endure a ritual beating that would leave their backs bloody and scarred. I love my brothers, but no, I don’t believe I would do that to prove my love for them, not unless it had to be done to save their lives. But when the sisters submitted to this, it was seen as a sign of love and respect for their brother, and the entire family would be proud.

scarification on back, wikimedia commons

scarification on back, wikimedia commons

At one time, scarification did have its benefits. The scars that showed one’s rank in society were believed to make one less attractive to the spirit of death. Even better, slave traders would assume that those who had these marks were diseased and unfit to be sold.

Many tribes and cultures would use scarification to show that certain rites of passage had been completed. But why not a tattoo? Tattoos would be hard to see on a person with darker skin, but a scarification symbol could easily be seen.

In a region of Papua New Guinea, young men were initiated into adulthood with scarification. The skin on their chest, back, and buttocks was slit with a sliver of bamboo to test their strength and self-discipline. I don’t see how that would prove one is strong, but to be able to stay still and not scream would show great self-discipline. In the Sepik region of the country, it was believed that crocodiles created humans. The resulting scars represented the teeth marks of a crocodile.

Among the Aborigines in certain parts of Australia, those without scarification marks were traditionally not allowed to participate in trading, singing ceremonial songs, or other tribal activities.

In Africa, the different tribes would perform this ritual at certain times.

Depending upon where you lived, children would receive their first scars when they were born. A just weaned child endures getting his first scars in the below video. If that is something you can’t handle watching, then please do not watch this video.

In the Sudan and Ethiopia, girls would receive scars on their torsos around age ten, and scars under their breasts when puberty was reached. After the birth of each child, the mom would receive more scars on her arms, back, and legs.

Young girls in Nigeria would receive their first scars when they turned five. Eight different scar patterns would cover their bodies by the time they reached womanhood. If they didn’t have a complete scar pattern, they weren’t considered suitable to be married.

In Ethiopia, men received scars on their bodies as signs of personal accomplishments in hunting and war.

If one was not scarred, one was thought to be ugly, antisocial, cowardly, or poor. Even though many of the governments in Africa have outlawed this practice, many societies still insist on practicing this ancient tradition.

scarification, wikipedia

scarification, wikipedia

Where is it done today?
In Africa, even though outlawed in many places, many of the scarification rituals talked about above still continue. These rituals have been a way of life for them for quite some time, so I don’t foresee them stopping anytime soon.

This form of extreme body art has found more popularity in today’s world. It is legal in many places, but there are also many places where it is against the law. In the United States, it is illegal in Kansas, New Jersey, Oregon, and South Carolina.

Modern scarification—at least her in the U.S.—normally takes place in a sterile environment inside a well-lighted body art shop. Surgical tools make the wounds, and they are still irritated but not by scratching or charcoal. Instead, hydrogen peroxide or petroleum jelly is used. When a scab appears, it is gently peeled away to make the healing process last longer.

Because the skin is broken, there is a risk of exposure to and infection from blood-borne pathogens such as hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and HIV. Back when the wounds used to be aggravated by rubbing on them with charcoal or scratching them vigorously, I don’t understand how the people didn’t get major infections.

keloid scar, brentleyrehak.deviantart.com

keloid scar, brentleyrehak.deviantart.com

At times, the keloids (scar tissue) can grow way too large, and this ruins the “beauty” of the scarification. This excess scar tissue would need to be removed by a professional. And if the wound isn’t taken proper care of until it heals, the resulting scar might not be pleasing to the eye.

Writing Prompts
What if you were part of an ancient tribe that demanded on go through scarification? You had no desire to do this, but your life would be ruined if you didn’t submit to it. What do you decide to do? How does it affect you?

writing, pixabay

writing, pixabay

You could be a member of a gang, one that demands one to be scarring for certain things. The many reasons that people used to go through scarification are mentioned in the above article. For what reasons do members of this gang receive scars?

Your character has many beautiful scarred designs all over her body, but then she is transported (time travel) to a place where scarification is unknown. How is she looked upon? Do the people look upon her with amazement or terror?

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