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Owanbe Community


Many of us grew up knowing our parents to have quite a number of body arts. Some of them have facial marks, body inscriptions, scars, body drawings and paintings.

As popular people’s opinions reveal; there are many reasons for body art. Some people do it for beautification. To some, it is a sign of change or rebellion or conformity to a norm; to show status because getting a body artist is actually expensive; to mark a moment; to be able to wear a certain ornament; to identify with spirits or ancestors or deities; to show group membership; to show gender distinctions; and to be human, amongst other reasons.

Body art is cultural-based and obtainable in every culture of the world, but it is quite different from one culture to another. What one society embraces as body art may be repulsive to another society who has a distinct identity of body art. An alien to where beards, tattoos, black teeth, or oddly shaped bodies etc are being seen as body arts may react to them differently.

Across thousands of ethnic groups, including the Igbo, Yoruba, Hausa, Idoma, Igala, Nupe and Kanuri – to mention but a few, the skin has long been used to convey information about identity, affiliation, personal history, lineage, status and aesthetic choices. One can easily link up a person to a particular tribe or race by merely seeing the inscription or facial marks on such a person’s face.

Body modification including body painting, scarifications, cicatrisation, tattooing and body piercings are some of the oldest art forms across Africa. For instance, in the northern part of Nigeria, the young females and women use indigo paint (Lali) to paint their legs and hands. It is mostly used to adorn a bride on her wedding day and used on every other day especially during festive periods. It is also a common cultural body art in the southwest part of the country to inscribe names on the body for identification and to help them find their way home if they ever got lost.

In the sensational blockbuster movie-Black Panther, the costume designer Ruth E. Carter brought as many real world African influence of body art into the movie as possible. The skin beneath Killmonger’s neck is carefully dappled with patterned scarification. The traditional scars and facial painting found in some of the Wakandan tribes are inspired by the people of Tanzania, Kenya, Sudan, South Sudan, and Ethiopia. The Mursi and Surma lip plate scarification is a ceremonial form of body modification that is primarily associated with the Mursi and Surma tribes of Ethiopia.

Of all of these cultural identities, tribal markings have become increasingly unpopular as there are modern inventions that have been used to replace its functions. Functions like the identification purpose have been replaced by modern identity cards; and its beautification role has been replaced by modern cosmetics.

It is obvious now that some form of body arts like tribal marking has gained less representation amongst us in today’s contemporary age, and we have come to embrace every form of body art as tattoo. Is tattoo actually the same as body art? A tattoo according to Wikipedia is a form of body modification made by inserting ink, dyes, and/or pigments, either indelible or temporary, into the dermis layer of the skin to form a design. So, it is however suffice to say that tattoos are a form of body art and predate as far back as other forms of body art began.

Meanwhile, there is more to what is generally believed to be a body art. Every time you shave, have a haircut or a new hairdo, put on makeup, or squeeze into tight jeans or use a waist trainer, or go for boobs or butt enlargement in an attempt to alter your appearance, you are unwittingly following in the footsteps of your ancestors, who devised equally ingenious ways of doing the same thing.

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