If you look deeply into history, the practice of tribal marks has been in existence for hundreds of years and they are not peculiar to Nigeria, not even Africa. In Yoruba land, tribal marks are called “Ila“. They were used primarily for beautifying the face and body and then 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 fashionable.)
Tribal marks are crafted normally on the cheek but some are crafted in 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 as the local surgeon begins this sacred 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; the tribal art of people. If you check the cheeks of the some Yorubas, you would observe that a great variety of tribal marks consisting of a number of scars on the cheeks are arranged in different patterns depending on the locality.
However, in recent times the trend has reduced drastically due to the plethora of medical and psychological worries normally associated with its presence on the body of the wearer. Recently, a bill banning its practice has passed a second hearing in the Nigerian Senate.
Before this practice gets confined to pages of history books, we have decided to create a gallery of notable Yoruba “Tribal Tatoo” patterns
The Ogbomoshos of Oyo state draw this 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 half of an inch apart inscribed on the cheeks on both sides of the mouth. The gombo style is as remarkable as it is intriguing to see.
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 has different variants. The variants include; Pele Ife, a three longitudinal line inscribed on the cheek. It is peculiar to the Ile Ife people. Pele Ijebu and Pele Ijesha are other variants of Pele. Both variants are similar to the Pele Ife, but shorter.
Owu tribal marks consist of six incisions on each side of the cheeks and are peculiar to the indigenes of Owu, a historical city in Abeokuta, the capital of Ogun State, Nigeria.
Other Yoruba tribal marks include Ture, Mande, Bamu, and Jamgbadi.
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. Ila is now very old-fashioned and has steadily been replaced by more modern tattoos.
The latter comes in a variety of colors and designs and is done with sophisticated machines for perfection opposing tribal marks that was only manually crafted in mostly unsterilized environments.