Tribal Scars

In Creation Camp by Emanuel Ntwiga

Part 1 Kamau & Njoroge

It’s the hottest day of the summer in the east African traveller’s town of Panaka and the recent high school teacher retirees Kamau and Amani are loafing outside Mugiri’s Convenience in the scorching sun with a withered red umbrella as their only protection from its piercing rays. After their retirement at the young age of 56 (Kamau) and 58 (Amani) Kamau and Amani’s lifelong friend, Malaika invited them inland to the convenience store that she recently inherited from her late father Alexander Maguire. Malaika was in her mid to late 50s like Kamau and Amani and was wearing a bright green button up that brought out the richness of her deep black dreadlocks that came down past her shoulders, and like Amani and Kamau who were also wearing buttons ups and shorts to account for the scorching sun Malaika was drinking lots of water to cool down from the heat.The three of them had not seen each other in a long time and this was a great way for them to catch up. While Kamau and Amani situated themselves just outside the front of the store under the bright red umbrella and the withered Mugiri’ Convenience storefront sign listening to a Fela Kuti cassette on a blown-out Boombox Malaika was inside the store drinking iced tea reading the local paper waiting for the occasional customer to stroll in. 

“ Malaika do you have any ginger beer I feel like I could go up into a flame at any second,” says Kamau while wiping the sweat from his head 

“If your paying, I’m trying to run a business here” Malaika shoots back with a smile 

“Of course, Of course,” says Kamau says as he slowly gets up from his lawn chair to get the thirst-quenching ginger beer 

It is now when Malaika receives her first customer of the day a young man pulls up to the store in a 90s Subaru he parks and gets out of the car and begins to walk up to the store quite leisurely. This gives Amani the opportunity to notice the tribal markings on his face three 2 inch vertical lines on both of his cheeks. Having known Kamau for so long it surprised Amani that this was the first time he had really noticed his scars, he can remember seeing them just remembering them as elements of Kamau’s face but now they were like a piece of art that are a part of him. Now attentive to these markings notices Kamau’s scars as he slowly makes his way back to his chair with his ginger beer in hand watching Kamau. He starts to notice how the sweat on Kamau’s face trickles down in between the scars on his face. This is the first time in the multiple decades Amani has known Kamau that he noticed his scars and their beauty. Kamau had a total of 6 scars on his face and 3 horizontal lines on each side of his face, very similar yet distinct from the young buying a soda and a copy of the local newspaper from Malaika in the store. 

“What are you looking at Amani,” Kamau asked curiously as to why he had drawn all this attention from Amani 

“Oh sorry,” said Kamau as realized he was staring “It’s just I never really taken in your scars, you’ve always had them but I’ve never asked about them” 

“Yeah you never have,” Kamau said with a smile ready to tell his story

“We’ll like a lot of markings mine are linked to identification and to differentiate me from others tribes, and these markings can instantly identify with my tribe”

The young man walking out of the store with his soda and newspaper interjected “pardon me sir but are you Makuk” 

“Yes indeed, I am,” Kamau said with a smile as this young man had just perfectly proven his point for him.

“And you are …” Kamau took a long look at the young man’s face as he smiled eagerly to see if Kamau would know where his people were a form

“ Marrai” uttered with a grin as he found the words

The young man nodded with a smile as he introduced himself “ My name is Njoroge”

“I’m Kamau” said Kamau

“I’m Amani” added Amani

“And I’m Malaika” interjected Malaika from behind the counter

“So what brings you to Panaka Njoroge,” asked Amani curiously 

“Well I’m actually studying history at NYU in the states” explained Njoroge, Kamau and Amani’s eyes widened as they heard this and were very impressed being teachers themselves . “ but I’m driving west to see my family in Kokwo (the country where both Kamau and Njoroge’s tribes are from), I haven’t seen them all year because I’m all wrapped in my studies”

“Your kids are studying in the states too, right Kamau ?” asked Malaika 

“Yes they are actually” answered Kamau

“Oh really what are they taking” asked Njororge

“Well my oldest ; Nathan is studying Medicine and my youngest ; Shiku is studying criminology” said Kamau

“Oh wow maybe i’ll run into them” said Njoroge 

“No It’s actually funny, I talk with my kids about how not only do these scars Identify me with my tribe when I’m at home, but they also identify me as African when I visit the states to see my kids” explained Kamau 

“That’s the same with me a lot of Africans I know can pass as black or African American, but everyone can always tell I’m African from my scars” added Njoroge

“Exactly” exclaimed Kamau as he was relating to Njoroge. “ You know I didn’t even know I could be considered black until I went to the states for the first time”

“Really?” inquired Njoroge

“I’m filling out a form at the airport and there’s a variety of multiple-choice boxes

  • Asian
  • American
  • White
  • Hispanic
  • Black 

, imagine that. What am I supposed to pick right?”

