Sudan Facial Scarification

Taylor W. Anderson

May 3, 2011

Most Dinka boys and girls don’t cry when the local sorcerer takes a red-hot knife to their dark faces. If they wince or cry or react to the pain they will lose face in the community, so it’s best to sit through the process in peace.

Facial scarification is practiced throughout Sudan, and various marks across the faces of tribesmen give identity to the tribe and beauty to its women.

Men of the Dinka tribe in South Sudan scar their faces with three parallel lines across the forehead in a rugged display of courage to the tribe.

“It is a chance for youths to demonstrate their bravery in front of their peers and elders,” said Emily Sloane, a humanitarian worker in Juba and eastern Congo. “Anyone who cries or resists the process loses a great deal of face.”

Dinka boys receive their scars around adolescence to mark the transition to manhood, when they take the responsibilities of the other men in the nomad tribe.

The scars can also be an eternal message to outsiders which tribe the Dinka belong to, or it can be used in an effort to display beauty to those within a tribe, as is sometimes the case.

Some tribes have dots to distinguish themselves, Sloane says. Others trust the sorcerer’s hand at lining their heads with an incision in a permanent crown.

Members that choose not to permanently scar themselves can face discrimination, “since they’re considered to have abandoned their traditions,” Sloane said. “Some people were hesitant to recognize Riek Machar…who had not gone through the ritual of scarring.”

Machar illustrates what may be a trend in Sudan scarification: That more education, typically modern families aren’t scarring their faces anymore, as much of the country once did.

Regardless of its purpose, the ritual is phasing out of parts of Sudan, as has happened in neighboring Congo. It’s use and practice is slow to leave the south, however. Much of the Dinka tribe wanders the areas close to or in the southern part of the country, which its own country in July 2011.

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