Culture, Health

Cultural Practise Of Nigerian Tribal Marks – An Overview

Nmesoma Okwudili


April 29, 2023

In Nigeria, tribal marks have been a form of body modification for centuries. In order to create the markings, incisions or cuts are made on the skin, typically on the face or other visible body parts, and a pigment or scarification substance is then applied. Due to the negative effects it can have on individuals, the practise is gradually fading out in other areas of the country, where it is still prevalent.

In Nigeria, tribal marks are most commonly associated with the Yoruba and Hausa tribes, but other ethnic groups, such as the Edo, also have their own distinctive tribal marks. The markings are used for identification, healing, spiritual protection, and aesthetic purposes, among others. In some instances, tribal marks serve as a form of initiation into a community, identifying a person as a member of a particular tribe or clan.

Historically, tribal marks were more prevalent and held greater cultural and symbolic significance. In the Yoruba and Hausa cultures, for instance, tribal marks were viewed as a means of beautifying the face and distinguishing individuals from those of other ethnic groups. In some instances, the markings were also believed to have spiritual or supernatural powers, providing protection from evil spirits and good fortune to the wearer.

However, with the advent of Western religions and the influence of Western culture, tribal markings have declined significantly. Some Nigerians view the markings as a form of abuse or mutilation, particularly when they are inflicted on young children.

Despite the waning popularity of tribal marks, some ethnic groups continue to view them as an integral component of their cultural heritage. For instance, the Owu tribal marks consist of six incisions on each cheek. They are unique to the natives of Owu, an ancient city in Abeokuta, the state capital of Ogun in Nigeria. The markings have significant cultural significance to the Owu and represent their identity and pride.

Tribal marks in the Edo culture are known as iwu and serve spiritual and health purposes. The markings are believed to provide protection against various diseases and are also viewed as a sign of courage and strength. Similarly, the Igbo people of the southeast use marks such as ichi, nsibidi, egbugbu, uli, nki, and ogbanje for spiritual and health reasons.

There are several types of tribal marks among the Yoruba. Pele, the tribal mark of Ile Ife, is composed of three long lines inscribed on the cheeks. Another Yoruba subgroup, the Egbas, have a similar Pele style that resembles a short dash. Additionally, Gombo and Keke are also Yoruba tribal marks. Historically, these tribal marks were used to identify and distinguish members of various Yoruba clans or families.

The Nupe people, a significant minority in Kwara State and Kogi State, also have distinctive tribal marks. Their facial features are marked by multiple curves or a vertical stripe on each cheek. The tribal marks of the Nupe are an integral part of their cultural heritage and a means of identification.

The Hausa tribe in northern Nigeria has its own set of tribal marks. Zube, yan baka, doddori, kalangu, and bille are some examples of Hausa tribal markings. These marks are associated with various subgroups of the Hausa community and have cultural and symbolic significance.

Not all Nigerian tribes practise tribal marking, it should be noted. The Igbo people of southeastern Nigeria, for instance, are not primarily recognised for their tribal marks. Nevertheless, certain Igbo subgroups have their own distinctive markings, such as ichi, nsibidi, egbugbu, uli, nki, and ogbanje, which serve primarily spiritual and health-related functions.

Once widely accepted as cultural symbols, the use of tribal marks has since diminished. The prevalence of tribal marks in Nigeria has decreased as a result of factors such as the impact of Western culture and the detrimental effects of marking on individuals’ well-being. Modern Nigerian society views tribal marks as a form of abuse or mutilation, particularly when they are inflicted on young children.

Individuals with tribal marks may experience emotional and psychological trauma, which is a significant disadvantage. Many young people with tribal marks resent their parents for inflicting them with such scars, and some feel ashamed of their marks. Tribal marks can leave individuals with long-lasting psychological scars and identity crises, leading to a lifetime of unknown challenges.

An additional disadvantage is the social stigma and discrimination that people with tribal marks face. In contemporary Nigerian culture, tribal marks are frequently viewed as antiquated, unhealthy, and satanic. This perception can result in social exclusion, employment difficulties, and overall discrimination against people with tribal marks. The social stigma associated with tribal marks can have a substantial impact on an individual’s self-esteem and quality of life.

There are also health risks associated with tribal marks. Marking the skin with incisions or cuts can result in infections and other complications. Unsanitary practises during the marking process can transmit diseases such as hepatitis B and C, HIV, and tetanus. Additionally, tribal marks are associated with the risks of scarring, keloids, disfigurement, and bleeding. These health risks highlight the potential harm that could be caused by the practise.

It is essential to comprehend and address the negative effects of tribal marks in Nigeria, while preserving cultural diversity. Priority should be given to protecting the well-being and rights of individuals. Education and awareness campaigns can assist in altering societal perceptions and promoting cultural alternatives that do not involve physical harm or stigmatisation.

Despite the cultural significance of tribal marks, it is essential to consider the negative effects they can have on individuals. The markings can result in social stigmatisation and discrimination, making it challenging for people with tribal marks to find employment or integrate into society. In addition, the process of creating tribal marks can be painful and traumatic, leading to infections and other health issues.

As a result of the negative effects of tribal marks, efforts have been made to eradicate or regulate the practise. In 2017, a bill prohibiting tribal marks was passed in Nigeria, recognising them as a harmful cultural practise. Some towns and villages have even enacted penalties for tribal marking offenders, demonstrating the growing awareness of the negative effects and the need for change.

Recent calls have been made to prohibit the practise of tribal markings, particularly on young children. The Nigerian government has enacted legislation prohibiting the practise of marking children under 18 years of age. However, more must be done to raise awareness of the negative effects of tribal marks and to promote cultural practises that do not involve inflicting physical harm on individuals.

In conclusion, tribal marks have played an important role in Nigeria’s cultural heritage for centuries. Despite the fact that the practise retains cultural significance for some ethnic groups, its negative effects on individuals have led to its gradual decline. It is essential to promote cultural practises that do not involve inflicting physical harm on individuals while preserving the rich cultural heritage of Nigeria. Government and civil society organisations have a crucial role to play in raising awareness about the negative effects of tribal marks and promoting more humane alternatives.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related Articles