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The history of scarification is as old as humanity. In ancient times, the people of Dahomey (now Benin), were using different signs to mark their family origins. Men, women and children where then scarified to be integratd into the tribe. This practice symbolizes belonging to a particular ethnic group, as part of the company or of the hierarchy since African societies were strongly hierarchical and well established before the arrival of settlers. Therefore, when you are born in an ethnic group, you wear such a mark on the body. This is necessity, because it’s done when the child is an infant, therefore, not getting the chance to say no.
In Benin, there are nearly sixty sociocultural groups and ritual of scarification is found in almost every ethnic group. Scarification is practiced both in women than in men. These scars of varying sizes, are performed either on the cheeks, (for example, this can be seen on the Fulani tribe), but can go top of the cheeks to chin in (Can be seen on the Hausa tribe); scars can also be seen under the eyes and on the body.
Depending on their size and location on the face, it is possible to classify individuals with a mark of scarification in a given ethnic and social class. Their ethnic -based symbolism is very clear in some cases. Scarification , according to some reports have other functions . Sometimes they are for therapeutic purposes or intended to protect the individual. Even if majority of Beninese do identify to or show their devotion to a voodoo deity, sometimes men, women and children were scarified to treat , protect them. This is the case of non- identity where scarification actually becomes the “drug” for therapeutic purposes or protection. In this same case, another type of scarring called ” Abikou ” is designed for newborns to enable them to survive in the case of mothers who have lost several children before having them.
A true brand identity , scarification is done to inform glance inside an ethnicity , origin or family of an individual. Some see their brands as a badge of patriotism, others, as a mark of beauty. In certain ethnic groups, they think that tribal marking may, while certifying the origin of matter, be a reflection of preferential treatment . In rural areas for example, these scars is used to assert the legitimacy of a child. They give them the feeling of being the legitimate son of their ancestors.
Several types of scarification Benin, whose origins and meanings are sometimes unknown, can be observed. Each ethnic group has its own stroking drawing. For example, two vertical stripes five times in the face, indicate an individual of the family of Adjovi in Ouidah , while two vertical streaks above each temple are unique to distinguish the elite family of Hountondji scattered over the national territory and from Porto Novo, Abomey and Ouidah . During slavery time, the Hountondji family were quickly recognized and never held captive during to their aristocratic place in the Kingdom of Dahomey.
As for Houéda family , we see two stripes on each cheek , temples and forehead. However, three horizontal stripes on each cheek , tells us this an individual from Oyo .
In Borgou and Atacora (Northern part of Benin) , it also differs from identity scarification where men and women of several tribes are well illustrated with several horizontal or vertical stripes on each cheek. This is where one can see the delicate and striking beauty of scarification. They are usually very thin and almost invisible to the eye until you come closer and face an individual. In those areas, it takes years for the ritual of scarification to be finished. They are not done only to identify the ethnic group and ancestry of an individual but also, to show a rite of passage in the society. Those wearing the scars in that area wear them proudly and gracefully.
A painful practice with risks unlike painting and doing makeup, superficial and transient, scarifications create a permanent change of skin tissue. Their application rests within the patriarchs, the guardians of tradition. Scarification are intentionally created by the alteration of the dermis, leaving scars. Incision is the most common technique. The skin may be cut either through small incisions or by long slashes. As Professor Botchi, scarification can sometimes lead to death if not well treated afterwards. However in some circle, they are imposed on members of their tribe.
The instruments used are the same as for tattoos, but added are blades and knives. Among the products used, are hemostatic tools (that is product which stop
hemorrhage) as well as products for healing the wounds. Sometimes ther put in the wound a natural dye that will color the scar. This is the case in Fulani tribe. It is possible to identify the diversity of patterns from deep to light on the surface of the sking by drawing more or less densely, more or less extensive short and thin strokes, isolated or grouped in parallel lines. Marks made by professionals vary greatly from one ethnic group to another. Some are only minor incisions while others are of the deep grooves is expanded with fingers.
Nowadays, even though the practice is becoming endangered, scarification is an important and delightful part of Benin’s rich cultural heritage. Indeed, many young men and women would be very happy to get rid of their brands. What yesterday was a matter of pride of the clan, became a stigma because of taunts suffered in other parts of the country. Obviously, the popularity of scarification is declining at an accelerated pace. Social psychologists explain this fact by the modernization brought by the youth influenced by Western culture, the pain and risk of infection, but also the stigma and discrimination which the child risk being a victim later are all factors that lead parents to reject this marking today.
Many practitioners have become educated on the risks that may arise with this traditional. deep rooted practice. Nowadays, some tribes are given the option to be scarified. However, it’s rare to meet someone from Benin, who has grown in Benin, that doesn’t have at least a small scar on their body. It’s an important cultural art that must be protected as it plays an important role in the identification of people’s heritage.