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Powerful Portraits Capture ‘The Last Generation’ of The African Custom of Scarification

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Abidjan-based photographer Joana Choumali recently captured and put together an incredibly powerful portrait series titled Hââbré, The Last Generation. The hard-hitting collection of images shows some of the final faces of scarification, the ancient practice of cutting the flesh to form permanent markings.

The practice of Hââbré, which translates to “writing,” has died down in recent times due to the prohibition of the practice in multiple regions and urbanization of a number of areas. But a generation remains whose physical and metaphorical scars tell a story of who they are and where they come from.

Mr. Pousnouaga: “It was like an identity card in my family. Each tribe has their scars.”
Mr. Pousnouaga: “It was like an identity card in my family. Each tribe has their scars.”

As the practice has faded from the culture, so has the social acceptance of those who wear the markings. As Choumali told Feature Shoot, “Many people say that if they could, they would erase their scars.”

This also made it difficult for Choumali to find her subjects, who were often hidden away from the public eye. Even once she found those who bear the scars, many of them were hesitant to participate; however, through a connection she had made, she was able to find several brave participants who not only allowed her to photograph them, but also tell some of their story.

Below are a few of the images from the series:

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.”
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. 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. 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.
Ms. K. Benin: “People would go in groups to get their scarifications, and I went with my friends…”
Ms. K. Benin: “People would go in groups to get their scarifications, and I went with my friends…”
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. “
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. 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.”
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.”
Mr. Konabé: “Our parents did this not to get lost in life. When you went somewhere, you could not get lost.”
Mr. Konabé: “Our parents did this not to get lost in life. When you went somewhere, you could not get lost.”
Mr. Boudo: “It is not easy to hit on girls with that. Especially, the Ivorians. I think it is not very attractive.”
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.”
Mr. Salbre: “ I do not want this for my children. We are the last generation.”
Mrs. Sinou: “I refuse to do it to my children. This will stay on my face only.”
Mrs. Sinou: “I refuse to do it to my children. This will stay on my face only.”

Choumali is a talented photographer and winner of the 2014 POPCAP prize for African photography. If you’d like to see more of her work, and we certainly encourage you to, you can do so over on her website.

(via Feature Shoot)


Image credits: Photographs by Joana Choumali and used with permission

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