Scarification belongs in the same basic category as tattooing, insofar as beautification is achieved by controlled injury. As a method, scarification probably predates tattooing as a form of body art, and arguably, the most dramatic examples of it can be found in Africa. There the practice is simply to cut a millimeter or so into the subcutaneous later, and rub ashes into the wound. It is this that creates the signature raised elevation of the wound, and when arranged in a pattern, the desired effect is achieved.
Less dramatic examples of facial scarring can amount to no more than a slice or two on the cheek, but there are hundreds of recorded examples of body scarification that would bring water to your eyes just to look at them.
What purpose did all of this serve? Well, we are back to the simple principle of beauty and eroticism, combined with tribal and clan identification, as well as rites of passage and initiation. French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss once described the body as a surface waiting for the imprint of culture. In fact, anthropologists have scratched their heads over the matter of ‘controlled injury’ body art ever since it first surfaced as a specific field of study. Why, for example, is the practice so prevalent in Africa, and the answer, it would seem, has to do with the fact that scars are more visible on darker skin than inked tattoos. Then there is the fact that the process, which is achieved usually over many sessions, produces endorphins, from which a euphoric state can be achieved. Another reason often cited is traditional healing, and that different variations of the process produce different therapeutic results.
It is generally agreed, though, like breast ironing, that none engaged in the practice could truly say what the reasons and origins of it are, but simply that it is so bound up in history and tradition that generations do it simply because the previous generation did.
It is undeniable, though, that even though the process behind it can be rather hard to deal with, the results certainly can be very compelling.