Tribal marks in Yoruba land are called “Ila”. They were used primarily for beautifying the face and body. This trend has existed for as long as 200 years ago. They were first used as a means of identification during the era of slave trade.
Tita riro lan’ko ila, toba jina tan adi oge – (Translation: The process of having a tribal mark is arduous but when it heals, it becomes fashion.)
Tribal marks are crafted normally on the cheek but some are crafted on other parts of the body. Ila is crafted with a razor sharp object and a black powder is rubbed onto it. It is always a dreaded experience. The local surgeon begins his traditional journey deep into your flesh. The vertical and horizontal cuts are made as the case may be on each side of your cheeks. Now you can be identified wherever you go with that identity, rather than the ID card in your wallet.
In Yoruba Land, tribal marks are usually connected with a tribe or tribes; tribal art of people. If you check the cheeks of the Yorubas, you observe that a great variety of tribal marks consisting of a number of scars on the cheeks, are arranged in different patterns. The marks can be vertical or horizontal.
The Ogbomoshos in Oyo state have a quite interesting pattern. It usually comes with six lines from the middle of the head to the jaw on both sides and one across from under the jaw bone, another one right across the nose ridge. It consists of multiple straight and curved lines about a half of an inch apart inscribed on the cheeks on both sides of the mouth.
People from Ibadan have four or three horizontal lines on both cheeks straight to the boundaries of the ears, often thicker than that of Ogbomosho’s. Abaja can be both basic and also complex in style. In its basic form, is either three or four horizontal stripes on the cheeks. This tribal mark is unique to the indigenes of Oyo, Nigeria.
The Pele style is three longitudinal lines, inscribed on the cheeks. Pele have different variants. The variants includes; Pele Ife, a three longitudinal line inscribed on the cheek. It is peculiar to the Ile Ife people. Pele Ijebu and Pele Ijesha are another variants of Pele. Both variants are similar to the Pele Ife, but shorter.
Owu tribal marks consists of six incisions on each side of the cheeks and peculiar to the indigenes of Owu, an historical city in Abeokuta, the capital of Ogun State, Nigeria. Other Yoruba tribal marks include Ture, Mande, Bamu and Jamgbadi.
They have however drastically fallen out of fashion, there has been a known law at a certain Yoruba owned state abolishing facial tribal marks (Oyo state). Ila is now very old fashioned and has steadily been replaced by more modern tattoo. The latter comes with variety of colours and designs and is done with sophisticated machines for perfection opposing tribal marks that was only manually crafted.
Today, the practice of facial markings is on the wane. Hardly will you find parents subscribing to the idea anymore. This is especially true in the cities. The pain and risk of infection, coupled with scorn from people not properly disposed to the tradition are some of the factors taking facial marking to oblivion.