The Yoruba Tribal Marks and Its Uniqueness


The Yoruba tribal marks are scarifications which has been in existence since time immemorial. They are often used for specific purposes such as identification and beautification purposes.

However, the primary functions of the tribal marks remains for identification of a persons tribe, family or patrilineal heritage. The patrilineal heritage is also known as ‘idile baba’ by the yorubas.
This helped to distinguish between people of different tribes, families and lineages.

The marks were also of immense benefit during wars and also to distinguish the families that have a taboo not to marry each other.

While the secondary functions of the marks are for symbols of beauty. Ladies with beautiful tribal marks were married off to their grooms with a huge bride price in those days.

Furthermore, the Yoruba tribal marks has been found to be useful and this was demonstrated during the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

The tribal marks was used in identification as some of the repatriated slaves later reunited with their communities by looking at facial stripes.

In recent times, scarifications that used to be fashionable is now seen as a form of mutilation and abuse to the faces of innocent children. Since tribal marks are usually given during infanthood a person does not really decide for himself to be marked or not.

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Despite this fact, some people still continue the practice till date and see no harm in it but as a way of preserving the yoruba culture.
Like one of the adage of the yoruba people says “Tita riro la’n ko’la; T’oba jina tan, adi oge”. This means the process of having tribal marks can be a gruesome experience; but when it heals, it becomes beautiful.

Method used in tribal mark scarification

The tribal marks are usually inscribed on the body by burning or cutting of the skin during childhood.

The cutting is achieved by using a razor or form of blade to make the incisions. Thereafter, a local dye or pigment in form of a paste is rubbed on incision site to darken the cuts.

Part of the constituents of the paste is black charcoal and this paste is responsible for the consequent permanent scarring.

Parts of the body that tribal marks are found

1 The cheeks
2 The hands
3 The back
4 The Chin
5 The forehead
6 The arms ( 2 cuts on the arm is a sign of royalty amongst the oyo people)
7 The abdomen
8 The laps
9 The buttocks

Significance of tribal mark

1 Royalty
2 Beautification
3 Means of Identification
4 Signs of valour and military prowess
5 Creativity
6 Spiritual inclinations and keeping mischievous children alive ( also known as “ila Abiku”)

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Types of tribal Mark’s peculiar to the yoruba people

Each tribe of the Yoruba ethnic group has different inscription patterns and designs of the tribal marks. These mark often appears in different sizes and shapes at different locations within the face or the body.

Tribal marks are very common amongst the Owu, Oyo, Ijesa, Ile-Ife , Ondo, Ijebu, Egba and Egbado people.

These facial marks often come in different types some of which includes Gombo/keke, Abaja, Ture, Pele and jaju. They are described below.

1 Gombo

This type of tribal Marks are long incisions in vertical lines which are about 1 centimetre apart. This lines are traced down from the side of one’s head or the scalp along the jawline and then curved.

This curved lines make 4 perpendicular lines to the corner of the mouth on both sides of the face. This mark is commonly seen on the Ogbomoso people of Oyo State.

Gombo mark

2 Abaja

It is inscribed on the face by cutting four horizontal lines on each cheek and two vertical lines. This makes it a total of 6 lines on each cheek and this mark is often called “Abaja Alaafin Mefa Mefa”.


The mark often appears a like that of cat whiskers.
This is Peculiar to people in Oyo town especially, and also in Ibadan and Ogbomoso.

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Abaja mark

3 Pele
This tribal mark style consists of three vertical lines on each cheek. It is often seen among the indigenes of Ife, ilesha and Ijebu.
Pele comes in variants namely Pele Ife which is peculiar to if Ile-Ife people.

Pele Ijebu, and Pele Ijesha, which are unique to Ijebu and Ijesha natives respectively.

Pele mark

4 Ture
It is made up of three long horizontal lines and three short vertical lines. This makes the total number of six marks on each cheek and a total of twelve on both cheeks.
This mark is also referred to as Owu mark.

Owu mark

5 Jaju
This mark consist of a single vertical mark on each cheek and it has another variant called soju.

Soju is inscribed by cutting vertical lines on the cheek, beside the nose, running down to the mouth.
This is commonly seen among the ondo people.

Jaju mark

Prominent yoruba people with tribal marks include;

1 Olusegun Obasanjo ( He has the Ture/Owu mark inscribed on his face)

2 Lamidi Adeyemi III the alaafin of oyo ( Abaja mark)

3 Christopher Alao-Akala ( Gombo mark)

4 King Sunny Ade ( the ondo soju mark)

5 Olaniyi Afonja (popularly known as sanyeri (the abaja mark) )

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