Posted by Amanda Ibironke on Thursday, January 23, 2014 Under: Fashion, Tradition & Culture

Tribal facial mark is a very interesting feature of some African societies. In this edition, we specifically look at the Yoruba tribe in Nigeria. This physical feature is going into extinction very fast because of modernization and most young people do not find it attractive anymore. They would rather have tattoos all over their body... Tribal or facial mark is a specific mark, which comes in different shapes and sizes, commonly found on the face.

There are various tribal marks, by different ethnic groups within the Yoruba ethnic group. Facial marks have a long history on the African Continent. Archaeological findings reveal bronze heads fashioned in Ile-Ife, Osun State-Nigeria, 700 years ago with facial lines that are thought by many to be ethnic markings. Ancient Nigerian Kingdom of Benin also had sculptural objects carrying facial markings. In Yorubaland, tribal marks are usually connected with a tribe or tribes; the tribal art of a people. If we look at the cheeks of the vast majority of the people of Nigeria, especially the Yorubas, we would observe that a great variety of tribal marks consisting of a number of ‘scars’ on the cheeks are arranged in different patterns.

There are different reasons behind the design and use of these tribal marks. Some of the marks are used as punishment for slaves, others as means of identification during the early ethnic and tribal wars in Nigeria and also as an act of facial beautification. With close examination, one would observe that these tribal marks differ from one area to the other and one community to the other. These marks serve as identification of "membership" of one of the major sub-tribes among the great people of Yoruba. The Ijesa people are known by “pele”. Pele is a-four-horizontal-line; a-quarter-of-an-inch-long 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). Other Yoruba ethnic groups have different types of facial marks. Natives of Ogbomoso from Oyo State are identified by multiple straight and curved lines (Gombo) on both sides of the face. Other sub-groups within Yoruba nation have only curved lines on both sides of their face. Even, a particular mark may have varieties among neighbors; for instance, Pele has about three versions: Pele Ijesa (mentioned above) Pele Ekiti (quarter-of-an-inch-horizontal-line) and Pele Akoko (about the same length, but comes in either vertical or horizontal format); the style will depend on Akoko by Ekiti, Bini and Okun neighbors.

Other Yoruba tribal marks includes: Ture, Bamu, Keke/Gambo, Abaja, Mandae and Agbaja. Tribal marks are mostly given to people at a very young age most especially when they are babies. This is because at that age, the child doesn't have a say on decisions to giving him/her tribal marks. The people who make these marks use either razor blades or sharp knives to cut the face and they have native dye, pigmentation or black paste usually from grinded charcoal dust which is put into the open wound to stain the marks, stop the bleeding and to heal the wound.

In : Fashion, Tradition & Culture 

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