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13 Powerful Portraits Of Africa's Scarred Faces

For some, scarring one's face is considered a rite of passage and a powerful statement of belonging.

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Joana Choumali's stunning photo series "The Last Generation" captures the social practice of scarification in Africa – the act of scarring one's face as a cultural tradition.


Scarification is a permanent body decoration with ancient origins; it's considered a ritual of passage to adulthood and a statement of belonging.

Many of the incisions are made with rudimentary cutting tools such as sharp pieces of stone, glass, and knives.

While careful attention is paid to the healing process, leaving the leftover wounds to form distinct patterns on the skin.


Although in recent years, scarification has faded from culture due to pressures from religious and state authorities, urban practices, and the introduction of clothing in tribes.

Which is what inspired photographer Joana Choumali to capture this fading aspect of African culture before it disappears completely.

Joana Choumali

"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. You are called names like 'torn face' and it hurts.”

—Ms. K. Djeneba, of the Ko tribe from Burkina Faso.

Joana Choumali

“I am proud of my traces. I like them because I am an heir. The king has the same scars. I am part of the royal family in my village. 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 E., of the Yoruba tribe from Nigeria.

Joana Choumali

“When you go out, the main insult people use to hurt you is 'scarred'. I refuse to do it to my children. This will stay on my face only.”

—Mrs. Sinou of the Ko tribe from Burkina Faso.

Joana Choumali

"Our parents did this not to get lost in life. When you went somewhere, you could not get lost. If you saw someone with the same marks on their faces, you would approach them because you knew you were related in some way."

—Mr. Konabé, of the Ko tribe from Burkina Faso.

Joana Choumali

"When people see me and point at me I stand tall and I am proud. I had them done on my first son, he was 18. I would have them done on my second child, but my husband disagrees.”

—Ms. Martine Kaboré, of the Ouem- kanga tribe from Burkina Faso.

Joana Choumali

"During wars, Mossi and Ko tribes would recognize each other, and therefore avoid killing one another. It was a way of recognition. No need for an ID card, I already wear my identity card on my face."

—Mr. Mien Guemi of the Ouro Bono from Burkina Faso.

Joana Choumali is an Ivorian freelance photographer based in Abidjan. To view more of her work, check out her website at