“Not many people know that I have three identity cards. The first is the International Passport; the second is the National Identity Card and the third is my tribal marks” – Obasanjo.
Beauty and Relevance, just like a lot of other words, are words whose pertinence are quite restricted to particular persons, environment, location, culture, age, educational level or even, a particular generation. Over the years, a lot of things have been considered beautiful and relevant and whose features are not so appealing to a lay man. A small Nokia phone would be beautiful and quite relevant to a village kid, but it’s quite unalluring to an urban youth. Gone were the days when Dansiki, Iro and Buba, Abeti Aja (All Yoruba traditional attires) were the order of the day, today’s youths find it uninteresting and unappealing. However, we would have made a great mistake criticizing those who find these seemingly outdated cultures pleasurable and satisfactory. We all have our freedom to like what we like.
“Títa ríro là ńko ilà; Tó bá jiná tán, àà doge”
(The process of getting a tribal mark is quite painful and achy; but it becomes a beauty to behold when healed)
The adage above could be said to have sprung out of the painful process of getting the supposed beauty scar on one’s face. According to oral history, the wife of Sango, a great Oyo king, decided to punish her adulterous slave by giving her scars to make her ugly, but she turned out more beautiful. Hence, the popularity of the marks. Tell me, who wouldn’t want to be more beautiful? Though the truthfulness of the story cannot be ascertained, it sure proves one thing. It was considered beautiful! They loved and adored it the way we love and adore Henna designs and Tattoos today. “How could they love that?”, you might ask. Well, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear the next forty generations say that about our precious IPhone 8.
“Mi ò lè wá omo tí ò ko ìlà”
(I can’t search for a person without tribal marks)
A Yoruba man would have heard that adage tons of times. It is used to say you cannot stress yourself. This saying outstretched from the times of slavery and wars in the Yoruba empire; times when people would be taken forcefully out of their family, tribes and scattered abroad in and out of Nigeria. Tribal marks were given as a you-belong-here stamp, so people could be easily recognised as a part of the family, whenever their generations meet in the future. You see the sign, and you’re like, “Behold, an Egba man in Europe!”. This signifies how relevant tribal marks were in those days.
Why have they now gone so outdated? The beauty and the relevance doesn’t appeal to this generation anymore. The marks are considered abusive, the carriers lose self confidence, the process is considered forceful, the tools, barbaric and the eventual outcome, ugly. It might be considered that this generation lost the beauty of its culture, but if the reasons stated above brought about it, maybe the marks have fulfilled their purpose.
In March, a bill was sponsored by Senator Dino Melaye against tribal marks, saying “These tribal marks have become emblems of disfiguration and have hindered many situations of life. Some have developed low self-esteem, they are most times treated with scorn and ridicule…many innocent people, mostly children…had inadvertently been infected with the deadly HIV virus. Sharp instruments used by the locales to inscribe the tribal marks were not sterilized, thus exposing kids, even adults, to the risk of HIV/ AIDS,”.
All being said and done, here comes my humble view. As outdated as some cultures or practices may be, they still remain admirable to some particular persons, and these persons have a freedom to like what they like. So, in a bid to control this “self esteem damaging” and the health challenges surrounding the situation, a person should be left to decide whether or not they want it. If they do, they should go to a nice hospital to get it done. Whatever springs out of it would have been their choice and theirs only.
Tattoos and Henna designs are left to the bearer’s choice. It is not coerced nor enforced. Tribal marks could be our Nigerian Tattoos too.