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Scarification was a traditional practice among West African tribes related to tribal, clan and secret society membership. Taking place during rituals marking the transition of both men and women from child to adult, the markings could be quite complex, and were considered a mark of beauty.

The use of scarification in western countries is a relatively new, and extreme version of tattooing, where instead of using a small needle and ink to alter the skin, an abrasing, cutting, or removal is preformed leaving a designed scar when complete. Scarification by burning is called branding which has been done to mark slaves.