by F2FA, at 10:30 am, June 20, 2014, Lifestyle

Our Culture: Body Scarification in Africa

Ten-year-old Luc undergoing the scarification process. Credit: Laeila Adjovi
Body Scarification in Benin

Ten-year-old Luc undergoing the scarification process. Credit: Laeila Adjovi

Throughout Africa, Body marking or scarification goes back a number of centuries. Used to denote ethnicity, social standing, life stage, accentuate personal beauty, or attract the opposite sex, scarification has long been practiced in our communities. Here, Face2Face Africa looks at what part scarification plays in our communities and spotlights reporter and freelance photographer Laeila Adjovi‘s photographic work of the community of Quidah in southern Benin who have decided to continue the ancient ritual as a part of connecting with their ancestors and being initiated in to their society.

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What Is Scarification or Cicatrisation

Scarification (or cicatrisation in french) is the process of permanently marking the skin. A number of tools, such as a knife, glass, coconut shell, or stone, is used for the incision, with plant juices or alcohol being used in order to force the body to form keloids for permanent scarring. Finally, to further emphasize the markings, charcoal or gunpowder is applied on the wounds. Akan speakers of West Africa as well as Africans of the Congo Basin region are said to have the most-sophisticated cicatrisation expressions.

What Is the Purpose of Scarification

The purpose of scarification varies from tribe to tribe. It often denotes one’s family lineage, ethnic identity, rites of passage, religious, political, and social placement as well as one’s libido, fertility, and personal beauty. Chief editor at a radio station in Natitingou, Benin, Telesphore Sekou Nassikou explains the thinking behind scarification, “Beware, there is pain in this world, and you will feel pain in your life. But the pain will stop, if you can endure.”

Meaning Behind Placement of Marks

Scars inscribed on the face often show one’s ethnic identity, while those placed on the backs and bellies of women underscore a woman’s courage, courage that she will need for childbirth. It is reportedly widely believed that if a woman has endured the pain of scarification, she will be able to endure the pain of childbirth. It should also be noted that scarification is said to be for erotic purposes as well.

Added Bonus?

According to various sources, the scars on various parts of the body remain sensitive to the touch, so when stroked, it heightens one’s libido.

Here, you can see people who have undergone scarification both presently and in the past:


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Watch a child and a young man undergo scarification in Benin here:



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