Yoruba tribal marks: An African Cultural and Historical Identity
The Yoruba tribal marks give specific identification or beautification to an indigene or a member of the race. Tribal marks are part of the Yoruba culture and are usually inscribed on the body by burning or cutting of the skin at childhood. Taiwo Akintunde examines various tribal marks in Yoruba land.
Popular amongst Yoruba people of Nigeria, Benin, and Togo, the primary function of the tribal marks is for identification of a person’s tribe, family or patrilineal heritage.
Other secondary functions of the marks are symbols of beauty, Yoruba creativity and keeping mischievous children alive such as Ila Abiku.
During the trans-Atlantic slave trade, tribal identification and facial stripes became important. Some repatriated slaves later reunited with their communities by looking at facial stripes.
These tribal marks assigns a child full clan membership rights. The child is called Okola. Families or individuals lacking the normal features consistent with the tribe are not considered as acquiring full standing as agents in Yoruba society.
How are tribal marks made?
Tribal marks are made through scarification technique. People who make these marks usually use razors or sharp objects to make them on children’s faces or other parts of their bodies. Then they rub native dye from charcoal marks to prevent the skin from closing up as the body tries to heal itself.
- Identification Tribal marks in Nigeria have always been a significant part of our culture. Yoruba land is one of the cradles of this practice. fy the bearer of the mark as one of the family or clan members. People may have different types of marks according to their villages and families origin.
- Religion and Spiritual Protection Some facial marks can be identified as part of religious practices. In some parts of Yoruba land tribal marks on the face are believed to grant spiritual power to children, protect a child from evil spirits and stop death from taking the child at the very young age. This practice can be witnessed not only in Yoruba but also in many other tribes of Nigeria.
- Healing Purposes One of the most unusual meanings associated to tribal marks is connected to traditional healing practices. Healers in some tribes mark children faces and bodies to help them to recover. It was used to treat children with measles, pneumonia, and convulsion. The healing marks could be made on any part of the body. These marks are very small and often difficult to spot.
- Beautification Purposes Tribal marks in Nigeria were also used for beautification purposes. Traditional men and women believed that tribal marks made them look more attractive.
Some Yoruba Tribal Marks
- Ile Ife tribal mark (Pele)
This style is called the Pele. It’s simply three long lines inscribed on the cheeks. Pele is popular among Ile Ife people, but almost every Yoruba tribe has their own form of pele; for the Egbas their pele looks more like a not too long dash.
- Egba tribal mark (Owu)
It`s called Owu. It is six incisions on each side of the cheek. It’s the indigenous type of mark for Owu in Abeokuta, Ogun State. You can find this facial mark on Chief Olusegun Obasanjo.
- Ogbomosho tribal mark (Keke or Gombo)
Gombo also called Keke. This tribal mark consists of curved and straight lines inscribed on both sides of the cheek. This mark is indigenous to Ogbomosho.
- Oyo tribal mark (Abaja)
This mark is called Abaja. It’s a form of three or four horizontal stripes on the cheek; it is possible to see up to twelve stripes on the cheeks. This mark is unique for Oyo people. You can find this mark on Oba Lamidi Adeyemi III.
Parents do not need tribal marks for identification anymore, a lot of villages and tribes no longer make marks on children’s faces or any part of their bodies for the purpose of identification. Although there are some Yoruba people who still make marks on both children and adults for spiritual purposes.