African Tribal Marks
Tribal marks have played an important role in African culture. Various tribes have used certain body marks as important identity marks or for beautification, similar to tattoos. Here we focus on the Yoruba tribal marks that inspired U.Mi-1 Who am I? Collection.
Yoruba tribal marks
The Yoruba are countless people who inhibit Southwestern Nigeria. Lagos, the former capital of Nigeria is the Yoruba land. This is where I grew up, my home. Yoruba culture permeated my childhood in this way: its parties, its ostentatious sense of dress were legendary. Likewise, egunguns (masquerades) were common. My parents welcomed them to our yard for a dance performance and therefore good advice. Yoruba culture and language vary from mine as well as English to Japanese. It was fascinating. Above all, I was most struck by its distinctive tribal marks.
The Yoruba used these marks to beautify and identify with a specific design that marked a specific group of people. These marks are usually made during childhood by burning or cutting the skin. It was an important part of Yoruba culture and excluded individuals who were part of a tribe if they did not have these designations. Tribal marks became a very vital feature after the end of the slave trade. People used markers on their faces to follow the path home, as the design of the marks is specific to the locality.
Finding inspiration: The Connection
The founder of the U.Mi-1 collection said, ”Tribal marks started to mean a lot more to me when a good friend told me that her great-grandfather was one of those returnees. These marks not only connected him to his family, but they also put me in touch through the great relationship I have with a friend. Tribal marks are no longer the norm among the Yoruba. The British colonizers viewed this practice as barbaric, as did many other poorly understood African traditions. As a result, and due to the need to protect the well-being of children, the practice has disappeared and is now banned in several Nigerian states. We celebrate it because it had a place in our history and was an important rite for the Yoruba”.
Dialogue through fashion: Giving inspiration
Dialogue is at the heart of U.Mi-1 and each clothing carries with it a story of Nigerian culture.
For the collection, U.Mi-1 used appliqué to create their own marks on jackets and pants.
”We played around with details that included horizontal stripes on shirts, pants, and jackets. We incorporated intentional tears into the designs, stitched seams on the outside that mimicked flesh with scars.
U.Mi-1, invited by the ITC Ethical Fashion Initiative, exhibited this collection at Pitti Uomo in Florence as part of the Generation Africa show. He featured refugees as models. It was a highlight as they wanted to show the importance of enabling Africans to work and their ability to contribute to the fashion value chain. In fact, there was no difference between professional models and refugees after absorbing the model’s walk and appearance.
Identity and belonging to the community are important to everyone. How do you recognize yourself? What makes you part of a tribe? We hope that through U.Mi-1 clothes and stories, you feel part of the U.Mi-1 tribe.