“Tribal marks or scarifications are specific identification and beautification marks designed on the face or body” – Wikipedia
In West Africa, one peculiar thing that is common among the people is tribal marks. Other tribes find it appalling but those who engage in it love it nonetheless.
Tribal marks are very common among the people of the North but those from the South do have tribal marks too but they are gradually fading out of the system because parents see it as a form of deformation. Though same is happening in some tribes from the North, it is not wiping out quickly as it does with the people of the South.
But in case you didn’t know, tribal marks are against the law in this country. In 1989, the head of the government of Ghana, President Rawlings, issued a formal declaration against FGM/FGC and other harmful traditional practices.
In 1994, Parliament amended the Criminal Code of 1960 to include the offense of FGM/FGC. This act inserted section 69A.
Though many do not know this, the practice of tribal marks are illegal but those who practice it love it and do not bother about the implication.
So what are some of the reasons and meanings behind the tribal marks we have in the country. Let’s read together:
One of the main reasons why some tribes engage in scarification is for decoration.
The tribal marks by Dagombas that look like tears right beneath the eyes (marked horizontally) are usually for aesthetic reasons.
2. Spiritual Protection
Another reason why some tribes engage in tribal markings is for the sole purpose of spiritual protection. Some tribes believe that, when a child is beautiful, the spirits from the underworld will like to have such a child and so will visit to take them away. Such children die prematurely and so to prevent the spirits from coming for such children, they mark them to make them unappealing to the spirits from the underworld.
These type of markings can be found on many parts of the body and not just the face of the person. Sometimes, it is done on the wrist of the person, usually three lines. It can also be found by the naval of the person with cuts around the naval that makes it look an image of the sun. All these types of tribal marks are for spiritual protection and happens because the child was probably attacked by the spirits or so it is believed.
Such tribal marks are said to contain some concoctions known as “Muha” from the people of the North and from the South “Botor”. It is usually some herbs from the bark of a tree and some shrubs.
3. Medicinal Purposes
Sometimes, a person gets a near death experience and in order to save such a child, a herbalist may mark him or her and usually such markings are short ones on the right cheek and it is filled with medicine to save the child. It also serves as a remembrance to the child about his or her near death experience.
So if you see a short mark on the right cheek of person and it doesn’t matter the tribe they come from, then it is for medicinal purposes.
4. Slave or Donkor
In many traditions in Ghana, when a child is born and dies and it continues for the second and third time, the child is believed to reincarnate and so when the fourth child is delivered, that child is given a tribal mark that signifies he or she is a slave.
Such children, beside the tribal mark are given nasty names to prevent them from dying or going back to the underworld. You might not believe this but in all cases, it always works. If you hear a child with the name, Sumina, Donkor, Agyegyesem etc. then you should know they are all Slaves from the underworld or so it is believed. The tribal mark for these children are usually three markings on the corner of both sides of the eye, the mouth and a light one on the cheek.
Some tribes in Ghana actually mark their children for identification. In the past, it was difficult differentiating between tribes during war due to the colour of our skin. During wars, tribes are likely to clash with their own kinsmen because we found it difficult telling ourselves apart and so the solve this, some tribes decided to differentiate themselves from other tribes by marking their children and these kind of tribal marks can easily identify the tribe you’re coming from.
The Gurune people, popularly known as Frafra are a typical example and usually their tribal marks are for the sole purpose of identification.