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Reason for Tribal Marks in Africa

Tribal marks are part of the Ghanaian culture and are usually inscribed on the body by burning or cutting of the skin during childhood.

The primary function of the tribal marks is for identification of a person's tribe, family or patrilineal heritage.

Tribal marks culture is also a major aesthetic and cultural component.

Scarification is appropriate only to the human figure and not to the surface of pottery, although some of the patterns and forms are related.

Here are the reasons behind Ghanaian tribal marks.


Some tribes in Ghana actually mark their children for identification. In the past, it was difficult differentiating between tribes during war due to the colour of our skin. During wars, tribes are likely to clash with their own kinsmen because we found it difficult telling ourselves apart and so the solve this, some tribes decided to differentiate themselves from other tribes by marking their children and these kind of tribal marks can easily identify the tribe you’re coming from.

The Gurune people, popularly known as Frafra are a typical example and usually their tribal marks are for the sole purpose of identification.


One of the main reasons why some tribes engage in scarification is for decoration.

The tribal marks by Dagombas that look like tears right beneath the eyes (marked horizontally) are usually for aesthetic reasons.

Spiritual Protection

Another reason why some tribes engage in tribal markings is for the sole purpose of spiritual protection. Some tribes believe that, when a child is beautiful, the spirits from the underworld will like to have such a child and so will visit to take them away. Such children die prematurely and so to prevent the spirits from coming for such children, they mark them to make them unappealing to the spirits from the underworld.

Such tribal marks are said to contain some concoctions known as “Muha” from the people of the North and from the South “Botor”. It is usually some herbs from the bark of a tree and some shrubs.

Medicinal Purposes

Sometimes, a person gets a near death experience and in order to save such a child, a herbalist may mark him or her and usually such markings are short ones on the right cheek and it is filled with medicine to save the child. It also serves as a remembrance to the child about his or her near death experience.

So if you see a short mark on the right cheek of person and it doesn’t matter the tribe they come from, then it is for medicinal purposes.


In many traditions in Ghana, when a child is born and dies and it continues for the second and third time, the child is believed to reincarnate and so when the fourth child is delivered, that child is given a tribal mark that signifies he or she is a slave.

Such children, beside the tribal mark are given nasty names to prevent them from dying or going back to the underworld.

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Dagombas Frafra Ghana Ghanaian Gurune


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