I remember growing up and also delighted not to have tribal marks on my face as I thought the tribal marks disfigured people’s faces.I also do remember when my younger sister and I were returning home from school,we would make jest of younger children and adults that we saw that had tribal marks on their faces and we would chat on happily about how our parents did not give us tribal marks, not knowing that the tribal marks were a cultural practice in Yoruba land.
The tribal mark is part of the Yoruba culture and it is usually inscribed on the body or face by burning or cutting the skin during childhood.The primary function of the tribal marks is for identification of a person’s family or tribe.Other functions include beautification and keeping mysterious children alive(omo abiku).
The origin of the tribal marks is centered around a slave who lived in the king’s palace.According to popular beliefs, this particular king was in possession of many slaves and this particular slave was caught fornicating with one of the palace guards.The king was angry and in order to punish this slave, he inquired from his youngest wife the kind of punishment that could be meted out to the slave. The Queen said the slave should be taken somewhere and tortured with sharp objects such as knife or razor on her face and locked up for seven days.
After the seventh day, the guards were summoned to bring out the slave and when the guards and the Queen saw her face, her beauty was viewed in another dimension and hence the beginning of tribal marks in that kingdom.
Another story has it that tribal marks started during the colonial era period, when the whites were capturing people for slavery and people had to put tribal marks on their family members for easy recognition in case they were captured and found.
Tribal marks come in different shapes and sizes.For the Ijesa people of Osun state, they are known for their tribal marks known as ‘Pele’ which is a four horizontal line; an inch long mark made on the cheeks on both sides of the mouth.The Ondo people of Ondo State are identified for their marks which are long and thick and are known as ‘Soju’ , which is half an inch vertical lines on both sides of the nose down to the mouth.The Ondo people can also be identified with a mark known as ‘Jaju’ which is just a single horizontal line on both sides of the face.
I will not fail to mention the tribal marks particularly found with the Ibadan, Oyo town and Ogbomosho people known as ‘Abaja’ which is made up of four horizontally drawn lines with two or more vertical lines standing on the topmost horizontal line.Other tribal marks found in Yorubaland are: Gombo, Bamu, Ture, Keke.
In my opinion, I believe it is a good thing that the inscribing of tribal marks is being outlawed because I cannot fathom yet why poor babies should go through the pain all because of beautification or identification.What do you think? Stay glued to this column weekly to read more cultural news.