Friday, November 1, 2013

Ghanaian Markings

An unmissable feature of many Ghanaians is that they have visible scars on their faces.  In the north of Ghana it is more common that these marks are for medical purposes and they often symbolise a near-death experience. Medicines, such as a tree bark called muha, are sometimes put inside the cuts. This can bring spiritual and magical protection that can ward off calamity, diseases and curses. Ghanaians believe that this protection can never be taken away. When asking the locals about this, they have told me it is common for a ‘bird disease' to fly over and infect young children. The bigger the attack they have suffered, the bigger the marking they have.

I have been told several times that these scars are also used to identify and differentiate tribes. After researching this I discovered that it originated from slave raiding, during which time it allowed members of the same tribe to quickly identify each other at a distance. This tradition has continued until the present day, a time when many Ghanaians migrate within the country and to other countries.

I saw three markings on a lady’s face recently, three of them, like crow's feet on the side of her eye. I discovered that this is a marking for a child who ‘goes and comes', for example, if the mother has had one or more miscarriages. This marking is intended to keep the child in the realm of the living.
Example of facial markings

It is also common that the markings are for beautifying purposes, a practice more popular among the female population. It is possible that a wanzan, a specialist who performs tribal markings, may give them to an infant during his or her naming ceremony (deen).

Another interesting article I found outlined a vague law, which suggests that these markings are illegal. According to the article, 'Article 39 of Ghana’s constitution provides in part that traditional practises that are injurious to a person’s health and well-being are abolished’. However it is undoubtedly still prevalent in Ghanaian society.

On a personal note, I find the markings very interesting. They must be quite useful in Ghana, as there are over 49 different languages spoken here!

By Cara 

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