Let’s get rid of negative traditional cultural scarifications or marks in South Sudan

Posted: February 17, 2018 by PaanLuel Wël Media Ltd. in Junub Sudan, Longar Mathiec Wol

By Longar Mathiec Wol, Nairobi, Kenya

Dual Diu of Gawaar Nuer

February 17, 2018 (SSB) — Culture is one of the conundrum situations that becomes part of the people live. The funniest thing about the issues to do with culture is its sensitivity and it intricate to the social life. Most of the cultural issues are address with precaution because anything involves culture similar to anything involving religion. Culture is good because it is an identity and the way of life that people choose to have. It’s one of the most beautiful things created by God.

There are many cultures that exist million years ago some have been added by colonizers; some of these cultures are good and become part of our lives, though not all cultures are friendly. In some culture for instance, in South Sudan, there are certain cultures that were brought by the colonizers and the people incorporated them into the existing ones. But, what we didn’t know is whether these cultures are doing more good or more harm to our society.

Though not all cultures are harmful still some may be harmful; for instance, the body modification, whether body adornment, scarification, lip-plate and tooth sharping that have existed for centuries till today. Some of these are being practiced by many countries especially in Africa and South Sudan has its good share.

Let look at some of the marks many south Sudanese have and whether they have impacted their lives negatively or positively. One of these is head scarification or head marking; this tradition is widely practice by a majority from Nilotic tribe and particularly the pastoralist. It common in Dinka and Nuer tribes. This is when the faces are scared with parallel lines across the forehead.

These scarifications are perceived to be the sign of adulthood and pride in some of the pastoralist communities’ culture. They are considered or connected with certain status to the people who had them. They are connected with adolescent status, when boys got these scares or marks during adolescent it’s considered to have transitioned to manhood. For instance, when the young man’s head is scared or marks, he is not supposed to do the certain thing he had been doing when he was still young adolescence or boy.

In most cases, he is considered a big person or matures regardless of his age. These young men with head marks don’t or they have less respect for other young men without head marks, though that relationship is starting to improve now. The boys who refused while granted by his parents to go ahead with head marking or scarification and refused is considered a coward and son of a woman. These provocative descriptions made young men without head marking to do the same so that they could gain the same status in the family and in the society as a whole.

These young men who are head marked are considered in all decision-making process which is not the case to those who are not head marked which is now the thing of the past. But, with the modernization, those channel of decision-making processes are starting to disappear. In the 21st century, people only believe in what you do and what you say regardless of whether you had been the head mark or not. People start to realize having marks on someone heads or any part of the body that signifies the adolescent doesn’t add anything in his way of doing the thing but an only traditional perception that people change their characters when they have been head marked.

All sound well, but the problem is that this scarification is now seemed to have outdated though still being practice widely. The worse of it is that these marks have misused. People have diverged from their original meaning and they are being used for negative purposes today, for instance people use them for identification in communal violence. In 2013 when disagreement in the ruling party SPLM erupted into war many people become victims of these marks whether in Juba or in Upper Nile.

People with these scarifications are clearly identified by the marks and killed in cold blood compare to the people without them that have to be investigated first before any action is taken. Therefore, these culture practice is doing more harm than good and is my appeal and believe avoiding them will save us from an unnecessary ethnic target.

I know it might take a long time for the people to embrace but is better we do awareness. Some people or tribes might think abolishing them based on certain circumstances will be cowardice of them but are some of these practices compatible with our lives today.

Apart of head scarification there are also facial scarification and back scarification or marking that are considered imperative in many cultures. This practice is found abundantly in Dinka, Nuer, and Shilluk or Chollo cultures in South Sudan. In some pastoralists’ communities and even other non-pastoralist communities use facial scarification or marking is common. This practice is common among women but in other communities, it cut across both men and women. But when you look at the historical background of these marks some goes back to colonization era.

The colonizers when they came according to the antiquities explanation imposed some of these scarifications for identification purpose though many of them were invented by African themselves. But since Africa is no longer under the colonial power as some perceived to be imposition colonial aspiration, what are we doing concerning the matter? It time to re-evaluate, keep the good practice and reject the negative ones. It is time to ask ourselves whether they are adding any meaning to our lives or not. We should get ride off what we see to have negatively impacted our lives and keep those which positively impacted our lives.

This scarification has the immediate negative impact, the pain the person has to undergo. Imagine the pain has to undergo were razor blades are used to incise or cut the young men or women all over in certain pattern that they believe to be the imitation of certain beautiful marks these young men or women desire.

Apart from the head scarification or marking another one is lip plate or lip plug, this practice heavily practices in South Sudan, Ethiopia (bodi, surna), Uganda (Karamojong) and also in Papua New Guinea. In this case, the circular wood or disc is inserted in the pierced hole in order to modify the lips. Lower lips in any case are used to insert this circular object.

Tooth sharpening is also another common practice in DRC, South Sudan and Ethiopia and many another part of the world including Vietnam. Sometimes these teeth sharpening means to distinguish the class, for instance, the upper class from lower based on their curvedly design.  Most of the affected teeth are the incisors and the process is done manually.

The disadvantages of this type of traditional practice are that it spoils natural way the mouth look. Though the people who practice it like it, the truth is that it spoils the beauty and the look these young ladies have any a chance of them getting married in the same tribe are high because it doesn’t look attractive to outsiders.

In my view, some of these marks are no longer useful because since they were established for the identification purposes though they were converted to traditions and become a pride to many people, is time to review those many years after our colonial masters left Africa. Why do we still use these marks to identify ourselves and discriminate ourselves? Let take, for instance, South Sudan where these marks were used for the negative reason. Is there still a pride in them?

The abolition of the scarification will contribute toward the elimination of ethnicity and bring about national cohesion. It’s hard sometimes to identify people based on their ethnicity with the assistance of these marks. Since we use them for negativity against ourselves could it be a time for us to let go these traditional scarifications or marks?

However, apart from these markings whether head, back or face marking there is another vice, the lower teeth removal. Most of the communities in Africa practice this. In South Sudan, there are many communities with lower teeth removed. Some remove six other remove four or two teeth respectively. This had the negative impact on the people especially those who made it school after the removal of the lower teeth that intellectual believe to have contributed toward bad pronunciation.

It was not their making but some of these people were forced to do it. At that time people don’t know the value of education and its positive impact on people lives. However, with the knowledge education brought to us some of our people still forcing their children to remove their lower teeth in the name of culture.

But the question we turn the blind eye to is whether these cultures are adding anything positive especially these harmful practices. Whether they are contributing positively toward our wellbeing or not? I know many will argue that culture is the way of life as many definitions might suggest, but is not a time to change our mind and eliminate some of these cultural practices that are negatively impacting our lives.

Final, not all the cultures people practice are harmful, in fact, people are actually identified by their cultures but the problem here is the type of cultural practice and its level of harm in people lives. In the 21st century people shouldn’t continue to be enslaved by their own attitude, thinking and choice by allowing some of the negative cultural practice to continue impact their lives negatively. Let revisit them and abolish some of those that are not of people interest and keep what’s compatible with today modern life.

The author is a concern South Sudanese national living in Nairobi Kenya and can be reached through his email address: longarmaxiech@gmaail.com

The opinion expressed here is solely the view of the writer. The veracity of any claim made is the responsibility of the author, not PaanLuel Wël: South Sudanese Bloggers (SSB) website. If you want to submit an opinion article, commentary or news analysis, please email it to paanluel2011@gmail.com. PaanLuel Wël website (SSB) do reserve the right to edit or reject material before publication. Please include your full name, a short biography, email address, city and the country you are writing from.

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