Scarification: Then and Now


Would You Do Scarification?

Tattoos are certainly popular, but what about scarification? Let’s look at this beautification technique.

If you don’t know what scarification is, here’s a picture:

Mayombe Wife

Image: Flickr

Scarification is body art, like a tattoo, except it is created by cutting or burning the skin. Various methods are then used to cause increased scarring as the wound heals.

A Brief History of Scarification

There are several indigenous people in different parts of the world who use or have used scarification.

The reasons for it vary, as well. Let’s look at a few cultures that do it.

Papua New Guinea

In Papua New Guinea (north of Australia), indigenous people from the Sepik region believe that crocodiles created humans, and they use scarification as a rite of passage for boys as young as 11 years old.

New Guinea scarification

Image: Daily

Their skin is cut to give scars that will make the boys look like crocodiles. Clay and tea tree oil are packed in the cuts to create raised (bumpy) scar tissue. It is a very painful process. Enduring the month-long ritual is supposed to help them develop focus, determination, and inner strength.

Australian Aborigines

Australian Aborigines used to practice scarification, but now the practice is banned except for in one region called Arnhem Land. They cut the skin with stones or stone knives and then would often burn the wound.

The Aborigines used scarification to tell stories. Each scar represented a story of pain, status, courage, sorrow, grief, or endurance. If members didn’t have scars, they weren’t permitted to trade or sing ceremonial songs, as well as participate in other tribal activities.

Ethiopia, Sudan, and Uganda

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People from different tribes in Ethiopia, Sudan, and Uganda use scarification as well.

Men from the Karo tribe in Ethiopia create scars on their chest to boast about killing people from other tribes. Women scar their torsos and chests because they are deemed to be sensual and attractive. The scars can also represent strength.

They create the scars using thorns and a razor. To create a raised scar, sap or ash is rubbed into the wound.


Men and Women in the Congo have been using scarification for a long time. They use it to record the personal history of a person’s life and their rank in society. Women undergo scarification to prove they will be able to handle the rigors of childbirth and to make them more appealing to men.

Scarification Today in America

Scarification is not as popular as tattoos, but it is increasing in popularity.

Some of the reasons for its rising popularity include:

  • It makes one seem like a rebel or non-conformist
  • It makes you different and provides a way to stand out from the rest
  • The practice is reminiscent of tribes that tout brotherhood and a simple, natural lifestyle
  • There’s a renewed interest in primitive societies
  • Military personnel who are prohibited from getting tattoos are allowed to have scarification
  • It’s a way to make an ugly scar more appealing

It is illegal in some places, though. It was banned in Arkansas, but public outcry made lawmakers reverse that decision. It’s illegal in Kansas, New Jersey, Oregon (temporarily, anyway), and South Carolina.

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Michele Swensen is a writer and web designer who loves learning, animals, writing, reading, and playing the piano. She’s a member of Mensa and a college graduate.
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Michele Swensen is a writer and web designer who loves learning, animals, writing, reading, and playing the piano. She’s a member of Mensa and a college graduate.
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