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Are tribal marks primitive?

By Maria Famakinwa

During the days of our forefathers, tribal or facial marks were popular and seen as part of the important aspects of our culture which every ethnic group cherished majorly for identification.

It was a widespread practice across the country then, such that people with tribal marks were not restricted to a particular economic stratum in the society. Aside  identification, tribal marks were used for beautification and to enrich our culture. It was believed that the best way people of the same ethnic group could easily identify one another was through the similarity of their marks.

As important as tribal marks are to the sustenance of our culture, civilization is now taking over to the extent that one can hardly see children born from the 70s till now having facial marks, because most of them see such acts as primitive and archaic. The Hope spoke to some residents of Akure, the Ondo State capital, on their take regarding tribal marks.

In the submission of a banker, Mr Eyiwumi Roland, tribal marks belong to the dark old days. He condemned the act  as he maintained that it is barbaric. ” Why would anyone in the right mind subject him/ herself to much mutiny all in the name of fashion?

“It is another horrible way of inflicting untold pains on innocent infants without their consent, considering the process and manner of facial scarification.”

On what would have been his reaction if he had tribal marks he said, ”It is better imagined than experienced, because I will find it hard to forgive my parents. But I thank God I was not born at the time when having facial marks was in vogue. Many who would have been more attractive have been defaced because of this retrogressive and primitive idea they call fashion. I term it  stupidity to go under the blade, subjecting myself to avoidable torture all in the name of fashion.”

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A 42-year-old self-employed graduate of Business Administration at Oja-Oba, Mrs Yetunde Igbajo, who has bold tribal marks on her face revealed that she wished she could erase them because that  is the first thing people notice in her. ”I do not like the tribal marks because they made me look different from others. Even throughout my days in higher institution, I suffered humiliation from other students. Most of them did not bother to ask for my name but simply called me ‘Owala’ (One with tribal marks).

 ”Though I am not the only student with facial marks, mine were too conspicuous. I asked my parents why they gave me the marks because as at when I was born 42 years ago facial marks were obsolete, but they told me that it was the time my father’s mother died and I looked like her which was why they named me Yetunde, and to disconnect me from her spirit for protection necessitated the facial marks. Even though people say it fits me, I still do not support my parents’ reason for it because the tribal marks subject me to ridicule daily.”

A 56-year-old trader, Mrs Ibukun Olaiya sighted with tribal marks, hinted that she is proud of it since it was the fashion when she was born and compulsory for every first child of her family. ”There is nothing to be ashamed of. This is the mark given to every first child of my family. If you do not have it, then you are a bastard. It is even unthinkable not to have it. Since the marks do not bother me, people can say whatever they like.’’

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On whether her children had facial marks she said that they did not have  because her husband’s family did not see them as important, compared to her own family where every first child needed to have facial marks. Olaiya who explained further that the culture of tribal marks is going into extinction blamed modernization for what she referred to as painful development. ”Most of today’s children do not understand the importance of facial marks which is the reason some of them stare at my face most embarrassingly when they see it. This idea is not good for our culture.”

An artisan, Mr Ayodotun Ibrahim, who also has tribal marks wished there could be any chemical to remove them as he revealed that his tribal marks make him feel inferior. “Comments I receive mostly are that my tribal marks deface me and altered my natural beauty. My parents know that I am not happy with them because they never gave me any tenable reason for defacing me except the fact that I look like my late grandfather who also had the same tribal marks, hence the need to give me his tribal marks.

“Such an excuse is not acceptable to me because our modern day sees tribal marks as a primitive culture that should be prohibited. My children often taunt me with it and I remember that my wife before getting married to me made me realize that she would not want any of her children to be given tribal marks. Comments I receive from people often is that if not for your tribal marks, you would have been more handsome. This statement hurts me a lot but I have to accept my look.”

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A 78-year-old Pa Afolabi Okunola from Oyo State who also has facial marks told our reporter on why it is no longer common to see people with tribal marks. The octogenarian who blamed most of the challenges facing the country on the neglect of our culture for foreign cultures which he noticed affected our identification, tribal marks inclusive warned against its consequences.

 ”When I was a youth, tribal marks were popular and compulsory for most ethnic groups.  Though it might be seen as primitive now because civilization is eroding our culture, it was historically considered to be a form of beautification and identification. Up till now, tribal marks tell you where a person came from. With tribal marks, you can differentiate an Ondo man from Oyo or Ibira.”

Pa Okunola who further advised people not to be too civilized to know the importance of tribal marks added that tribal marks were also used to ward off evil spirits and serve as protection against any attack.  ”All my children have tribal marks because it is compulsory in my family. Though one of my sons, 52 years old, blamed me for giving him tribal marks because he was usually the butt of jokes from people, I never regretted my action to protect my children.

Tribal marks are among the features of our culture which must be passed on to the coming generation with pride but we term it to be old-fashioned due to modernization. We should go back to the religion and beliefs of our forefathers to get things right. The country was better off in the days of traditional religion compared to this era of modernization that is bringing us hardship and pains.’’

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