Certain traditional practices are known to have a great influence on the health of individuals and society at large. These practices include the use of tribal marks and other tattoos intending to serve certain purposes on people who bear them. Among Igbos of the southeast and Yorubasof the southwest, for instance, tribal marks exist for a number of purposes. The igbos, in the past, made marks on certain children who were believed to maintain a cycle of coming and going being born and dying shortly after, as a way of tormenting the parents. They were called ogbanje. Their Yoruba equivalents were called ‘abiku’, meaning the same thing in their own milieu. Refer to Wole Soyinka’s popular high school poem entitled Abiku. Beyond that, the Yorubas, in those days of inter tribal wars, migration and man-induced hostilities, adopted various kinds of tribal marks as a feature to distinguish their own people, that is, to know who came from what part of the large linguistic and geographical group. At such times, most people were taken captive and some of them were held captivity for ten or more years before release and the only means to identify their origin and location and even families was through these. Also the marks served this purpose during slave trade and reunification of returnees with their people following the abolition. The advent of western education, foreign religions and even modern technology have so far exerted little or no discouraging influence on these practices. This is more prominent in the Southwest where people are known to spot such marks even in this decade.
What are the health implications of tribal marks?
Tribal marks constitute a lot of health hazard with short and long term physical injury, complications and psychological effect on the individual. This is because the process is usually carried out under unhygienic conditions by herbal doctors who have little or no knowledge of aseptic methods. They are known to use crude instruments such as razor blades, kitchen knives and even pieces of glass. Without sterilization, same instruments are used on many persons at the same time, thus increasing the risks of infection.
As already mentioned, most operations are done without an anaesthesia or sterile instrument, thus exposing the person involved to infection, septicaemia, tetanus, etc. Some of the victims may die from the result of severe pains or infection. Prolonged bleeding during this operation may lead to anaemia,some marks developed into keloids. Infection of the wound, abscesses and tetanus cases have been reported.
Nowadays, most modern women believe so much in beautifying their faces with modern cosmetics. It is now the fashion ladies cannot do without. And if one is to participate in a beauty pageant or the most beautiful girl in the world, how can that be possible for anybody whose face is already lacerated? With prominent tribal marks on the face, one might not be selected among the contestants. This can lead to psychological trauma because she has been defaced with marks. Among peers, somebody may not feel free if he spots somebody marks which unnecessary stand out in a crowd. What of during periods of crisis when a pogrom takes place and a particular group of people are targeted for elimination? Their tribal marks become the identification needed to achieve this purpose.
And so, is it not time to reconsider the continuation of this traditional practice in view of the dictates of science and modern living. We can do without the age-old advantages.