Ila In Yorubaland
Tribal marks are cicatrices called Ila in Yoruba language, They have been around for about (as reported) 200years when they became the vogue, they were used primarily for beautifying the face and body, there is this saying “tita riro lan’ko ila, toba jina tan adi oge” (Translated as the process of having a tribal mark is arduous but when it heals, it becomes fashion).
Ila was also used for societal norms and identification during the slave trade era where it was used for identifying persons, families, lineages, and sub-ethnic groups.
It is crafted normally on the cheek but some are crafted on other parts of the body particularly the abdomen, arm and the back. Some Ilas are drawn out of religious reasons and purposes and are called ‘Gbere’, some as ancestral marks whereby, humans were purportedly believed to have spiritual links with the dead once they wear a certain mark.
Ila is crafted with a razor sharp object and a black powder is rubbed onto it concurrently which makes it a painful experience. It is often worn at childhood (just as male circumcision in Yorubaland) and drawn by experts
Different patterns are accustomed with different sub-ethnic groups in Yorubaland
The Ogbomoshos have a quite interesting pattern, it usually comes with six lines from the middle of the head to the jaw on both sides and one across from under the jaw bone, another one right across the nose ridge (the picture of late chief Ladoke Akintola is a typical example)
The Ibadans have four or three horizontal lines on both cheeks straight to the boundaries of the ears, often thicker than that of Ogbomosho’s.
The Ondos have two vertical lines on both sides of the cheek just beside the nose. People having this type of Ila have been called No. 11 Ondo street by people intending a lark
The Igbira tribal marks sometimes look horrifying with no other intention of adornment than facial disfiguration
There are minus marks too, these types were regarded as being more fashionable as more people preferred them to other Ilas.
They have however drastically fallen out of fashion, there has been a known law at a certain Yoruba owned state abolishing facial tribal marks. Ila is now very old fashioned and has steadily been replaced by more modern tattoo because the latter comes with variety of colours and designs and done with sophisticated machines for perfection opposing its counterpart that was only manually crafted.
By: Bola Olalekan