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Wednesday 20th February 2019,
Hope for Nigeria

Tribal Marks: A Receding Identity Culture

Tribal marks

Our tribal marks which distinguishing facial or bodily marks Nigerians of different cultures inflicted on their peoples, are now being relegated as archaic.

Only few believe they should be retained for preservation of culture and tradition, while many push for its complete effacement.

ANAYO ONUKWUGHA, Port Harcourt; EMMANUEL MGBEAHURUIKE, Owerri; Joshua Dada, Osogbo and BEATRICE GONDYI, Bauchi, write about the dying culture of giving birth marks.


Tribal marks


In Rivers State, the people of Etche stand out because of their unique tribal or facial marks. It is not so in neighbouring Ikwerre clan as there is no distinguishing tribal mark among the people, only the people of Ndele community in Emohua Local Government Area of the state have peculiar facial marks.

The facial marks of the people of Ndele community are on both sides of the face of both male and female members of the community. These marks are given to the sons and daughters of the community at infancy.

A source in the community told LEADERSHIP Weekend the origin of the facial marks is as old as the community, pointing out that the founders of Ndele used the marks to distinguish children of the community from their peers in neighbouring communities.

The facial marks of the people of Etche are at the centre of the fore head and on both sides of the face, very close to the eyes. The sons and daughters of the community are so marked a little after their birth for easy identification.

A traditional ruler in Etche, Chief Livinus Njoku, told LEADERSHIP Weekend the facial marks are for both spiritual and beauty purposes.

“There are two types of tribal or facial marks that you see on the face of every Etche man, woman, boy or girl today. The marks have been there right from the foundation of Etcheland.

“The marks you see at the centre of the forehead is for spiritual purposes. Our fathers believed that there are certain evil spirits that possess newborn babies and these children will likely die if care is not taken.


Tribal marks



“They believed that for the evil spirits that possessed these new born babies to leave them, the blood of the babies must be spilled through a facial mark. We have continued in that tradition today despite the advent of Christianity.

“The marks on both sides of the face, close to the eyes are just for beauty. Etche people just like all other Igbo people believe that facial side mark gives beauty and today, these marks have distinguished an Etche man or woman from other people in Rivers State,” Njoku said.

In Yorubaland, tribal marks are somewhat cultural and used for the identification of people of different clans and communities of the Yoruba ethnic nationality. In the past, a lot of premium was placed on the issue by the leaders.

In Osun State, there are various dialects that distinguish one area from the other, although all the people are Yoruba. For example, there are the people of Oyo, igbomina, Ife and Ijesa whose individual dialect distinguish them from one another.

The people also have tribal marks that distinguish people of the various communities in the state from one another. People from Ife, Ijesa and Igbomina have similar tribal marks of three vertical marks of varying sizes on their cheeks while among Oyo people, there are three or four horizontal marks across the cheeks. Some other communities in Oyo have three vertical marks on the paralleled ones.

Besides, there are also marks to identity princes and princesses and it was said that you cannot ascend the throne if you don’t have these marks. Such was the importance of tribal mark as an instrument of identification in Osun State in the early days.

However, tribal marks are no longer in vogue and so are not being promoted as many sons and daughters distance themselves from the culture. Even people in the remotest areas of the state no longer engage in the practice to avoid being stigmatized as local people.

It has got to a stage that a non-governmental organisation has threatened to drag whosoever puts such a mark on the cheek of their children to court. Indeed, nobody, not even the traditional rulers who are custodians of culture and tradition are promoting the continuation of tribal marks on the people.

Known as the Eastern heartland, Imo State is one of the five typical Igbo states. It shares boundaries with Abia, Anambra, Rivers and Delta states.
The state is homogenous with a common language which is the Igbo with distinguishing dialects and variants. As a typical Igbo state, tribal mark is not part of the culture of the people and is alien to them. This is because etymologically, the people never inherited this from their ancestors.

No single local government, community or village has any form of tribal marks that distinguishes it from indigenes of other parts of the state. Indeed, the people do not bear tribal marks.

Tribal marks are a form of identity for many people. It serves different purposes in different cultures. It is a form of identity that enables relatives to know one another. Reasons for tribal marks range from heritage, tribal distinctions and affiliations.

In Bauchi State, there are people with Kanuri marks who are indigenes of Bauchi. They don’t speak Kanuri but you find them in Kirfi and Misau local government areas of the state.

For Abdullahi Yero, 37 who resides in Gwallameji area of Bauchi, he is of Fulani extract and has the short vertical marks on each side of his cheeks. He explained that his tribe is called Bororoji and his dialect is slightly different from the Fulfulde of Adamawa and the Jahunawas from Bauchi town who he said have compromised their Fulani dialect with Hausa.
Amina Nyam, 30, on the other hand, is Jarawa by tribe from Boto area of Tafawa Balewa. She has two thin vertical marks which she said were given to her as a little girl. She vowed not to give any of her children the marks.

For Alhaji Yakubu Shuaibu, 57 who is a butcher, he said he is Hausa by tribe and that his marks which were three short strokes by the upper side of his face and one long diagonal slash was given to him for identification. He said in those days it was common practice for butchers to be given these marks so that anywhere you go in Hausaland you would be identified as a butcher.

Saying the marks help in identifying your trade and the community you come from, he, however, observed that the practice is no longer in vogue as religion has replaced a lot of these traditions. He said he doesn’t encourage his children to have the marks but his first son decided to get it on his own.

Also Hassan Mohammed, 22, a Fulani from Mararaban Liman Katagum said he was given the marks when he was 12 years old and he likes the marks as it is a source of beauty and identification.

The reasons for giving the marks according to 53 year old Hussaini Abubakar, a Fulani from Yola Adamawa State is for identification as there are different dialects of the tribe. He said “the practice is still flourishing in the rural areas. It is a tradition for identification because when we meet at the market square or other social gatherings and conflict erupts, you may be fighting your brother without knowing it. So we give it for easy identification.”

He said the marks are usually given on the eight day after birth by some special people in the clan who use a special knife to carry out such marks.

He added that charcoal is also used on the fresh marks for the wounds to heal and to prevent loss of blood. He added that as a Fulani man, if you don’t have marks you lack identity but the practice is gradually fading as religion has superseded any cultural traditions.

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1 Comment

  1. Ikedi July 8, 2018 at 5:09 pm

    Beautifully written. This is helpful. It is objective…

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