Scarification was one of the many ways the people of Oceania adorned their bodies. Like tattooing, scarification permanently marked the body. Designs were cut into the skin and, when healed, the design remained as a deep or raised scar. To raise a scar, the skin at the bottom of the cut was scratched or irritated with charcoal or some other substance.
To the peoples of Oceania, scarification marked a person's ability to endure pain and symbolized their membership in society. Both men and women could be scarred. Scars given to girls at puberty, for example, signified their ability to bear the pain of childbirth. Because scarring was such a painful process, designs were made in small increments over many years, starting at puberty. Although Europeans regarded scarification as a sign of savagery, the peoples who practiced it considered it to be one of the ultimate symbols of civilization. In Oceania scars beautified a person.
The exact origins of scarification in Oceania have yet to be discovered. However, the practice has gradually declined as the peoples of Oceania have had more contact with Europeans, especially Christian missionaries who criticized and eventually forbade the practice, since the sixteenth century.
Gr?ning, Karl. Body Decoration: A World Survey of Body Art. New York: Vendome Press, 1998.
Lal, Brij V., and Kate Fortune, eds. The Pacific Islands: An Encyclopedia. Honolulu, HI: University of Hawaii Press, 2000.
"Scarification." Australian Museum. http://www.amonline.net.au/bodyart/scarring/index.htm (accessed on July 31, 2003).