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What facial scarring meant in Igbo culture

Scarification, or facial marks, were reserved for the brave among the Igbo of south-eastern Nigeria.

Known as “igbuichi” in Igboland, the scars marked status and nobility – and unlike other groups in Nigeria, was not done to identify ethnicity.

It was usually done to men who wanted to have the prestigious title of “Ozo”, the highest accolade.

The scarification ritual was regarded as a natural sifting process. If you lived to tell the tale, then you were worthy.

According to the Journal of International African Studies, extensive full-face scarring began to fade out in the late 17th century.

It was a terribly painful experience. Many people died or went blind as cuts were made over the eyes and the wounds would bleed profusely.

Men arose in the middle of the night to begin the scarification ritual. It was believed that it was the best time as the body was still half asleep.

They were cut on the face with a long pointed knife; no drugs were given to numb the pain or control the blood flow.

The men were forbidden to cry out in pain. If they did, all their possessions could be seize and they would be disgraced in the eyes of the community.

The marks either symbolised the moon:

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or The Sun

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The astral bodies were two deities that were very important to Igbo.

Scarification was not imposed on people, they had to opt to have it done.

However, if your father was an Ozo title holder and you were the first-born son, you might be regarded as a weakling if you didn’t go through the process.

Women could not hold the Ozo title, but could receive less extensive scarring for honour and prestige.

These days facial scarrings are rare as most Igbos are Christian and do not believe in such practices.

Those who are Christian and interested in the Ozo title usually have a small cross cut on their forehead.

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