Tribal Markings and Faces of Northern Ghana

The people of northern Ghana have a different look to them, so much so that sometimes I recognize people from the south of Ghana, they look like people from a place I know. 

Men of the north


Imam of the Chief of Wa, called the Wa Naa.  This picture was taken as Imam was leaving after morning prayers with the Wa Naa.  Cost: 5 GHC


Old Man sitting outside the Nakrote Mosque on the third day of Ramadan.  Cost: 3 Kola Nuts.

Since I have been up north, I have started noticing how the tribal markings, or scarifications are different.  In the south, the markings I see are usually the kind made at infancy or in early childhood. I understand the scars can be made for a variety of reasons: identification, decoration, health or spiritual protection.  For example, when a baby is born, the tradition is to give her eight days to decide if she likes it here, and if she does (meaning:survives), a naming or outdooring ceremony is held [read about it here]. 
If a previous infant decided it did not like it here, or “leaves” to return to the spirit/ancestral world, this next baby born of that mother (which is thought to have the same soul) may be marked to make the baby unattractive to the ancestors who must have decided to take her predecessor even after she had decided to stay.

This young boy, whose mother attends Bible College, has no markings on his face.  Cost: FREE

Markings made to the right of the eye almost look like crow’s feet, also by the mouth.  These markings may indicate that his mother’s previous child had died, or had had a serious miscarriage.


Our friend Michael allowed me to photograph his markings which were given to him at birth by the fetish priest. Cost: FREE

This marking, sometimes called Donkor, are believed to keep the baby in the land of the living by making it ugly to the Ancestors.  Donkor, which means slave, is thought to enslave the child to this world.  The Funsi have a particular marking to identify a child as one who comes and goes.


This boy was selling a chicken in a market in Togo.  Had he spoken English, or I French, I would have asked about his X-marking. Cost: FREE

Decorative Markings

Here are some of the older women of the north with decorative facial markings:

Old Lady waiting at the Wa Regional Hospital.  Cost: 5 GHC


Friend of the Old Lady, who wanted her picture taken.  Cost: Seeing pictures of Dave’s children.


Beggar Woman at the Bolga Old Market.  She blesses me after giving her something small.  Cost: 3 GHC

What I have seen, especially among some of the older women, are markings of a more decorative type, and most likely not made in infancy. They are strikingly beautiful, lovingly done, and add an unadorned beauty to their face. Unfortunately, the camera does not capture it the way it is revealed to the eye.

Beautiful cross hatch on lower cheeks.


Beautiful vertical markings across her cheeks.  This woman actually had quite a number of markings, but covered her face after agreeing to have her picture taken. 

Final Thoughts

I find I am looking more deeply into people’s faces, looking for their markings, and wondering what they might mean.


Reference Material:

“An Ancient Practice: Scarification and Tribal Marking in Ghana” by Alyssa Irving. 2007  


4 thoughts on “Tribal Markings and Faces of Northern Ghana

  1. Faces are such beautiful tale-tellers of where we come from….Yet the similarities that mark us are hard to see until you travel someplace else. I find faces of people who are of more primitive or isolated places to be the most beautiful, the most striking, the most genuine of us all…. perhaps it is because they live more honest lives, closer to the truths of their ancestry….

  2. my grandpa from ghana he has said 1 time hawsa tribe and 1 time fallah tribe he has tribal markings around eyes i think beautiful can you show me or tell me what markings should be

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