As a child I was fascinated with tribal marks, something about it appealed to me, maybe both my parents having tribal marks was part of the fascination.
There are a couple of narratives around the origin of tribal marks in Yoruba land. One narrative is how Sango started the practice using marks to reward or discipline his slaves, eventually realizing how beautiful it was favored the practice. Tribal marks were also used for identifying origins of slaves during the slave trade, not unlike the branding of cattle.
When I was about 14 years old, I told my mother I wanted tribal marks, this thought was triggered due in part to the events in my community. I wanted something that could make me easily identifiable in case of pending ethnic crisis. My mother understood my thinking and her way of getting me informed was to have me witness an Akomola (informal surgeon) perform the procedure then decide if I was will to go through with it.
According to my mother tribal marks are an expression of beauty but at the same time she understands why the practice has been under threat for a long time. None of my siblings have tribal marks naturally we would have gone for the ones on my father’s cheeks given the Yoruba patriarchal tradition.
The sensitivity around the old age practice came about due to western influence at the time when local people were shown the dangers of the practice as well as drawing connections between mortality rates and tribal mark practices. The argument against tribal marks was mainly the unhygienic condition it is performed.
In Yoruba land children usually do not remember the horror behind the marks on their faces as it is commonly performed within three months of birth growing up either loving or loathing them.
My mother did not spare me the gory details involved, many children fell very ill due to infections. She talked about her younger siblings, she was old enough to remember when their tribal marks were done, as beautiful as she thinks they were, and a bit of pride if you belonged to a big or influential clan, she thinks the immediate aftermaths on a child is not great.
Memories of oozing wounds and irritable children are still fresh in her mind, she was happy my father was against the practice. I did not need any more persuasion after my mother’s tale of the children who did not make it. So the thought was discarded just as it came, I don’t believe my pain threshold was strong enough to go under the knife without anesthesia | Folakemi Odoaje for #JujuFilms