HomeTopicalCultureTribal marks: An ancient Yoruba tradition lost to civilization

Tribal marks: An ancient Yoruba tradition lost to civilization

Tribal marks are an integral part of the rich and diverse tapestry of Yoruba culture. They are distinctive facial markings, etched into the skin with various designs and they hold deep cultural significance, serving as a visual language that tells the story of one’s heritage, lineage, and life experiences.

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Tribal marks

Tribal marks are believed to have originated as a form of identification, differentiating members of various Yoruba communities and clans. They also served as a rite of passage, marking significant milestones in a person’s life, such as birth, adolescence, and marriage.

Tribal marks were made by cutting or scarring the skin with sharp instruments, and the process was often carried out during infancy or early childhood.

Each tribe of the Yoruba ethnic group had different inscription patterns which appears in different sizes and shapes at different locations within the face or body. The location and position of the mark’s inscription depends on the tribe and culture. The tribal marks could be inscribed on the breast, arm, lap or buttocks, but they are usually on the face.

Types of Tribal Marks in Yoruba Culture

As stated earlier, each tribe has its own unique pattern of mark which different it from other tribes of the Yoruba culture. Here are some popular forms of tribal marking.


Tribal marks

The Pele style of tribal mark is a three vertical lines inscribed on the cheeks.

Pele have different variants. The variants include; Pele Ife, a three vertical lines 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 three short vertical lines inscribed on the cheeks and particular to the people of Ijebu and Ijesha respectively.


Tribal marks

Owu tribal marks consist of six or more incisions on each side of the cheeks and peculiar to the indigenes of Owu, an historical city in Abeokuta. These incisions come in form of three vertical incisions above 3 horizontal cuts.


Tribal marks

The Gọmbọ style, also known as Kẹkẹ, consists of multiple straight and curved lines about a half of an inch apart inscribed on the cheeks on both sides of the mouth. Indigenes of Ogbomosho in Oyo State are usually identified by the Gombo or Kẹkẹ style of Yoruba tribal marks.


Tribal marks

Abaja can be both a basic and also a complex style. In its basic form, it is either three or four horizontal stripes on the cheeks. The Abaja style also consists of twelve horizontal lines, six lines per cheek. It is often referred to as “Abaja Alaafin Mefa Mefa”. This tribal mark is unique to the indigenes of Oyo, Nigeria.

Other Yoruba tribal marks include Ture, Mande, Bamu and Jamgbadi.

Tribal marks are no longer the norm among Yoruba people. British colonizers viewed the practice as barbaric, like many other misunderstood African traditions.  Consequently, and due to the need to protect the welfare of children, the practice died out and it is now banned in several states in Nigeria