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Embers Of A Dying Culture

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Iseyin town in Oyo state is a city of close to half a million inhabitants, a town that ordinarily takes pride in its citizens having tribal marks. OLUREMI ADEOYE in this report discovers that this culture is fast dying

In traditional Yoruba society, tribal marks which is etched on the face by either burning or cutting the face during childhood is for identification of a person’s tribe, family or heritage.

This popular heritage of the Yorubas however appears to be receding into oblivion as modernity is taking its toll on the people’s culture. In fact LEADERSHIP Weekend discovered upon investigation that hardly would one find a young person in his/her 30s with tribal marks.

Mrs. Cecelia Akinyode-Oyetoro, an auxiliary nurse and the house mistress of Dr. Wale Okediran’s Ebire Residency Home is in her late 30s and has tribal marks, but she says her case is actually an exceptional one.

According to Cecelia, in her household it is usually the first child that is given tribal marks, but when her elder brother who was the first born,   as was the custom was taken to the home of the Oloola, he fainted immediately. He was quickly revived and taken to the Oseyin where his parents were told that if there was any attempt to give him tribal marks he would die.

“So when I was born, my parents decided to use me to fulfill the family tradition. That was how I was given the tribal marks instead of my elder brother,” she explained.

When asked how she felt about it Cecelia said she doesn’t like it at all and that even her children also feel the same way. “My children always tell me that it is unfair that I am the only one with tribal marks out of all my siblings,” she said.

At the Akaali family house which is one of the well – known Oloola households in Iseyin, an ancient house that could only be assessed either by bike or foot, our correspondent met one Baba Ayinde who explained that the practice had been stopped over a decade ago because there were no longer any male to continue the practice.

When asked why he never practiced as an Oloola, he said that it was no longer practiced except in very rare cases and that the reason why he couldn’t even practice is because he is only a maternal relation of the Oloola. “It is only the sons of the Oloolas that could practice the profession,” he said.

Following directions from Baba Ayinde, LEADERSHIP Weekend went to the house of Basiru Ayinla Oguniyi who is also a maternal relation of the Akaali family and is one of the few Oloolas who is recognized as such.

He is from the Oluwoko family of the Oloolas. Basiru is now more of a welder than an active Oloola. He said exposure and enlightenment has made a lot of families to see no reason in allowing tribal marks for their children.  He however said that in those days when he was a young boy acquiring tribal marks was a symbol of beauty.

Basiru who is now in his mid-fifties said that back in those days some women married into his family just to have their children carry tribal marks. Basiru who hasn’t performed an art of tribal marks in years said that all the parents needed to bring in those days was just two pieces of Kolanut either goro or abata. With the fee of between N2,000 and N3,000.

On how long the procedure took Basiru said it didn’t take more than half an hour and that after it charcoal was put on the scars to stop the bleeding. He was quick to add that charcoal only worked for anyone from the Oloola homes, but that it will be futile for any other person to try to stop the bleeding with just charcoal.

Speaking on the after care of the procedure he said, “We usually have a concoction mixed with coconut oil that would be used on the open scars with the aid of a feather which we provided, within a week the scars would have healed.”

Basiru said that the instrument used for tribal marks is the same as the one used for local circumcision, “but it was not meant to be seen, such wasn’t allowed,” he said.

Even though the art of adorning tribal marks is no longer practiced except in extremely rare cases, in Iseyin the Oloola day is still an annual event, celebrated in the month of September.

Basiru was kind enough to let us into how the celebration came into being. He said in the olden days the Oloolas didn’t collect money for their services instead they were paid in kind, meaning that if an Oloola worked for a farmer, he was given crops and if he worked for a hunter he was given meat. “In those days almost every home had tribal marks done on almost all the new born babies so there was always excess food in the Oloola homes up to the extent of such getting spoilt,” Basiru explained, adding, “This led to the Oloolas deciding that instead of allowing these edibles spoil it was better to invite others to come, eat and drink with them as well on an annual basis.”

Basiru who also performs circumcisions, believes that according to their culture any man who is uncircumcised is a dog. “It would be difficult for such a person to see anybody that will want to eat from the same plate with him.”

Madam Sikiratu Oloola Ogunjoke is also from the Oloola family and though in her early 70s, she was able to recite the Oloola genre (Oriki) with such pride and joy.

According to Mama as she is now fondly called by those close to her, tribal marks still remains very important to the people of Iseyin town.  Mama who doesn’t see reason why tribal marks should be abolished, asked what having tribal marks has ever denied anybody. She said, “With tribal marks on our faces, many had become professors and had travelled far and wide.” She even said that when getting tribal marks was the norm, there was no corruption.

Basiru who was also close by as Mama spoke, pointed out that the king who was supposed to reign before the current king of Iseyin was denied that opportunity because he was without tribal marks and so was seen as not being a son of the soil.

However at the palace this statement was refuted by one of the workers, Alhaji Lasun Ahmed who said, “That is absolutely false, no prince was ever denied the chances of becoming Kabiyesi because he does not have tribal marks.”

He went on further to say that there were about 21 candidates for the position all from ruling homes. “The only reason why Kabiyesi was picked is because it has been so destined and not because of any tribal marks. Most of the children in the palace no longer get tribal marks and this doesn’t make them less of royalty,’’ Ahmed said.

When this reporter went through all the pictures of all the Obas of Iseyin every single one of them had tribal marks including the present king HRM Oba (Dr) Abdul Ganiyu Adekunle Salau Ologun Ebi Ajinese 1.

Another indigene of Isheri who is also knowledgeable in the art of giving tribal marks is Baba Gani. A long distant transporter in his younger years, Baba Gani has retired and works as a night guard in the Barracks area of Iseyin.

He said that what was needed to get tribal marks and circumcision done are the same and that aside from Kolanut and a snail other secret ingredients were mixed up in the concoction used during such procedures.

He believes that the tradition of tribal marks shouldn’t be allowed to die especially if the man of the house marries a non-indigene. Baba Gani who believes it is okay to give a baby tribal marks from the seventh day, kicks against circumcising a baby boy too early. According to Baba Gani the earlier circumcision is done for a baby boy, the faster/quicker it will be for such a baby to lose rigidity of his manhood during sex in adult years. His advice is to leave circumcision till after   about three months, so that such a baby will still be very active sexually even till over 70 years of age.





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