Is Tribal Marks Still In Vogue?

Tribal marks, which were used as a means of identification, inoculation against diseases and beautification in the past, is fast fading out. This is due to several reasons. Timothy Opaluwa of Leadership. Newspaper writes.

​Tribal marks, which were used as a means of identification, inoculation against diseases and beautification in the past, is fast fading out. This is due to several reasons. Timothy Opaluwa writes.Kunle Idowu, 54-year-old, is an Abeokuta businessman. He has severally been asked jokingly by friends if he was attacked by a Tiger or Loin. That is because he wears the tribal marks known as ‘Abaja Owu’; a three bold horizontal marks atop three equally visible vertical ones on each cheek of his handsome face.

According to Idowu, “I cannot subject my children to the embarrassment I suffered over the marks I have on my face. Even in my school days, they called me all sorts of names because of the severe tribal marks my grandparents put on my face. I have been rejected by ladies severally due to the marks on my face.”

Nowadays, tribal marks have become the dying tradition of ancient days. Some of the young people who have it on their faces, feel resentment towards their parents for giving them such scars in the first place.

Across the major and minor tribes in Nigeria, tribal marks have become a way of identification. Ethnic groups such as the Yoruba, Hausa, Kanuri, Nupe, Jarawa in Plateau and Igala, among many others, were known to have some of the marks. Such marks reveal, instantly, the tribe of any one who has it.

Giving reasons why tribal marks are predominantly used in some parts of Nigeria, an expert in History and Philosophy, Dr Babalola Adeyinka, who spoke to LEADERSHIP Weekend, said, “Tribal marks came into Nigeria during the colonial era when the colonial masters were capturing people and taking them to foreign countries for slavery. People started giving their family members marks to locate them if ever they were captured and to recognise them when they are freed. These permanent marks are ways of identification passed on from family to family, members of the same village, identification of royal lineage and people from the same lineage.

“It was also used during the period of inter-tribal wars. It was a simple means of knowing where someone came from; that is to identify their towns of origin and families. People believe that a person with tribal marks will not remain missing for too long. Such a person, if separated from his relations during war or other conflicts, would meet someone who would identify his town and even his family through this marks. Such wars have ceased making tribal marks is a thing of the past,” Adeyinka explained. Continuing, he said some people also give these marks for protection against certain diseases. “The marks were not only given on the face, but also on the chest, back, stomach, thigh or arm. For instance, in Akoko-Edo area of Edo State, the three-quarter-inch vertical mark on each cheek is an inoculation against convulsion, which is mandatory for babies. Since most childhood killer diseases now have vaccines, herbal or local inoculations that resemble facial marks are fast going out of fashion. In recent times, it is very difficult to find tribal marks on people who are younger than 35 years in Nigeria. The culture may remain a while with traditional institutions, but this also will disappear with time,” Adeyinka noted.

Corroborating Adeyinka, An octogenarian, Alhaji Bolaji Adekunle, who also spoke to LEADERSHIP Weekend, noted that tribal marks were used as a source of identification in the olden days.

“People who were migrating to other places had these marks given to them as a mark of identification so that whosoever came in contact with them would know instantly where they were coming from. For instance, there are tribal marks that tell you instantly that someone is an Egba man, an Ilaje person or an Ijesha man. In my days, they are considered beautiful. I am a first son and I was given these beautiful marks at birth. Ironically, things have changed. None of my children or grandchildren has any tribal mark. That tradition is fading out now.”

It is interesting to note that tribal marks are not limited to Nigeria alone, but to other countries as well. For instance, the Nuer of Sudan gives their tribal marks as a mark of transition from childhood to boyhood; hence, it is meant only for boys from age 15 and above. It is a ritual deserving a lot of courage as the traditional healer usually cuts each of the six vertical marks so deep that the cheek bones are often exposed!”

“After the marks heal, the Nuer boy becomes a responsible and respected man in his community. He can then marry and settle down to adult life.”

Going down memory lane, it could be recalled that from the first republic to the present day, Nigeria has had several leaders who wore their tribal marks like garments of honour. Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Ahmadu Bello, Obafemi Awolowo, Chief Ladoke Akintola , Chief Lamidi Adedibu, General Abacha, Chief Richard Akinjide, Olusegun Obasanjo amongst others wore distinct tribal marks that stood them out in the days they held sway.

Although these marks have a long history of tradition and culture, some Nigerians believe the practice of tribal marks should be stopped, because they are old-fashioned.

A medical doctor, Godwin Atabo, wonders why anybody should still be interested in tribal marks in spite of the deadly infections, including hepatitis and HIV, which can be transmitted in the process. Atabo advises that since the process, unlike male circumcision, cannot be done in hospitals with properly sterilised equipment, it should be discouraged.

Some Nigerian states have enacted laws to ban giving children tribal marks and imposing heavy fines on violators or prison terms.

For instance, Ayo Fayose, the governor of Ekiti State, made facial marks and tattoos illegal in the state in 2006 in line with its Child Rights Law. Also, former governor of Osun State, Olagunsoye Oyinlola, banned people in the state from giving facial marks or tattoo to their children.

Nowadays, many children are no longer given tribal marks, thanks to modernization and extant laws.

Culled from Leadership Newspapers

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