Source: PaanLuel Wël Media Ltd – South Sudan

By James Gatdet Dak, Nairobi, Kenya

Thursday, January 16, 2020 (PW) — Is traditional facial scarification still being practiced among members of the Nuer community, as well as among other ethnic groups in South Sudan and beyond?

I am asking the question because the other day someone told me that there are pockets of areas in the Nuer inhabited land, etc., that continue with the practice on young boys. I couldn’t believe it! But if that is true, it would be very unfortunate!

First, I think, the purpose and time for the facial scarification is now meaningless and over. It can be even harmful in this age of many incurable diseases such as HIV and AIDS, because of sharing a knife.

I am not very sure, even though I was given facial scarification myself,  how and why the six-line of scarification began among the Nuer and different styles among many other tribes in South Sudan as well as in some other African countries,  and even in Asia and Europe,  where some practiced different body scarifications.

And imagine, it was a visiting Pastor to our local church, which my dad founded, who persuaded my uncle that I should receive facial scarification (gaar) simply because my other age mates and friends in the village were being initiated.

My dad was away in town at the time, and when he came back he found that I was already initiated two weeks before. He became very angry, but it was too late…And when the school reopened and I went back to school, my teachers got angry and almost dismissed me from primary school.

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And fortunately,  as the first born son of my dad,  I am the only son who received the facial marks among my six brothers….If it is about tribal identification,  of which many are proud to such exposed identifications, it is not worthy any more as a sort of an ID card.

Some countries such as Ethiopia insert the name of your ethnic group on your national ID card, while others like Rwanda, discourage ethnic revelations and have even made it illegal to ask for someone’s ethnic background after the 1994 genocide. In Rwanda, a person knows which ethnic group he or she belongs to silently.

My mind could not fathom the reason why some people may want to continue with or resume the practice of body scarifications in the twenty-first century. Could it be influenced by the emergence of massive and wide spread body piercing and tattooing culture sweeping throughout the world from Western nations nowadays?

Well, I believe those different types of body piercings and tattoos, which unfortunately attack almost every part of the human body in this generation, are managed with safety concerns, and some are not permanent…

I do remember in 1996 when I was living in Minnesota state,  USA,  a white male university colleague, who loved tattooing culture,  told me that he wanted to try and introduce a new tattoo type to his other American colleagues…He asked me how he could get six permanent lines of facial scarifications like mine.

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I scared the hell out of him by telling him that I could do it for him if he got three things: One, a legal permission. Two,  a very sharp small knife to cut his face with,  and three,  an ambulance ready to rush him to hospital to manage the wounds and of course with enough feeding to help regain the loss blood.

I told him I was being fed like a baby for seven days immediately after my scarification at the age of 12…He looked scared and that was the end of his crazy tattooing adventure into South Sudanese traditions. I remember a Nuer guy back in 1995 in USA who went to a hospital and asked if the doctor could remove his facial scarifications using the plastic surgery technology which normally removes scars on body.

He was told to be ready to pay between 3000 to 5000 United States dollars to remove the six scared lines on his face… He could not afford it because he was jobless and depended on welfare system. Other Nuer men also discouraged him not to remove them, and mocked him that they will not appear in his children. I believe he dropped the idea.

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Folks, although it does not affect the brain or genes, let us discourage facial scarification, facial or body dotting, and extraction of lower and some upper teeth. Whether it was meant for ethnic identification or beautification or show of bravery or initiation into forced adulthood, it is irrelevant in the twenty-first century.

And let us also be mindful of the new tattooing and body piercing culture, which has no much difference from scarification in terms of idea and harm or alteration of natural physical makeup or appearance. I have seen and heard about members from the civilized Western world cutting their bodies almost everywhere.


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