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Face marks as expression of cultural identity

Tigrai Online Dec. 12, 2012

Ashenda girls in Tigrai state Northern Ethiopia
A Tigraian lady with traditional face scar markings on her temple called [Girnab]

As many people around the globe Tigrai people have long used face scarification for the expression of cultural identity. When a baby is about two to six year old a traditional doctor will cut two very small incisions on the temple of the kid. Sometimes these cuts can be on the eye brows and if they are done properly the scars will be very thin and hardly noticeable. Usually the scars would be less than one eighth an inch wide and about quarter an inch tall. If the cuts are done by the parent or unskilled person they can leave bigger scars.

In Ethiopia only the Tigrai people do mark their faces with these small straight line incisions side by side on their face. In the past 90 years since the Tigraians lost power to the Amhara people of central Ethiopia, their tradition, language and cultural practices have been attacked and ridiculed. The facial scars of the people of Tigrai have been source of insult and discrimination by the Amhara who tried to destroy the Tigrai identity. Despite the humiliation the practice still continues today in Tigrai, in fact most young people are finding their own cultural identity and embracing it with pride.

The face markings are also believed to help with eye problems in Tigrai culture. These face marks are very common in Notheren Sudan and Egypt. Many people in the world including Africa also use a different form of face marking.

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