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Makonde Madonna figure with decorative scars

For millennia, man uses the skin as a creative "design area" and as well for passing on information.  

Body ornaments like tattooing, in former times regarded with suspicion and connected with marginalized social groups, are now at least partially accepted as a temporary fashion.

Skin designs of all kinds have a long tradition in many cultures. Decorative scars, also called scarification (from the Latin word scarificatio = scratching) are deeply rooted in the cultural heritage of many ethnic groups with darker skin which is not suited for tattooing.

In these cultures, a body with a smooth skin is regarded as unattractive; on the contrary, a woman with scars on her upper body and face is perceived as extremely beautiful. The arrangement of the scars is not accidental but follows specific patterns that vary among the ethnic groups.

Scarifications are common in wide parts of East Africa and Central Africa. Some researchers assume that these skin designs originated in the time of the slave trade. The scars should deface women in order to prevent them from being kidnapped by slave traders. Over time, the scars took root in the culture and are now considered as an aesthetic ideal.

However, the scars not only serve as decorations. The scar patterns indicate clanship, age and social status as well as special qualities like e.g. bravery. On important life events more scars are added.

Scratching of the skin to create decorative scars is still relevant today; however, in the younger generation, the tradition becomes outdated.

Even a part of the helmet masks in our museum show these decorative scars.

The ethnic group of the Makonde (southern Tanzania and northern Mozambique) is renowned for their exceptional woodcarving, especially in working the hard and heavy ebony.

The Madonna figure is decorated with scars on her face to highlight the beauty of the Mother of God. The traditional Makonde lip plug, however, is omitted.