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Scars from Africa

y name is Marc. I´m Portuguese, live in Sintra, Lisbon, and I would like to share what I went through when I visited Malawi 3 months ago. I decided to visit Malawi after a friend of mine had gone there on an "Overlander" trip in June ´99. He told me about the beautiful beaches, and easy lifestyle he had experienced there. After arriving, I teamed up with two other backpackers (Steffen Craske and Chris Marks, from N.Z.) , and we went to Salima beach. When we got there, we stayed at the "Baobab" lodge. On the third night, we were talking to the maintenance supervisor (Isaac), and he told us that he was from the Tumbuka tribe in Mzuzu. (in the north of Malawi) He used to take part in initiation cerimonies, in which boys between 11 and 15 years of age would undergo various trials such as circumcision, fasting, severe beatings, and "age burning", wherein the person receives marks from a red hot wire connected to a car battery, and a hot razor. After a couple more stories, Isaac showed us his Scars that he received when he was younger. There were three sets of scars, aproximately 3040mm along his back and shoulder, and they looked like chinese script. Each set indicates the date that he had undergone a specific ritual. This was definately awe-inspiring, and I started thinking it over throughout the night. The next day, I was chatting to Steff, and he also showed a lot of interest in the ritual, and the scars. By late afternoon we had decided to get ourselves a set. We asked Isaac if he would mind giving us the initiation scars. He didn´t seem very keen, but then Steff offered him 5 pounds (which was about a months salary for Isaac), and he agreed. That night, I started getting myself used to the idea, and ease my nervousness by having a couple of beers. Steff was braver than me, and showed up totally sober. Isaac started by explaining what the scars meant. The horizontal lines indicate the paternal lineage (ultimately, the home village), and the vertical and curved lines are meant to show the family wealth, and the generation (date) when the ceremony was carried out. He told us that he didn´t have the right tools, but would use a chisel instead. He would give us "Outsider marks". I chose to have mine done on my right arm, and Steff had his on his left shoulderblade. The "cerimony" began in our room at 1:20 am , with Isaac preparing his instruments. He had a 3cm wide by +-12cm long chisel,a 10cm lenght of 3mm fence wire, a propane burner, "methelated" spirits (a blue sterilizing liquid), and we had towels, ice, plasters and bandages. Steff decided to go first. Isaac started by heating the chisel, and telling us that the ice couldn´t be used before the burning, because it doesn´t give as an intense scar. By this point our adrenaline was flowing, so we didn´t argue. When Isaac was ready, Steff got onto the bed, and I steralized his shoulder blade. He hooked his feet under the bed frame, put his right arm under the matress, and a pillow under his left armpit. I sat on his back, and held his left shoulder and head. I felt like I was drugged, because it all seemed so surreal. Isaac removed the chisel from the flame, and aproached Steff. I was expecting a bacon smell, for some reason, but when the smoke hit my nostrils for the first time, I almost wretched. It smelt like burning hair or nails. The sizzle was weird, like a drop of water hitting a hot metal plate. Steff let out a groan. Although it had seemed much longer, the first line was done in about 3-5 seconds. Steff was hyperventilating by the third line, but he said it didn´t hurt as much as the first one. 2 more lines, and Isaac switched to the wire. With this, he made a T piece with an arc at the end, and used this to create two consecutive curves on Steff´s back, just under the others. I dabbed on some spirits - thats when Steff really started groaning. We got some ice on the burns, then bandaged them up. It was all done in about 90 seconds. Before I knew it, it was my turn. I decided to sit on the floor, with my legs under the bed, and Steff holding my arm from the other side of the bed. By this time, I was sort "out of it". Isaac was just so surgical about the whole thing. He just took the chisel off the burner, and came over,gave me a quick glance, and placed the red hot end onto my skin. The feeling was strange at first, like he had put ice on my arm, instead of hot metal. I could actually feel the skin vibrating, and almost feel the steam/smoke spraying out. Then the pain came. It wasn´t just the burn that hurt, but it seemed like 3-4cm around the area was also hurting. Isaac went to heat up the tool, and I saw my burn. I was expecting to see it still smouldering, but it wasn´t. It was a dark pink in colour. All the muscles in my arm had tensed up, and started to cramp. Isaac did the second and third line without too much hassle, but it really started to hurt on the fourth one. My whole forearm was burning. It felt somehow sterilizing. By the time he started with the wire, I was in agony. I remember seeing Steffs´ white knuckles as he held my arm, the blue flame from the burner, and for the first time I noticed sweat on Isaac´s brow. I bit into the matress, and let out a sort of forced scream. I couldn´t take any more, and tore away my arm. I put an ice pack on my arm, but the pain didn´t go away as fast as I wanted it too. I had chickened out with one more curve to go. Isaac said that it still basically meant the same thing, except, that now it said I was from an African "Village". I sterilised my burns, and bandaged my arm. I took 5 panadol and tried to get some sleep. I didn´t get much, though... It took 2 days for the pain to go down. The surrounding blisters went down in 7-8 days (although I ruptured most of it as I brushed my arm against a doorway on day 5), and the redness went away 27 days later. I now have a 4836mm scar-memento that I am very impressed with. Thank You for reading my account, and if you have any similar experiences that you would like to share, please write to me and tell me about them. Marc

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submitted by: Anonymous
on: 11 March 2000
in Scarification

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Artist: Isaac+Mkandawire
Studio: Salima+Beach+Hotel
Location: Malawi%2C+C.Africa

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