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Na Ih Es

I am part Blackfoot Indian. You wouldn't know it to look at me, with my paler-than-pale ivory skin, or my light blonde curly hair, but my great-grandmother was full blooded Indian. As a family, we used to go to these Rendezvous things with the Muzzle-loaders. It was where we left all civilization aside for a weekend, slept in Teepees and ate food that was found on the land. I still remember the smell of the campfire and leather, I still remember the painted faces and the joyous memories. Most of all, I remember him.

I was young, maybe six or seven years old when I met Don Eligio, a 93 year old Mayan medicine man. He told stories to the children, helped us make our own feather jewelry, and kept the spirit of ancient traditions alive. I was transfixed by his hands...he had longitudinal scars running between his knuckles, and I had never seen anything like that before. Without explaining, he took off his necklaces and placed it over the scars. It was a bear claw necklace, and it perfectly matched the scars, two between his thumb, and one between each knuckle, 5 in all.

I never thought about him again, it was a fleeting thing that transfixed me, it didn't really occur often in my life that I had a chance to think back on the beautiful simplicity of it. Until now. I found BME, and started thinking back to that moment, and knowing instinctively that it meant something, that he had meant to impart some knowledge to me that I was too young to understand.

I have been diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis, a chronic inflammatory disease that means I will be on medicine my entire life. I can't leave the house much, because I get sick a lot and have to run to the bathroom. After the doctor explained the limitations and the seriousness of the disease, I burst into tears....I was only 17, and I didn't want to think that I'd be sick forever.

Now that I'm 20, I've reached a plateau with my Colitis. I'm not happy about it, but I'm not scared anymore, and I know I'm strong enough to handle it. To celebrate, I decided to perform a Native American "Coming of Age" ceremony, called "Na Ih Es". This is where the woman is separated from everyone else for a period of 4 days, and at the end of 4 days, she proceeds to do a scarification relating to her chosen totem animal.

Being along for 4 days is extremely hard when you live with seven people! Argh! Luckily, they all decided to go to Columbus for a weekend of shopping at the Polaris mall and visiting with friends. I told them I didn't feel like going, so I stayed home. Ta-da, there's my four days.

I spent the time thinking about my future, and what I hoped to accomplish. I kept a journal of my thoughts during the ceremony, my fears, my hopes and dreams. One the 4th day, I rose first thing in the morning and heated up my dad's metal forge that he keeps in the garage. Usually, one would have to stand out there and fan it to keep the coal burning, but my dad hooked up an air compressor to it so that it does it automatically. I kept checking it throughout the day, until around 2pm, when the coals were burning an ashy/deep red color. I knew they were ready, since I'd watched my dad use the forge before.

Taking a piece of my dad's iron rods from his stash, I slid it into the coals, watching as it slowly heated to red-hot. I was so nervous, but conquering my fear of this meant conquering my fear of the disease, and I knew I was strong enough.

Once the iron was hot, I pulled it off with the iron-working clamps my dad uses, and took a long, deep breath. I mentally counted to three before I lightly tapped it onto the fleshy part of my thumb-pad. Ouch! You know that look that plastic gets if you touch a lighter to it, burnt plastic curling up at the edges? My skin literally did that. It hurt like hell, and I could smell the burnt skin. I touched it between my first two knuckles, and then between my third. At this point, tears were coming out of my eyes and I almost dropped the metal. I decided to quit for the time being, because it was much too intense for me.

Thank God my family got a flat tire and had to wait for AAA, or they would have seen me! They got home around 8pm that night, after I had let the forge cool down and cleaned up everything. My hand was blistered and angry with me, so I soaked it in a chamomile solution, which helped somewhat. After I was done soaking it, I dried it off and put gauze wrap over the wounds. I know this isn't recommended, but I had to hide them from my parents or I would have gotten one hell of a talking-to.

Gauze hurts! Don't ever use it on a fresh skin wound like this! The next morning in the shower, I tried to get it off to clean the brands, and it pulled tons of teeny-tiny little scabs off and nearly knocked me to the floor with pain. It was sticky, bloody, and messy. Yeech.

So I popped all the blisters with an autoclaved needle I had extra from some piercing supplies, and cleaned it with antibacterial soap. It stung, but I'd rather have it sting for a bit than to get infected. I continued this aftercare (popping and cleaning) for a week. The blisters kept coming back! Finally, they started getting smaller, and after about a week and a half, they ceased to show up at all. Surprisingly, no one in my family really noticed. Should I worry about that, that I'm walking around with a wrapped up hand and no one cares? lol

It started majorly scabbing over, and stopped weeping at a week and a half. At this point, I stopped wrapping it and just left it alone. I know you're supposed to irritate the fresh wounds and keep picking the scabs off, but I'm not sure how I heal, and I wanted fine/thin scars. I figured I'd rather be safe than sorry, and if they healed too light I could just end up going over them.

It's been over a month now, and they're healing wonderfully. A light red, but they expanded just enough to be noticeable. They're not raised any, but rather indented, which is what I wanted anyways. I'm a bit disappointed that I couldn't finish the ceremony, and that I still need two brands to make a complete paw... but I feel stronger now, more complete. I feel like my Indian heritage will help me with my own healing along the way, and that I'll be able to overcome any challenge that life throws at me.

I hope this experience helped you some, but I also hope you realize that what I did was EXTREMELY dangerous. I am so lucky I didn't get infected wounds or anything like that. Hell, I'm lucky I didn't burn down the house! I would NOT recommend that anyone use forged metal to brand with, even though it worked half-way decent for me. If you want a brand or scarification done, go to a reputable artist who you trust, and be prepared to pay for quality work.

All that aside, I am planning on finishing the two strikes, and I hope they heal as well as the first three did. If you are an IAM member, I have some (crappy) pictures in my mod-tracker.


submitted by: Anonymous
on: 06 Oct. 2004
in Scarification

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Artist: Myself
Studio: My+home
Location: Toledo%2C+OH

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