The Sweet Sentimentality of Scarification

The Sweet Sentimentality of Scarification

You’re wondering how scars can be sweet and sentimental right? Well let me tell you a story…

My youngest son Che has a one-inch scar on his back, which he calls his Dot Scar… Dot was my grandma (which, you’ll already know if you’ve been reading along for a while.)

We were staying with her a few years ago, in her beautiful old farmhouse in country Victoria, with my sister and her three boys.

My two boys and their three cousins (all six and under at the time) were staying in the front room together… Called the Pussy’s Room because a cat once had her kittens in there.

Little boys are little boys, and visiting with cousins is super exciting, so although they’d been put to bed, been running at 150% all day and it was late, they were still running on fun.

My sister, grandma and I were sitting in the kitchen drinking tea and eating biscuits, listening to their giggling and horse play. We let it go for a while, then a crash and a child crying… Indi, my eldest (six at the time) ran out and said that Che had fallen off the bed and was bleeding.

I ran in to inspect the damage and found Che curled up on the carpet howling in pain. He had a big bleeding gash on his back.

They’d been jumping on the beds and he’d fallen onto the sharp edge of a filing cabinet and gashed himself on the way down. Ouch! Plus it was in the region of his right kidney, and since it’s his only one (that’s another story) I was concerned.

We cleaned him up, dressed it and put them all to bed. The shock of it finally switched their batteries off and all five boys passed out almost immediately.

He woke up the next morning, completely happy and ready for another day of full throttle cousin action.

The gash healed well, no damage to the kidney, and produced a small white scar.

As it turned out, that was our last ever visit with Dot as she died a few months later. Heartbreaking for us all. I wrote about that on Elephant Journal.

You know how some people say they sense their departed loved ones around them in spirit form? Well, I wish I could say the same. I’m a bit dyslexic when it comes to intuition. I imagine my family in spirit are probably standing around me slapping me on the head. But do you think I can sense it??

But, Dot is often in my writing, so I guess that’s where she shows up for me.

My boys see her in the night sky… If we’re outside at dusk, they’ll point out the brightest star and say, “Look Mum, there’s Dot.”

And Che often reaches around to that scar on his back and tells me he loves his Dot Scar.

So you see, scars can be sweet and sentimental.

This sweet little story from Che piqued my curiosity in what scars mean for others… I went digging and found some interesting stuff (and some really scary pictures).


So it seems there are two main camps… Tribal Scarification and Extreme Body Art.

Tribal Scarification

Tribal scarification is practiced in many parts of the world according to tribal custom and holds important cultural significance.

It is used as a rite of passage into adulthood, a mark of beauty, strength, virility, fertility and social standing.

Tribal scars on dark skinned people can look quite beautiful, but I also saw pictures of very young children receiving their ritual cuts. So young that they were then photographed being breastfed with blood streaming from open cuts. That was pretty upsetting to my eye. (My boys aren’t even circumcised.) From my culturally conditioned context there’s no way I could ever contemplate having lines cut into the skin of my babies.

But what if I was a tribal mother in west Africa who knew her children would be more accepted by the tribe if they had their scars… Would I concede to it then? Probably.

Extreme Body Art / Scarification Tattoos

Scarification tattoos / extreme body art range from a few small lines or dots to an entire back, thigh or whole body. The before pictures are scary… The designs look red, raw and bloody. But the ones that heal well can look quite lovely, but then there are the ones that go very wrong. Gaping wounds that stretch out of place, get infected, don’t heal. 

I guess extreme body art is essentially western tribal scarification without the tribal heritage. So what’s the why here?

After a bit more delving, I came up with three main reasons:

  1. Beauty – the aesthetics of art has always been a very subjective thing. Just think of famous abstract works that sell for thousands, sometimes millions, but to others look like mess on a canvas. 

  2. Endorphins – The rush caused by the immediate pain and probably also the bold lifelong commitment.

  3. Freak / Shock value – Some said they liked scarification because it looked even more freaky than a tattoo. Then there were many extremists with reasons only known to them. Maybe pain that covers greater emotional pain. Pain that they feel they deserve in their absence of self-forgiveness, or in an effort to find themselves through creating an identity?

French anthropologist and ethnologist Claude Levi-Strauss described the body as a surface waiting for the imprintation of culture.

So while many of us may look at scarification tattoos and tribal scaring as extreme, isn’t it simply another form of body adornment within a social context? Tribal, fetish, underground, even religious in many cases.

I have a couple of tattoos. A frog on my back that I got at 19 simply because I’d always wanted a tattoo and love frogs, and two dandelion clocks on my inner left ankle which are a symbol of my children who will grow up and fly away.

My reasons for having tattoos are because I like the look of ink on skin, and honestly, I kind of did like the adrenalin rush of being tattooed, and isn’t that funny, because I scrolled through the images I found of scarification thinking they were rather freaky, but maybe I’m not so different… Maybe we’re all not so different!

Imagine a hardcore, S&M punk walking through a posh neighbourhood with facial (and genital) piercings, covered head to toe in tattoos and scarifications… Whilst a group of wealthy ladies drinking coffee in a café sit there and snicker as the punk walks past.

Meanwhile they have faces pulled taut from the cut and tucks of lifts, foreheads frozen by botox injections and swollen, pouting lips. Pierced ears dangling gold and diamonds, and permanent makeup tattooed to eyelines, eyebrows and liplines… Silicon in their breasts, butt lifts, tummy tucks, and perhaps even with neat vaginas post labiaplasty surgery.

So, I guess scarification comes in all shapes and sizes with reasons a plenty.

At their essence, scars are the marks of healing, and how sweet that is. 

>>> Leonie Orton is a writer, editor and marketing communications consultant. She'll create communication mediums in the shape of words, graphics and webs for your business, connecting you with the people who need you. Get in touch by emailfacebook or twitter. And if you're not already signed up for new writings and special offers, get hooked up here

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