Tribal Marks In Africa, Not Appealing to Some, A Rite of Passage and A Sign of Beauty to Others
The tribal marks are part of the Africa culture and are usually inscribed on the body by burning or cutting of the skin during childhood. Intentional scarification on the face may not be appealing to some, nevertheless, it is a rite of passage and a sign of beauty to others. Tribal marks are also used as an indicator of which tribe a person belongs to. Here is an explanation of some African tribal marks and their meanings.
Scarification, as a cultural activity, is widely performed across Africa. In essence, it is the practice of incising the skin with a sharp instrument, (such as a knife, glass, stone, or coconut shell) in such a way as to control the shape of the scar tissue on various parts of the body.
Cicatrization is a special form of scarification, whereby a gash is made in the skin with a sharp instrument, and irritation of the skin caused by applying caustic plant juices forms permanent blisters. Dark pigments such as ground charcoal or gunpowder are sometimes rubbed into the wound to provide emphasis. These cuts, when healed, form raised scars, known as keloids. The most complicated cicatrization was probably found in the Congo Basin and neighbouring regions, and among the Akan speakers of West Africa.
Facial scarification in West Africa is used for identification of ethnic groups, families, individuals, but also to express personal beauty. It is also performed on girls to mark stages of the life process, such as puberty, marriage etc.
They can assist in making them more attractive to men, as the scars are regarded as appealing to touch as well as to look at, but also as testimony that women will be able to withstand the pain of childbirth. The Tiv of Nigeria value women with raised scars as mates because they consider scarified women more sexually demanding and therefore, likely to bear more children. The Tiv claim the raised scars stay sensitive for many years and they produce erotic sensations in both men and women when touched or stroked.
The art of scarification is changing in Africa. In many communities, scarification patterns can now be seen only on the elderly. Ironically, people from both African and Western societies go under the knife in order to perfect their bodies. In the West, however, people prefer to hide their scars!
Types of Tribal Marks
Since tribal marks are used mainly to differentiate ethnic groups, they vary. There are marks on the cheeks, forehead, on the temple, under the chin and so on.
These marks can be in vertical lines, horizontal, or both. They could also come in slanted lines on both cheeks. These marks are in patterns based on the ethnic group of their bearer and have different meanings and different names
Yoruba tribal marks is really an interesting feature of Yoruba nation; although no longer common or in vogue, it is fast disappearing due to extant laws, and international campaign.
There are various tribal marks, by different ethnic groups within the Yoruba nation: Ijesa (a town in Osun state) people are known by “pele.” Pele is a-four-horizontal-line; an-inch-long mark made on the cheeks on both sides of the mouth.
The Ondo natives of Ondo State are identified by half-an-inch-vertical lines on both sides of the nose down to the mouth (marks are thick and long) called “Soju”. Another tribal mark which can also be found in Ondo state is called “Jaju” which is just a single horizontal line on both sides of the face.
Other Yoruba ethnic groups have different types of facial marks; Ogbomosho natives of (Oyo State) are identified by multiple straight marks drawn from the head which curves on the lower chin straight to the corner of the mouth on both sides of the face called “Gombo”
Also prone to Ibadan, Oyo town and the Ogbomosho People (all these three towns are located in Oyo State) is a tribal mark called Abaja. Abaja is made up of four horizontally drawn lines with two or more vertical lines standing on the topmost horizontal line.
Other types of tribal marks that exist among the Yorubas includes Ture, Bamu, Keke, among others.
In Igboland, tribal marks were scarification process is called igbu ichi, and scar called ‘ichi’. However, tribal marks in Igboland cannot be compared to that of the Yorubas as they were much smaller in size and fewer in number of markings.
Like the Yorubas, the Hausas also have names for tribal marks like zube, yan baka, doddori, bille and so on.
The Owu marks consist of six cuts on each cheek. This type of marking is used by the inhabitants of Owu, a historical city in Abeokuta in Ogun State, Nigeria.
Also referred to as Keke, consists of a collection of lines – short and curved half an inch apart on both sides of the mouth. The people of Ogbomsho in Oyo State use this type of markings.
It consists of a basic and complex style. The simplistic style is three or four horizontal lines on both cheeks; it can also include six lines on either cheek.
Bor Dinka tribal mark
This mark is indigenous to the Bor Dinka people of South Sudan. It is said that this marking was used as an indicator of a male child belong to a particular lineage.
The Gar marking is done by the Nuer people in South Sudan and southwestern Ethiopia. Scars are usually unique within each tribe, nonetheless, the most common include the men having six parallel horizontal lines across the forehead with an on top of the nose indentation and the women usually adorn dotted patterns across their skin.
The Dinka tribe comprises of many ethnic groups and each practice unique religions. They inhabit the East and West Banks of River Nile, from Mangalla to Renk, regions of Bahr el Ghazal, Upper Nile and Abyei Area of the Angok Dinka in South Khordofan of Sudan.
Their tribal marks are comprised of several lines carved on the forehead on each side ultimately forming a V shape. This is done to signify the transition from a boy to a man; if the boy screams or shows signs of being in pain, he is characterized as being weak.
Usually performed on girls from Benin, these tribal marks consist of a grid pattern on the face. It is said the marking is to suggest plant growth; which is a metaphor for child-bearing and the well-being of one’s household.
The Woodaabe, Mbororo, or Bororo tribe are a sub-group of the Fulani tribe. The women adorn various patterns of tribal marks on their face which are then dyed to enhance the scar’s appearance. It is said the marks are to block evil spirits and for beautification purposes.
This is not an extensive list of the unique body markings performed throughout the continent. Nevertheless, it is important to note that though these traditions have a significant meaning, they are becoming less important in many tribes especially because it is done at an early age. Some countries are beginning to impose fines and jail time for those who perform body markings. This is said to be done to protect the welfare of children.