The facial marks are one way in which a person’s origin and ethnic group are known. They are unique identification and beautification marks applied to people’s faces or bodies.
According to some oral traditions, the practice of giving tribal marks is an age-old tradition that began in Nigeria during the slave trade, when people began giving their family members marks to identify them if they were captured.
Some of the marks were on the cheeks, while others were on the forehead, chin, stomach, hands, and other body parts. The marks can be drawn vertically, horizontally, or both. Almost every tribe in Nigeria has distinctive marks that set them apart from others.
The Yoruba are a prominent tribe that practices this culture the most. Despite speaking the same language, the people are well known for their facial marks, which differ depending on town, lineage, and family.
The markings, known as ila in Yoruba, are performed by professionals known as Oloola, and people with tribal marks are known as Okola.
These marks are created using the scarification technique and razor or sharp objects. They then rub a native dye made of charcoal to stop any bleeding and to keep the skin from closing up.
They are typically administered during infancy, so a child cannot choose whether or not to receive them. The child grows up to meet it head-on.
As it identifies the family or the person’s origin, it is a traditional sign of honour and a clear indication that the child is not a bastard. Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, former President of Nigeria, proudly displays his Owu tribal marks, which he once described as his “natural identity card.”
Facial marks were also used for cosmetic purposes. Tita riro lan ko Ila, to ba jina adi oge is a Yoruba proverb: “The incisions are very painful, but when they heal, the marks become a beautiful thing to admire.”
Culture is defined as “a way of life of a people.” Their customs, laws, traditions, norms, language, occupation, and cuisine are all included.
In Yoruba land, the various facial marks are:
The Pele mark is unique to the people of Ile-Ife, Osun State (Pele Ife), but it is also a general Yoruba marking system, as almost all Yoruba towns have their own version of the mark. Pele Ijebu, which represents the Ijebu people, and Pele Ijesha, which represents the Ijesha people, are the other variants of the Pele. On the cheeks, three long vertical lines are drawn.
Six incisions are made on each side of the cheek to create the Owu marks. It is the Egba people’s mark in Abeokuta, Ogun State. These marks were discovered on the face of former President Olusegun Obasanjo.
The Gombo marks, also known as Keke, are made up of several straight and curved lines inscribed about half an inch apart on the cheeks on both sides of the mouth. On each cheek, four long vertical lines are drawn from the scalp and curved into four perpendicular lines. The Gombo marks are unique to the Ogbomosho community in Oyo State. The late Chief Ladoke Akintola, the former Premier of the Western Region, was one prominent person who bore this mark.
The Abaja tribal mark is associated with Oyo indigenes. The mark can be simple or complex in design. The mark forms three or four horizontal stripes on the cheeks. The intricate style is inscribed with 12 horizontal lines, six lines per cheek, and is known as Abaja Alaafin Mefa mefa. These tribal marks were inscribed on the late Alaafin of Oyo’s cheek.
The Ture is another Yoruba tribal mark consisting of three long horizontal lines and three short vertical lines, for six on each cheek.
Mande, Bamu, and Jamgbadi are the others. Another type of incision is done to identify a child by inscribing the child’s name, date of birth, and family compound. This inscription is always done on the stomach and is common among Oyo town indigenes. This simply means that if a lost child was discovered, they would check his stomach and return him to his family compound.
People with tribal marks have been given derogatory names by society, resulting in a decline in this practice.
As important as tribal marks were for beautification and identification, they are no longer widely used due to civilisation. Some laws have been passed prohibiting the use of tribal marks. For example, in Oyo State, anyone who makes or causes a skin mark or tattoo on a child faces a fine, one-month imprisonment, or both.