Tribal Marks: Time to End the Face Mutilation

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By: Akintola Damilola

[Analyses]–The bill to end the act of mutilation sponsored by Senator Dino Melaye passed its second reading on Wednesday, 22nd March 2017 and we await the final outcome. Despite this, some natives of the Yoruba land have called this injustice and want this act to remain.

The origin of this act dates back to the colonial era when colonial masters captured people and took them away as slaves. People started giving family members marks to identify them upon return or when found. This led to this act being practiced from one family to another thus its spread. This act is done by burning or cutting the skin during childhood and practiced by people among Yoruba of Nigeria, Benin and Togo. Each ethnic group has different inscription patterns namely;

  1. a) Pele- three longitudinal lines common among the people of Ife.
  2. b) Owu- six incisions on each side of the cheeks peculiar to indigenes of Owu, Abeokuta.
  3. c) Gombo- also known as “keke”, multiple straight curve lines about a half an inch apart inscribed on the cheeks and both sides of the mouth. This is mostly found among the people of Ogbomosho in Oyo.
  4. d) Abaja- three or four horizontal stripes on the cheek which appears in different sizes and shapes at different locations within the face, breast, arm, lap and buttocks.

The primary functions of this act are:

  • Identification of tribe, family and patrilineal heritage
  • For beautification
  • For keeping mischievous children alive (Ila Abiku)
  • To confer authority on a child to claim rights, give a command, be a part of the household and have a part in the inheritance of that family.

I would like to begin from here, despite the fact that the motives for doing this are pure; we cannot overlook the need for it to stop. The first reason why this practice started was to identify family members but now that we do not belong to colonial masters anymore (directly), who do we still need to recognize? Are we still expecting some people to return back from slavery after 57 years? How were people from the same family recognized after the marks were given? Did people look so much alike then that it was necessary for this to be done?

Secondly, what kind of beauty does it add to these kids? Instead of beauty, these children have become objects of mockery in the society. Even among their peers, they have no right to talk or relate due to inferiority complex. Don’t blame them, they are even rejected by many in the society and called different names like tiger amongst others. A child is beautiful from birth and doesn’t need to go through painful incisions just to look ugly or in their own words, more beautiful. In addition to this, what more authority does a child need before he or she can speak in his or her own house or have access to his or her family’s inheritance. There is really no call for this.

In conclusion, the act of tribal marks is a culture that has been on for a long time but needs to be brought to an end as it causes pain and anguish.

Copyright 2017 The Page. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to as the source.



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