How body scarification is rooted in ancient African history

The history of body scarification in African history shows that while scarring may seem like a new and Avant-Garde form of body art, the practice is an ancient one.

This ancient African tribal body art involves purposely scarring the skin to create raised marks and or complete patterns.

It's generally believed that scarring was developed because the dark pigmented skin of the indigenous African people was not ideal for tattooing.

By opening the skin, the uppermost layer of pigment was broken and filled in with slightly lighter shades of scar tissue. There was just enough contrast for the marks to show after the wounds had finally healed.

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Associate Professor at Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research (WISER), Hlonipha Mokoena spoke to Africa Melane on The Eusebius Mckaiser Show and weighed in on the topic saying body scarification goes back a long time.

There are almost two scientific reasons for it. One of them is, that tattooing doesn't really show up on dark people's skin so body scarification was almost a way that was created on the African continent, to enable Africans to have vivid tattoos.

Hlonipha Mokoena, Associate Professor, Wiser

The other one which is more subtle is the fact that we are more genetically inclined to develop keloids which are the ridges that grow on your skin as an access formation of tissue. That also helps in creating vivid patterns on the skin.

Hlonipha Mokoena, Associate Professor, Wiser

She added that there are many reasons why people go through the process of body scarification.

There are the aesthetic reasons and there other are medical reasons. For example, forms of healing that required for the skin to be pierced, forms of purifications that require the skin to be pierced. So, for example the Zulus practise what is called 'ukugcaba' which is to cut into the skin and then put a powder in that incision in order to heal the body in one way.

Hlonipha Mokoena, Associate Professor, Wiser

She said there is also the question of the aesthetic part of body scarification where one demonstrates their bravery and their ethnic pride.

Again I am going to use the Zulus as an example. They used to cut their earlobes and enlarge them with an earpiece. The larger the earpiece that you can carry whether on your lower lip or earlobe, the more you demonstrate your ethnic pride.

Hlonipha Mokoena, Associate Professor, Wiser

Listen below to this insightful interview on body scarification:


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