Ever seen someone with a tribal mark? The answer is most likely a “yes.” Although civilization has largely reduced the popularity of this cultural symbol, it’s still in practice. Tribal marks aren’t just for decorative purposes, they hold several meanings to people and are used for several purposes. Let’s take a look at some Nigerian tribal marks and what they are used for.
By the nature of the tribal mark on someone, one can tell where they are from. These tribal marks come in different shapes and sizes based on the locality of the bearer. Tribal marks became very popular during the colonial era where people were being sold into slavery. These marks were given to enable recognition of family members who were taken away, in the event they gained freedom or found their way back home, many years after.
The place of tribal marks as a symbol of beauty is unknown to many people. This is due to the widespread disapproval that comes with it. Tribal marks are often considered a daint to beauty as they make people look different. However, in some cultures, specific tribal marks are engraved on the skin as a symbol of beauty. These marks are done on specific parts of the body, in specific shapes and sizes, to represent objects of beauty.
- Social class
Tribal marks are largely used to show the different social strata in a given society. In rural communities, members of a royal clan may be given a certain mark which informs people of their royal heritage wherever they go. The King and his family who hold the highest degree of royalty in a community may have special tribal marks that are exclusive to them. Such marks differentiate them from the rest and give them immunity against certain things. Before the advent of Christianity in Igbo land, people who were considered to be Osu (Outcast) were given certain tribal marks to differentaite them for the “free borns.” The mark was necessary to prevent free association with the outcasts as that was considered an abomination in the communities.
- Treatment for diseases
Tribal marks play a vital role in saving lives. In the event of certain illnesses that are considered to be strange, some people go the traditional route of treatment. These marks are engraved on the body of the sick one – and certain locally prepared concoctions are applied on them.
Tribal marks are also used to chase away evil spirits. In the event a dead person is disturbing someone alive by constantly appearing to them, certain marks are made on them as part of spiritual cleansing.
A medium of communication, tribal mark is used to pass different messages to people who share the same cultural beliefs and ideologies in Nigeria. Some of these beliefs may be alien to outsiders, hence, they don’t understand the need for such marks. The next time you see someone with tribal marks, rather than cast aspersions, ask them a question or two about it.