Tribal Markings and Faces of Upper West

Imam of the Chief of Wa, called the Wa Naa. This picture was taken as Imam was leaving after morning prayers with the Wa Naa. Cost: 5 GHC

Since I have been up Upper West , I have started noticing how the tribal markings, or scarifications are different.

In the south, the markings I see are usually the kind made at infancy or in early childhood. I understand the scars can be made for a variety of reasons: identification, decoration, health or spiritual protection. For example, when a baby is born, the tradition is to give her eight days to decide if she likes it here, and if she does (meaning:survives), a naming or outdooring ceremony is held [read about it here].

If a previous infant decided it did not like it here, or “leaves” to return to the spirit/ancestral world, this next baby born of that mother (which is thought to have the same soul) may be marked to make the baby unattractive to the ancestors who must have decided to take her predecessor even after she had decided to stay.

Markings made to the right of the eye almost look like crow’s feet, also by the mouth. These markings may indicate that his mother’s previous child had died, or had had a serious miscarriage.

This marking, sometimes called Donkor, are believed to keep the baby in the land of the living by making it ugly to the Ancestors. Donkor, which means slave, is thought to enslave the child to this world. The Funsi have a particular marking to identify a child as one who comes and goes.

Decorative Markings

What I have seen, especially among some of the older women, are markings of a more decorative type, and most likely not made in infancy. They are strikingly beautiful, lovingly done, and add an unadorned beauty to their face. Unfortunately, the camera does not capture it the way it is revealed to the eye.

Final Thoughts

I find I am looking more deeply into people’s faces, looking for their markings, and wondering what they might mean.

Reference Material:

“An Ancient Practice: Scarification and Tribal Marking in Ghana” by Alyssa Irving. 2007

 

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