Tribal Marks: Symbols of Beauty, Heritage, and History

Recently, I had a conversation with my father about the use of tribal marks in Nigeria. Tribal marks are markings or tattoos on the face or body. I found it fascinating that tribal marks are considered a mark of beauty, culture, and history. However, I was concerned that the practice was inappropriate for children who may not have any choice or understanding of the reasons for the markings. I also felt that it was unacceptable for some individuals to perceive those with the markings as if they were uneducated, barbaric, unattractive, and worthless. I felt that the markings would be most appropriate for adults who could decide to engage in this practice as opposed to children. I was bothered by the fact that those who have the markings are sometimes perceived negatively than those without the markings. I respect this cultural practice regardless of the reasons behind it. However, I believe that those who engage in the practice should understand the reasons behind the practice and willingly choose to participate. After speaking with my father, I deciced to search for more information about tribal markings on the web. I found the folllwing article (i.e. link is below):

In this article, I learned that tribal marks date back to the Atlantic slave trade. Tribe members who were being shipped off to foreign nations were marked to identify them if they were freed or rescued. Thus, it was a symbol of their history in a sense. Some additional reasons for tribal marks include the following: clan wars, beauty, witchcraft, and superstitious beliefs. Depsite the use of the practice in past, the reasons for the markings are no longer acceptable in present-day Nigeria. There has been an ongoing petition to ban tribal marks and the practice has been lobbied by human rights activists. In some parts of Nigeria, the practice has been outlawed. It is saddening to learn that a cultural practice that has been valued for generations is considered meaningless by some. However, there should be a choice for an individual to enage in the practice. It should not be imposed upon a person. In the article, the writer shared that the markings are considered a symbol of beauty in some tribes. Further, some families use thorns to mark the faces of their daughters during puberty. The writer questioned whether the disagreement with this practice is a consequence of modern Africa adjusting its beauty standards to fit Western standards of beauty or simply changing the culture and traditions to suit the people. I believe that those who use the markings should have the freedom to express their culture, heritage, and history without having to meet the expectations of others. As humans, we use our bodies to express ourselves whether it be through dance, song, speech, written word, and etc. Why should a practice of self-expression be condemned or perceived as meaningless? Regardless of what others may think of us or our actions, we must remain true to ourselves. I was very moved by the discussion on tribal markings. I encourage you to provide your own thoughts and opinions on the topic and accompanying article. Thanks!

Featured Image Retrieved from

Published by: Seun Aina

Seun Aina is a Nigerian American woman who has a passion for body image, multiculturalism, and women's issues. As a woman who has experienced body image challenges, Seun Aina would like to empower other women to discover their inner strength and overcome their issues with body image. She created this blog to encourage healing and exploration of identity as it relates to body image and mental health. Currently, she is a graduate student in counseling who aspires to become a professional counselor and a psychologist. She enjoys reading, writing, and spending time with her family.

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