A popular adage in Yorubaland states that, “Asa keke, aajo ewa ni nse, a bu abaja aajo ewa ni nse” which means, whether you wear Keke or Abaja type of tribal marks, your intention is to beautify yourself. This captures the relevance of different types of tribal marks to the Yoruba culture. Tribal marks are used as adornments by the Yorubas to enhance their natural beauty. Their original significance as tribal badges, among the Yoruba represent symbol of clan or lineage affiliation,symbol of honour, beauty and heritage and something worn with pride.
Generally, different types of tribal marks, are made up of vertical and horizontal lines concentrated on the face from the cheek bone to the jaw. Depending on the marker and the face pattern in question, the marks could either be thin or wide, but most of the times, they are wide. The marks whether they are vertical or horizontal must be parallel. The marks are also a form of scarification.
Types of Tribal Marks in Oyo State
In some places in Oyo State, specific type of tribal marks is given to every firstborn regardless of sex to show that the child is a legitimate born child, a one-in-a-kind birthright. Some of the popular tribal marks in Oyo State are known by specific names. There are about four types of tribal marks that are common among the Oyo people – Abaja, Keke, Pele and Eyo.
Abaja is one of the common varieties in Oyo State. It is notable among people from Oyo town. A variety of the Abaja is Abaja Omo Oba (Abaja of the Prince of Oyo) or Abaja mefa-mefa (Abaja of a six horizontal strokes). There is the one which is made up four or two sets of four (i.e. eight horizontal marks). These are known as Abaja merin-merin (Abaja of four horizontal strokes) or Abaja mejo mejo (Abaja of eight horizontal strokes).
There is also a combination of three longitudinal strokes on a cheek and four horizontal strokes on the other cheek. These longitudinal marks are known as Pele and the combination of these two types are usually worn by the Basorun, called the Abaja awon Bashorun i.e. Abaja of the Basorun.
There are marks also known as Eyo marks (broad ribbon marks) which are drawn along the whole length of the arms and legs. Although among the Oyo, slaves who were born within the palace or those who were closely related to the Royal family were allowed to wear some of these facial marks, the Eyo marks were reserved majorly for the members of the Royal Family. All the above mentioned marks are very common among the Oyo people, especially those belonging to the Royal family.
Keke also known as Gombo has either thin long vertical line which reaches to the head across the temple. They occupy the whole space between the auricle and the cheek bone. Three small perpendiculars are also placed on the horizontal lines on both cheeks. A variation can be made by adding on the left cheek, the Ibamu. a line running from the top of the nose to the horizontal lines. At times, they wear this to also distinguish the families. When the marks on the cheeks are bold and wide, they are known as Keke but when the marks are thin, they are known as gombo. The two marks are very common in Ogbomosho are so closely drawn together that they form a dark patch on the cheeks.
Some notable men who have tribal marks in Oyo State are Oba Lamidi Adeyemi III, the Alaafin of Oyo, Olaniyi Afonja (Sanyeri). The practice of having tribal marks is fading. It is now abhorred by most parents and some individuals who term themselves unfortunate for having these marks, as some are ashamed of them and try to cover them with makeup or seek a lasting erasure through surgery (Skin graft), or other cosmetic processes.
Let us know your thoughts about tribal marks.