Tuesday, June 7, 2011


DATE: 19-03-009

Table of Contents
CHAPTER  ONE  -------------  3
Abstract   ------------------------ 3
Introduction--------------------    3
Objectives  ------------------------3
Methodology  --------------------- 4
CHAPTER TWO ---------------   5
Data Analysis---------------------    5
CHAPTER THREE  ---------------  5
Conclusion  ------------------------  11
challenges ------------------------   12
recommendation  --------------------  11
bibliography    12

Appendix    13

My research on tribal marks took place in Kumasi and Accra. I interviewed a Ga, Krobo, and Sisala. By interviewing some of these different ethnic groups in Ghana, I came to understand the varying purposes tribal marks serves. Additionally, I discovered some of the culture beliefs, values and myths of the people. Furthermore, I investigated on the impacts on the practice of tribal marking. Lastly, this paper will describe current opinions of the practice.

We need to move with the times and do away with old traditions. Facial markings are one of the traditions in Ghana which allows children under tender age to be given marks that will identify them in the ethnic group they belong to. This is performed by elders of a tribe or family using sharp objects such as blade and knife. This practice is seen in most of our ethnic groups in Ghana such as the Asantes, Gas, Krobos, and so on and is passed on from generation to generation.

The aims of this study include the following:
•    To find out if the practice is still in existence
•    To find out the meanings behind the marks
•    To examine the future outlook of the practice
•    To find out if the marks affected people positively or negatively

My research was based entirely on interviews. I sought to learn as much as possible about the different forms of tribal marks among the Gas, Krobos, and Sisalas and was able to interview two chiefs and three people from the different ethnic groups; Ga, Krobo, and Sisala. Though I had objectives for each interview, the structure was open ended questions. This allowed my interviewees to talk openly and freely leading the discussion in whatever direction they wanted.



There are types of scarification which Africans call tribal marks. Every tribe has their own unique style of mark which is used to identify different ethnic groups. The marks are used for identification, beautification and for traditional medical treatment. The exact origin is unknown, but differing accounts have been passed down from generation to generation. One story is that it started after the Kings of Africa started invading other kings and their people for land. They developed the method of scarification to mark the family members selected to rule the captured land. In the future when they returned to the same area and see the tribal markings they would know they already controlled the land. This practice became widespread as a way for family members to locate lost family members who had found their way to other tribes land. Some of the tribes in Ghana who use the markings are the Gonjas, Naumbas, Dagombas, Frafras, and Mamprusis in northern Ghana, the Gas, Krobos, Asantes, to mention just this few.
Ga Ethnic Group
Tribal marks in the Ga ethnic group started in the ancient time.This tradion were passed on from generation to generation. It significant for the people was to identify each other according to the tribe one belongs to.  This in a way differentiated the Gas from other tribes in Ghana. The marks are usually made during infancy or early childhood from eight days after birth to 4-5 years. The mark is given horizontally on either the right cheek or the left cheek and even both cheeks of the child. This was normally done by a specialist who knows the traditions, or an elderly member in the family. However the mark was given to a child for medicinal and spiritual protection. The most well known mark was given to a child believed to have died and comes back known as “Kpebalo” in Ga. After a woman experiences the death of two babies of the same sex, either at birth or shortly after, the third baby, of that same sex, was marked. It was believed that the same child was trying to come back but for some reason he or she was not allowed to stay. The “Kpebalo” mark was given to that child on both sides of the eyes and mouth.
There are two reasons for marking the baby:
1. To make the child ugly, it was believed that by disfiguring the face or body, one appears ugly to the gods in the other world. Thus, the child will no longer be wanted to return. Giving a child mark for this reason was described as grabbing the child and enslaving it to stay in this world.
2. However, if the child does die, these marks are than used to check the next child who is born. Thus, such marks were used to identify a child who was coming and going between this world and the next. It was believed that when the child was born and lives, having the same marks as the previous child, that he has been rejected from the other world because of the disfiguring marks.

Medicinal marks were done by traditional healer or herbalist. A child that has convulsion where parts of the body become stiff, at the same time the whole body shakes and the eyes remain wide open it paralyze parts of the body  was treated by an incision using a knife to insert medicine beneath the skin or flesh. To treat the convulsion, the herbalist makes a small incision into the infant’s left cheek and a black powder is inserted.  The combination of herbs, roots and plants are used as treatment are first grinding down to a fine powder. The medicine inserted into the incision was claimed to be very effective said by a woman I interviewed whose mark was for that purpose.
Recently, as a result of education and people’s personal preferences tribal marks within the Ga communities have diminished. Currently, children are not given tribal marks on their face.

