Ms. Djeneba: ” I used to like my scars; they were beautiful. We used to brag about them. But, now, in the city, it is definitely out of fashion.”
Mr. Pousnouaga: “It was like an identity card in my family. Each tribe has their scars.”
Mr. Guemi: “I already wear my identity card on my face. This is the reason why people did it: to recognize one another. But now, this is over. We can no more be recognized.”
Ms. K. Benin: “People would go in groups to get their scarifications, and I went with my friends…”
Mr. Boudo: “It is not easy to hit on girls with that. Especially, the Ivorians. I think it is not very attractive.”
Mr. Salbre: “ I do not want this for my children. We are the last generation.”
Ms. Martine: “When I was 10 years, I asked for them. I wanted to be like my brothers and sisters, and to show that I am courageous. “
Mr. Lawal: “It is here in town that I am ‘nobody’. In the village, I am a noble; people bow down when they see my face! I am proud of that.”
Mr. Konabé: “Our parents did this not to get lost in life. When you went somewhere, you could not get lost.”
Mrs. Sinou: “I refuse to do it to my children. This will stay on my face only.”
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In the large Ivory Coast city of Abidjan it was once common to see Hââbré, the ancient custom of scarification. Today only the older people wear scarifications.
Photographer Joana Choumali created this series called “Haabre, The Last Generation 2013-2014″, but she had a hard time finding people to pose for her.
“Scarification is the practice of performing a superficial incision in the human skin. This practice is disappearing due to the pressure of religious and state authorities, urban practices and the introduction of clothing in tribes”, Joana Choumali says.
Choumali photographed the participants against a neutral backdrop in the attempt to remove any stigma or judgment from the images. She shoots two images of the same person – one from behind and one from the front or side, showing the scars. From the back the person looks like any other person. But from the front it clearly shows, how this person is marked and unmistakable.
“Opinions (sometimes conflicting) of our witnesses illustrate the complexity of African identity today in a contemporary Africa torn between its past and its future. This “last generation” of people bearing the imprint of the past on their faces, went from being the norm and having a high social value to being somewhat ‘excluded.’”
It’s intriguing to note that while Hââbré is becoming extinct in Africa, it is gaining popularity as “body modification” in other areas of the world.