A massive thank you to Gabriel Felli and all the people who accepted
to be photographed, without whom this article wouldn’t have been possible.

Portia Gebute - tribal mark
Portia Gebute – tribal mark

When I traveled to* Navrongo, in Northern Ghana, one of the first things I noticed when meeting people was the marks/scars that some of them had on their cheek(s). Intrigued *, I started asking questions, first to Gabriel (my Ghanaian ‘guide’), who, most of the time, didn’t even notice these anymore, then to the bearers * of the marks.

After investigating a bit, it turned out that these scars have different origins. Most of them are tribal marks, some were caused by a medicine meant to prevent * convulsions in young children (and to the undiscerning eye *, look practically the same as tribal marks), while the origin of others, less frequent, is rooted * in superstition: most people in* Ghana believe in reincarnation. Some souls are believed to come back several times to inhabit an earthly * body. Some people who think that the soul of someone they knew has come back leave a mark on the child’s face (apparently, it could also be on their body). If the child/person dies and the soul comes back again, the body it will inhabit will have the same mark.

Rudolph Basigiyem - superstition
Rudolph Basigiyem – superstition

None of the people I asked mentioned beautification * to explain tribal marks. They only told me that they were used as a way to identify the members of a tribe, which was especially useful in conflicts. Angelina, 26, told me that, had she been given the choice, she would have preferred not to be marked, which is what she chose for her children.

Angelina Akwulpa - tribal mark
Angelina Akwulpa – tribal mark

Nowadays, tribal marks tend to disappear. Very few children are marked in cities and towns. However in some regions, this custom * is still perpetuated *. In Tumu, a small town in the Upper West Region, the Sissala tribe still marks children on the day they are born, as Masahudu recently witnessed *. His parents are from Tumu but he was not born there, so his marks are smaller than most Sissala people’s.

Masahudu Saani - tribal marks
Masahudu Saani – tribal marks

It took me a few days to dare to ask people about their marks and photograph them. These marks captivate me; I also like the idea of identification and belonging they convey * – but can they be a source of discrimination? – although I would probably have a different opinion or not even notice them if I had been born there.

If you want to know more about tribal marks, you can read this article:

Kingsford Akampie - tribal mark
Kingsford Akampie – tribal mark
Prosper Akampie - tribal marks
Prosper Akampie – tribal marks
Juliana Abagale - tribal mark
Juliana Abagale – tribal mark
Aduniah Sharon Wewopa - tribal mark
Aduniah Sharon Wewopa – tribal mark
Vitus Foginke Achagetune - tribal mark
Vitus Foginke Achagetune – tribal mark
Tayibatu - medicine
Tayibatu – medicine
Nathaniel Ayiko - tribal mark
Nathaniel Ayiko – tribal mark


* Prepositions to use with names of places (countries, cities…)

In English, like in Spanish, these prepositions are not defined by what follows (like in French) but by the verb they are used with:

  • With verbs of movement (go, come, head…), use ‘to’:

_ I’m going to Sweden.
_ They came to Brussels two weeks ago.

  • With verbs like ‘be’, ‘stay’, ‘live’… you can use various prepositions depending on the place. But if you’re talking about a city or a country, use ‘in’:

_ She lives in Sydney.
_ We stayed in Italy for 3 days.