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How relevant are tribal marks in modern societies?

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By FEMI OGUNSHOLA

News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) Feature

In Africa, tribal marks are used for beautification and identification. In war times, it was used by communities to distinguish their indigenes from their enemies. In other communities, in addition to the above functions, it also serves other purposes. For instance, in many parts of Igbo, traditional marks such as Ichi can be used to identify certain traditional titles and initiation into age grades and societies.

A similar scenario is obtainable in other parts of Nigeria such as the Yorubas in the South West and Kanuris in Borno, North East Nigeria.

While many people with tribal marks carry them with dignity, others such as Rasak Abdullahi, who hails from Ilorin in Kwara State, whose face has the Gobirawa tribal mark is not comfortable with it, considering it as an irreparable damage to his face.

A student of Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria, Kaduna State, Nigeria, Razak said sometimes he would look at his face in the mirror and be angry at those who left the marks on his face.

Mr Kehinde Olaifa, an indigene and resident of Ogbomosho says he often get furious each time he sees the mark on him, describing the action if his parents as “wicked and uncharitable“ to have inflicted such mark on him.

He is of the opinion that such marks negate current happening in the society, as it makes one look weird and out of tune with modern realities.

Mr Adekeye Babatunde, a Yoruba tutor, says tribal mark is one of the oldest practices among Africans, especially Yoruba in the South West Nigeria, among the popular tribal marks are; Ogbomosho, Oyo, Gombo, Pele, Abaja, Ondo in South West Nigeria.

He explained that tribal marks have always been a significant part of our culture, noting that Yoruba is one of the cradles of such practice.

He says that the practice extends beyond these tribes, but it is an undeniable fact that it is a well- entrenched practice among them.

“Tribal marks are indelible marks of various sizes and shapes designed on the cheeks. It varies from one community to another and from one family to another.

“As it relates to Ogbomosho, one of the oldest indigenous communities in Oyo state, South West Nigeria, has a distinct style of tribal marks,” he said.

He says that Ogbomoso for instance is known for multiple straight line marks called ‘Gombo’ with a deep slant one called ‘Bamu’ the depth and conspicuous nature of their Bamu makes that of Ogbomoso a notable one.

He however says that much as this practice has survived the dynamic of time, it is bowing to civilisation, adding that the practice is aggressively fading away, while new tribal marks are being seen as sign of uncivilised practices.

He opines that the existing people with these marks may not be proud of it, sequel to the overriding influence of civilization and the fast erosion of the practice among the new breed of the people of Ogbomosho.

According to Mr Abiodun Abioye, a historian the process of making tribal marks is excruciating. These, he said, include; scarification techniques, razor blade and very sharp knife are often used to make them on children’s faces or other parts of their bodies.

“Then they rub native dye from charcoal marks to prevent the skin from closing up as the body tries to heal itself. The native dye also helps to stop bleeding”, he said.

Abioye who is also the former Secretary General Ogbomosho World Wide, said tribal mark was initially seen as a form of identification, but current event due to civilisation has overtaken it.

“A deep look into history, suggest that the practice of tribal marks has been in existence for hundreds of years and they are not peculiar to Nigeria and Africa”, he was recently quoted as saying.

Abioye said the main purpose of tribal marks is for identification of members of same tribes or families.

He said that unfortunately, due to civilization, this age long practice is on the decline in Africa as many families shun it for fear of being seen as uncivilized or standing out in the crowd.

But Abioye said that civilisation is taking the shine off tribal marks as it is no longer fashionable among the people especially those who hitherto fancy the marks.

“Back in our secondary school days, no one wanted to woo or go out with a lady or guys with tribal mark, we see it as a culture that is no longer in vogue, it is a culture that is being resented,”Abioye said.

“Tribal marking remains an ancient practice that should be stopped because it is generally repulsive and abusive, especially when used on young children who can’t defend themselves from its invasiveness. Sadly, they would have to face the consequences of having it when they grow older”, argues Yewande Ade in piece published in History Yesterday.

Many Nigerians who found themselves in this unpleasant situation has adopted orthodox means to get rid of the marks, they perceived as a dent on their beauty. Though some have had a successful surgery are in no doubt regretting ever toying that path

Recent legislative developments in Nigeria favour those who think that tribal marks should not be on children. For instance, the Child’s Rights Act 1993, as domesticated by some states such as Oyo prohibits that saying “no person shall tattoo or make a skin mark or cause any tattoo or skin mark to be made on a child.”  (NANFeatutres)

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