Ritual or abuse?
January 28, 2008 8:23 AM   Subscribe

Help me figure out what happened to this little girl.

Last night on the train home (I'm in NYC), a girl of about thirteen was holding onto the post in front of me. She was very bubbly and cute and girly. She was with another girl of about the same age - kind of a tougher looking girl, but still just as bubbly.

I noticed the first girl had three horizontal scars on her right cheek. They were each about an inch in length, and it looked like they were made with a razor. Then she turned her head, and I saw that she had another set of scars in the same size and configuration on the other cheek.

My question is, is this a particular kind of ritual scarification? I've done some googling, but I can't come up with anything this specific. I wouldn't describe either of these girls as "gang material". Of course, the other possibilities are that she cut herself or that someone cut her against her will. Any way you look at it, it's pretty horrifying.
posted by Evangeline to Society & Culture (24 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Oh, and I'm not sure if this helps, but it almost seemed like the scars were positioned to look like whiskers.
posted by Evangeline at 8:29 AM on January 28, 2008

Did she look like she might be Nigerian? If so, I think ritual scarification is a good bet. According to this Wapo article: "former president Olusegun Obasanjo has faint parallel lines scoring his cheeks".
posted by roofus at 8:44 AM on January 28, 2008

An idea of the colour of her skin, race or accent might be helpful to your question, Evangeline. Scarification is very common in West Africa (at least), could she have been from there?
posted by goo at 8:45 AM on January 28, 2008

Here's an article about ritual scarification in Nigeria from the International Herald Tribune.
posted by peacheater at 8:54 AM on January 28, 2008

Excessive obsession with the Naruto anime?
posted by Phire at 9:00 AM on January 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

She was African-American and had an American accent.
posted by Evangeline at 9:04 AM on January 28, 2008

Could it have been makeup? I know there used to be one place in NYC where you got a kind of backstage tour of makeup and special effect artists, and at the end they would give you a realistic looking gunshot wound or scar or something along those lines.

On the other hand, the fact that they were relatively short would suggest to my uneducated mind that they were made at an early age, when they would have covered most of her cheek.. so.. I dunno.
posted by anaelith at 9:04 AM on January 28, 2008

From PBS's Five Days in Niger (emphasis added):
Then, time to meet the Emir, in a cool stuccoed palace we approached the most distinguished man, not so old, not so young, with a finely featured face, a tall red felt rounded fez and flowing white robes that glowed in the dimness of his receiving hall. And on his cheeks, scars like cats whiskers! Not the least bit cute, somehow, just added to his sense of rightness and stature.
[. . . ]
A visionary one might even say, in a traditional world he is striving to change the rules - rules that have left young girls with no options save early marriage, early childbearing, and a life of labor...a man with whiskers...it sounds silly, but it's true and how can one say? His facial scars give him the dignity of a lion, not a pussy cat.
[. . . ]
Habi was sitting on her bed, as beautiful a girl as all the many we have seen in this country - petite, though, very petite, with narrow hips clearly too narrow to pass a child through. Her cute face made even more so by the whisker like scars radiating from the corners of her mouth. Roukia tells us they get these scars when they are just a baby. I'm sure it hurt like hell, but then we circumcise little boys...
posted by Partial Law at 9:07 AM on January 28, 2008

I'm not sure how you determined these were made by a razor.

When I was in high school (late 80's, early 90's) my buddy dated girl who had 'whisker-like' scars from a bike crash when she was little. So, it's not unheard of, accident-wise.

(They eventually got married.)
posted by unixrat at 9:07 AM on January 28, 2008

I'm not sure how you determined these were made by a razor.

Because I know what razor scars look like, and to my eye there is a distinction.
posted by Evangeline at 9:10 AM on January 28, 2008

Could it have been makeup? I know there used to be one place in NYC where you got a kind of backstage tour of makeup and special effect artists...

Interesting you should mention this! I'm an actress, and I was just working on creating scars for one of my fellow actors last night.