Krobo Ethnic Group
The practice of tribal marking started among the Krobo’s for reasons of identification.  The krobo tribal mark was given on the left cheeks or right cheek depending on gender.  This practice started long ago to identify the krobo people and to differentiate a person who was not krobo. The mark was given to a child during infancy or early childhood with a small ceremony performed in the family. During the ceremony libation was poured and an elderly member of the family gives the mark. The mark was also given to a child who had convulsion as a treatment to such illness. For children who died and comes back known as “gboba" in Krobo. The marks were usually made on the both cheeks to make the child ugly. It was believed that by disfiguring the face, one appears ugly to the gods in the other world. Thus, the child will no longer be wanted to return.  Once they are given this mark it is believed that they will not die but stay on earth and this belief worked for them.
 However, the future generations were not given the tribal marks. The reason given was that changing of ideas as a result of western education, religion and westernization has diminished this practice said the chief of Kodiabe. He also said those with the mark today wish they did not have it and they could have stop giving it to their children. 

Sisala Ethnic Group
Among the Northern ethnic group I concentrated on the Sisalsa. The Sisala people claimed to be originated from Nalerigu. The Sisala people migrated creating settlements in Kundugu, Funsi, and Kadgu Kperi before some members eventually settled in Wa. Sisala people started the practice of tribal mark for identification purposes so that if unfortunately one was captured and taken away, his/her identity would forever remain intact. It was hoped that these tribal markings would help one identify other members of community that were captured by other ethnic group during the tribal war. Additionally, these marks could be used to retrace one’s roots, to return home. As a result of the different Sisala settlements created; there are several different marks among the Sisala people. One of the Sisala tribal marks present in Wa, was that of the members from the Funsi settlement. The tribal mark for the Funsi people is a long mark coming down from the nose over the cheek. For males it is on the left cheek and sometimes on both cheeks.  In order to treat certain diseases or illness such as convulsion, the herbalist makes an incision using a knife to insert medicine beneath the skin or flesh. To treat the convulsion, the herbalist makes a small diagonally incision into the infant’s left cheek.
The herbalist also treats the incision with special ointment to stop any bleeding. Shear butter was one type of ointments herbalist use to treat marks to heal within a week’s time.

This is a woman with the sisala tribal mark

In the olden days, the marks serve it purpose to all the tribes I interviewed. The people believed in the practiced and it did work for them. Children who were given the mark as a result of convulsion were healed immediately the mark was given. A woman I interviewed said she had convulsion when she was a child and because of that she was given the mark. Since that time until now she had never experience the illness again. The chief of Kodiabe had the mark for the “gboba” since birth. According to him, his mother had never experienced child death in the family after his birth. According to the tribes I interviewed, tribal marking effected many tribes positively in the olden days. 
In this present time, tribal marking is now seen as barbaric and it does not serve the purpose people once believed in and this is as a result of education and westernization in Africa. All the ethnic groups that I interviewed objected to such practice and would not want their children to have it since these marks disfigures and make one look ugly. The woman from Sisala ethnic group complained bitterly that she cannot visit her daughter at school because of the mark on her face and that the children at her school mocks at her daughter when they see her. Because of this she wished she could have a plastic surgery to normalize her disfigured face. The two other people that I interviewed said the mark make them look different from other people which they feel uncomfortable even when they travel to another land because they will be identified by the mark on their face.  They believe that tribal marking has negatively affected their lives.  



I will suggest that this research studies should be used to investigate the negative effects of tribal marks on individuals and should be discontinued mostly among the people in the northern part of Ghana.

In conclusion, tribal marks or scarification holds many different meanings and uses for the people. As a whole the practice will continue to diminish in the coming years because of religion (Christianity) and Westernization of the people in Ghana. The future of scarification is uncertain. It is no longer as popular among the younger generation. Some people feel that the practice is barbaric and no longer serves a purpose. Others stopped giving the marks in the name of peace in an area rife with ethnic conflict they prefer to be identified as a Ghanaian instead of as belonging to a specific ethnic group

During my research, I encountered some few challenges:
1.    Difficult getting reliable source-  people from the ethnic groups to interview
2.    Language barrier - Some of my interviewees could not speak English so I had to use their own language and this cost me to use an interpreter to help me in some of the languages.
3.    Time –because of my schedule going to school, sometimes I could not meet the time scheduled in meeting my interviewees which made me rescheduled some of my time with them.
4.    Finance – some of the people that I had to interviewed lived far so I had to pay transportation to their places and this was a challenge tome since I had little to spend. 

Primary Sources
Nii, kotey Asam. Chief of Danchira  people in central region. Interview by author, 8 march 2009,
Godfried, Narh. Chief of Kordiabe   people in Dangme west. Interview by author, 8 March, 2009

1. When did the practice of tribal marking started and why?
2. What are the various reasons for tribal marks? What meanings they hold for the people
     who take part in this practice?
3. Is there a special time when certain marks are given?
4. Is there a specialist who does these marking?
5. Why is the practice of diminishing?
6. What is the present opinion of scarification among Ghanaian young adults and what does
     this mean for the continuation of the practice of scarification into the future?

No comments:

Post a Comment