Njoroge Nods in agreement

“So I just wrote African at the bottom with my pen”

  • Asian
  • American
  • White
  • Hispanic
  • Black 


Malaika, Amani and Njoroge all laughed at Kamau’s cleverness

“You know you remind me of of one of my profs in new york” said Njoroge to Kamau

“Oh really” Kamau said very flattered

“ My ethnography professor talks alot about the construction of individual identity around race, he kind of gets into the nature vs nurture argument a lot, he believes that identity is more influenced by your culture and people then you choosing what you are ”

“ Your prof is a smart guy ” said Kamau feeling very validated as he had taught many lectures before retirement about this very topic

“It just makes me think that our scars are kind of a symbol of that” added Njoroge

“Exactly, a signifier of who you are in relation to your people” concluded Kamau  

“Thank you for asking me about my scars,” said Njoroge

“Of Course,” said Kamau “

“Thank you for telling us about them” added Amani

“And i will look out for your kids at school when I’m back in the states” Njoroge said walking away 

Kamau and Amani blocked the sun with open palms as they watched Njoroge drive away from the store parking lot. Amani and Kamau were very impressed by the Njoroge, he reminded them of them when they were younger. The connection Amani and Kamau felt towards him was unspoken but powerful. Amani was still thinking about how Head never really noticed Kamau’s scars and was shocked that he was missing what was in front of him the whole time. Amani was thinking about Njoroge’s curiosity about the scars and how he used to halve that same curiosity. Kamau and Amani watched as Njoroge’s car fell behind the horizon line.

“That’s a smart kid” said Malaika  “He remind me of the two of you” 

Kamau and Amani smiled, feeling very flattered. 

Part 2 Malaika and Zuri

The day only got hotter as it went on, this meant that there were more and more customers who came by to quench their thirst. Among these customers was a woman who pulled up to Malaika’s store on a motorbike. Kamau and Amani were in the middle of a friendly yet intense debate about which was better; Mango Nectar or Orange Soda.

“ Mango’s are 100% better than oranges any day” argued Kamau on the side mango nectar 

   “I’ll give you that, but any hot day in the sun you need the carbonation that Orange soda has and

And the mango nectar just doesn’t have that” rebutted Amani

As they were saying this woman dismounted her bike and made her way over to them wiping the sweat from her forehead as she got off the bike. She was wearing a leather jacket that she took off and left on the bike, her skin was hazel and her hair was in bantu knots.

“The Mango nectar box is bigger you get more for your shillings” continued Kamau

Overhearing their conversation the woman approached outside the store

“What is the best beverage for a weary traveller like myself,” asked the woman

“Well that is currently up for debate” Amani cheekily replied as he began to notice her scars

She has a variety of beautiful patterns on her arms and on her chest and back and this took both Kamau and Amani by surprise these were patterns that to the best of their knowledge didn’t belong to anyone specific tribe 

“Don’t listen to them” interjected Malaika, “come in here and I’ll hook you up” 

The woman walks into the store with a smile and Malaika asks “what’s your name?”

“Nzuri” says Nzuri “and yours “ Malaika” 

Kamau and Amani interject from outside the store“ and I’m Kamau”, “and I’m Amani” 

“Well it’s very nice to meet you all” replies Nzuri 

Malaika began to notice Nzuri’s scars and their beauty, this is what was a little overwhelming for her and she caught herself staring.

“My personal recommendation for a hot day like this is Oringina but don’t tell Kamau I said that,” said Malaika teasingly 

“That’s two against one” proclaimed Amani

Nzuri laughed, as she paid Malaika for the ice-cold drink and thanked her. 

“Amani has the bottle opener,” said Malaika 

Nzuri made her way to the front.

“ If you don’t mind me asking,  what is the history behind your scars,” Amani asked politely as he handed her the bottle opener. 

“Well I actually did them myself,” she said proudly 

Amani and Kamau both looked shocked and very impressed and upon hearing this Malaika left the counter of the store to have a better look at them.