But no, I was very close, and I'm sure they were real.
posted by Evangeline at 9:12 AM on January 28, 2008

I think the answers suggesting she might be Nigerian are on the money. Thanks guys!
posted by Evangeline at 9:15 AM on January 28, 2008

even if she's not from west africa, scarification is becoming more and more popular as a form of body modification, akin to tattoos and piercings.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 9:18 AM on January 28, 2008

Note that the PBS link is about Niger, not Nigeria. Presumably this practice exists in a number of countries. I guess population-wise, the odds are better that someone is Nigerian.
posted by chinston at 12:35 PM on January 28, 2008

>Presumably this practice exists in a number of countries.

It does indeed. I saw this practice in Sudan, when I lived there.

Different tribes had different markings. Some even had more solid protrusions made by putting pebbles under the skin.

Older people would have more prominent versions of the scars, deeper and longer, and younger people had more of a token version shorter, lighter scars placed further back toward the hairline.

Randomly, I met a guy from Sudan playing basketball (in Sydney, Australia) last year and was able to identify him as a member of the Dinka tribe from these markings. He was somewhat surprised.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 5:05 PM on January 28, 2008

Scarrification is also a big thing with the goth crowds, as well as branding. It's like taking a step up from tattoos.
posted by medea42 at 11:01 PM on January 28, 2008

The Nigerian suggestion is probably on (by the numbers), but I wanted to add that this is also a common practice in parts of Ghana still. A girl I know (a bit younger, maybe 10) with similar markings is, iirc, Ga. Like AmbroseChapel said, different groups, places, have different markings...
posted by whatzit at 4:12 AM on January 29, 2008

"Any way you look at it, it's pretty horrifying."

I guess it depends on who's doing the looking... I would have found it fascinating and beautiful, not horrifying.

What makes it horrifying other than the fact that you don't understand it?
posted by RoseovSharon at 1:19 PM on January 29, 2008

Yeah that's probably a path we don't want to go down. Lots of heated arguments to be had.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 1:54 PM on January 29, 2008

"Yeah that's probably a path we don't want to go down. Lots of heated arguments to be had."

True, but then maybe such a statement shouldn't have been part of the original post to begin with. Just saying...
posted by RoseovSharon at 1:59 PM on January 29, 2008

What makes it horrifying other than the fact that you don't understand it?

I was really wondering how long it would take someone to come out with this. I looked over my post several times thinking, "Hmmmm, have I done everything I can to prevent someone from misinterpreting this?" Apparently not.

I was referring to the idea that she might have either been abused or be self-mutilating. Although frankly, whether you considerate it beautiful or not, the idea of subjecting a child to unnecessary pain does bother me a bit on a gut level, and before it comes up, I'm not talking about culturally specific practices. I don't like the idea of mothers taking their babies to get their ears pierced, either.
posted by Evangeline at 4:02 PM on January 29, 2008

If I haven't been clear enough yet, I didn't find the scars ugly at all, and looking at some of the links people have sent me, I would agree that they're fascinating. What is upsetting to me is the idea of a child in pain. I'm going to take a leap and assume you don't find that "beautiful and fascinating" as well.

And can we give the "just saying..." addendum a rest? It's overdone and dismissive. Just say what you have to say and leave it at that.
posted by Evangeline at 4:27 PM on January 29, 2008

What makes it horrifying other than the fact that you don't understand it?

It's horrifying because the girl has razor cuts on her face! When I see something like that, I can "feel" the cuts. And being cut with a razor -- or even thinking of being cut by one -- is terrifying to me. It has nothing to do with understanding or not understanding. I could read a whole book about the cultural significance, and I'd still find it horrifying.

I know people who are into BDSM, and I respect them. I don't think they're wrong or sinful or evil. And as someone who is interested in subcultures, I've read about S&M rituals and watched some. I understand them and the mechanisms behind them. Nevertheless, I find them horrifying. When I see someone getting tortured -- even if he is enjoying it -- I imagine it happening to me, and I wouldn't enjoy it. So I find it horrifying. That's not a judgement; it's a feeling.
posted by grumblebee at 7:54 PM on January 29, 2008

Not that you or anyone else will read this beacsue it is three days after the post but... I just got off the subway in Boston this morning and there was a very dark skinned man who looked to be African with 3 parallel scars on his forehead. They started at the upper left of his forehead and went diagnal down towards the bridge of his nose. They were about 1.5 inches in length and very uniform. They too looked like they were done with a razor.
posted by comatose at 5:27 AM on February 1, 2008

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