What stories do facial scars tell?
Like many Ghanaians, my mum has quite a noticeably large scar on her cheek. Growing up in Ghana this was quite a common sight both in men, women and even children, with the scars ranging in shape and size depending on the tribe one belonged to. I’ve always assumed that these scars were tribal scars or a form of ethnic identification, but I recently discovered that this was only partly true.
Like I mentioned before, these scars on the cheek can represent an ethnic identifier, which is the case for the Gonja, Dagomba and Frafra people of northern Ghana. However facial scars can also be found among the Akans, who usually reside in the southern parts of Ghana, and for them, their facial scars tell a whole different story.
In the olden days, before the advent of modern medicine, ‘ abibiduro’ or traditional medicine in its English translation, was
used to cure all sorts of illnesses. In fact, abibiduro is still widely used in Ghana today and in some cases are even prescribed by doctors. Back in the day, traditional herbalists made a black powder called ‘botכ’. Botכ was a mixture of different types of traditional medicine grounded into a powder then mixed with charcoal. Botכ worked in the same way as western medicine such as aspirin or codeine, which was used to fight various fevers which particularly affected children. Aspirin and codeine worked as a symptomatic treatment to reduce fevers, and this is exactly what botכ was used for back in the day. Because taking it orally rendered it ineffective as its healing components were destroyed through digestion, a small incision or cut was made in the cheeks of children who suffered from fevers such as malaria, and the botכ was placed in the cut.
After healing, a scar remained, thus representing a form of vaccination. These types of practises have obviously been phased out and are rarely used these days due to advances in modern medicine and the accessibility of healthcare even in the remotest parts of Ghana.
Hence these facial scars are most likely to be seen among our parents and grandparents’ generation rather than the generation of today. So next time you see a facial scar on a Ghanaian, don’t be so quick to dismiss it as just a tribal mark!
By Yaa Nyarko (@yaa_fremah)