“Wow really,” asked Kamau

“Yes” answered Nzuri chuckling “ I actually am a scar artist” she said proudly

“Wow” proclaimed Malaika “I’ve heard of people who do that but never seen it, the designs on your skin are so intricate their really beautiful” Malaika said this but was a little shaken about her decision to scar herself like this and it not being a ritual or part of her tribe specifically.

“Thank you so much,” said Nzuri proudly “your scars are beautiful to Malaika”  

“Oh I don’t really think so,” Malaika said almost embarrassed grazing her fingers over the two 1 inch vertical scars on both of her cheeks

“No they really are, I think–” said Nzuri before she was interrupted by Amani 

“How do you come up with those patterns, there so complex”

Amani and Kamau both know that Malaika doesn’t like talking about her scars so they quickly divert the conversation.

“Well, a lot of my designs are inspired by designs from traditional African clothes and fabrics that have similar patterning, from many different countries, I try to combine many different patterns and style to kinda create a new style” 

Amani was impressed and began to notice even more intricacies in her work.

“Do you do scarification on other people as well ? ” asked Malaika 

“Actually I do,”  Nzuri said as she pulled out her phone to show them photos of all her work.

Nzuri showed the three of them her website that her portfolio of all the scarification art she had done on dozens of people. The three of them scrolled through in awe but especially Malaika who was very shook by the beauty of her work. 

“I never knew people would come and get scars like a tattoo shop” said Malaika very shaken “do they come with ideas and drawings of what they want” 

Amani and Kamau looked at Malaika concerned as to why she was inquiring about a topic which she so often avoided talking about. 

“Well the process is a very collaborative one” Nzuri answered “ Usually a person we’ll come to me with physical art or photos pof art for their tribe, I will look at all the designs their style and the qualities they have and begin to talk about how we can implement that on the person’s body, I  will then create a drawing of how the final design would look on their body and then I can scar the person”

“wow “ said Malaiaka with her jaw dropped “all your work is very beautiful” she added

“Thank you so much, If you don’t mind me asking what’s behind your scars Malaika”

There was a pause that was filled with tension, Amani and Kamau looked at Malakia knowing she doesn’t like discuss her scars” 

“Well it’s actually part of my tribe traditions” said Malaika surprising but easing Kamau and Amani’s concern 

“My mother actually had 2 little girls die at very young ages before she had me” said Malaika very stoically 

Nzuri was visibly shocked, while Amani and Kamau were shocked at Malaika’s willingness to talk about it. 

“In my tribe it is believed that when a child dies when they are a baby they may try to come back again in a different body..” continued Malaika “… and if they children are the same sex like my sisters who have passed” the next child will receive a marking to indicate that they are a child who has come back again in a different body. 

Nzuri stood there in silence clearly shook by Malaika’s story

Malaika pointing to the scar on her cheek said “this is the marking of the first time I came into this world” and then pointing to the scar on her right cheek “this is the marking of the second ”

 The three others stood there speechless

“Well I obviously never knew my sisters but my mother expressed to me how hard it was for her” said Malaika very soberly filling the silence

“I can imagine” said Nzuri compassionately 

“But what surprised me is your choice to perform scarification” said Malaika “for me my scars were not a choice it doesnt mean im embarrassed or would try to hide them but It was not done of my own choice like you”

“Yeah a lot the personal purpose behind my scarification is to have symbols of my history with me and even though it may not be your choice it is still your history” replied nzuri

“ yeah i agree, over the course of my life I’ve come to be proud of them” said Malaika

“ you should be there beautiful” added nzuri

“Thank you’ said Malaika with a smile

“And if you’re ever interested in getting scars of your choosing you can contact straight through my website” said Nzure jokingly

“I will hahaha” chuckled Malaika

“Well I’ve got to go but thank you for the soda and the stories” said nzuri as she finished the last sip of her orange soda and tossed it in the trash

“ No thank you “ said Kamau

“Yes thank you” said Malaika

Nzuri made her way to her motorbike and drove off into the blistering sunset as the three of them waved to her. Malaika was still a little shaken by Nzuri and what she did for a living but their conversation made her feel better about her own scars and her own history and who she was. Kamau and Amani could tell they saw Malaika smiling as she watched Nzuri bike disappear over the horizon like Njoroge. Malaika pulled up Nzuri’s site on her laptop and began to look through her portfolio again but not with eyes that saw the pain of these scars but rather their beauty. she was even considering paying Nzuri a visit as a customer.