We are very quick to condemn and to “devilish” most of our cultural heritage the moment it affords us some level of discomfort. We are not positing that we should accept or encourage cultural acts like Female Genital Mutilation, Ritual Killings or Facial Markings just to mention a few. We are just urging you to join us take a stroll through the ancient times to help us understand and appreciate why our forbearers practiced such acts. We do not want to believe that they are as stupid and irrelevant as we make them look. The glaring truth, which just like our shadows we can’t run away from, is that these acts served a purpose in those era and its importance to them can be compared to the internet we cherish so much today. On this accord our time machine is ready to propel us in to an enlighten journey, to the era when there were no car, no schools, no electricity I mean the era of facial marking what we call scarification today in the 21st century.
The culture of facial marking in Ghana can be traced to the 17th Century when slave trade was very prevalent. Most at times slave raiders marked the slaves they captured to signify that the slave belonged to them. It also became necessary for slaves to mark themselves. The essence of this was to help them identify each other. Since slavery gained entrenched roots in the northern parts of the country, it shouldn’t be a surprise to you when you notice that most northerners are the bearers of facial marks. Notwithstanding this, facial markings cuts across the various ethnics divides in Ghana from the North to the South, from the East to the West and even extends its reach to several other countries in Africa like Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Sudan, Congo, Ethiopia etc.
Growing up we have accepted facial marking as a means of identification and so we prefer to call it tribal marks. But this goes beyond this purpose, because these marks help to forge family bonds. In some communities facial markings are different from family to family and from clan to clan. This help them identify each other as people from one house and subsequently prevents people from ignorantly or deliberately marrying their siblings. A marriage which is considered as abominable in those days. In Gwollu in Northern Ghana, the father administered the tribal markings to his children, in his absence that is should he die, the last sibling is not marked an indication that facial marking is sometimes distinct to families. Apart from the father, the Wanzan a specialist who performs facial markings and circumcision can conduct the exercise of facial marking. Also very elderly woman have the ability to also mark faces either at birth or during your teens.
To you facial markings make people look scary but to the bearers of such marks, facial markings beautify them. What this means is that facial marks helps to make them look more beautiful. They use the mark to create images or shapes on their faces. Moving away from beauty, tribal marks can be administered for medicinal purposes. In an independent survey conducted by Alysse Arving titled “An Ancient Practice” he mentioned an interview he had with one Blessed in Cape Coast. Blessed recounted how he was sick and was marked by a fetish Priest on the face to cure him of his sickness. Till date he still bears that mark on his face. It is believed that facial markings help cure sicknesses like convulsion, Pneumonia, Measles and even Fever. The marks can come in various forms depending on where you find yourself or why the mark is being given to you. The mark can extend from the mouth out to the cheeks and the jaw, a simple mark on your cheek or starting near the jaw line and tracing the shape of the face up to the temple of the head etc
I need not tell you that facial marking was a vital element of our culture as exhibited by those before us. As a school master it guided and protected them from several misfortunes and negative happenings. We can condemn it for all we want and declare it illegal as it is today. But it was an important part of our culture whose relevance can’t be over looked but must be preserved to help us tell a complete story of who we are, and how far we have come as people who prefer to polish their faces instead of marking it.