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Tribal marks have played an important role in African culture. Various tribes used specific body markings as important identity markers or for beautification, much like tattoos. Here we focus on Yoruba tribal marks, which inspired the U.Mi-1 Who Am I? collection.
The Yorubas are a myriad of people who inhibit South-West Nigeria. Lagos, the former capital of Nigeria is Yoruba land. It is also where I grew up, my home. Yoruba culture thus permeated my childhood: their parties, ostentatious dress sense were legendary. Similarly, egunguns (masquerades) were customary. My parents welcomed them into our courtyard for a dance display and consequently, a nice tip. Yoruba culture and language is as different to mine as English is to Japanese. It was fascinating. Above all, what struck me most were their distinct tribal marks.
The Yorubas used these marks for beautification and identification with particular designs denoting a certain group of people. These marks are usually inscribed during childhood by burning or cutting the skin. It was a significant part of Yoruba culture and excluded individuals as being part of the tribe if they did not have these marks. Tribal marks became a very vital feature after the end of the slave trade. People used the marks on their faces to trace their way home as the design of the marks are particular to localities.
Tribal marks began to mean much more to me when a good friend recounted that her great-grandfather was one of such returnees. These marks not only connected him back to his family but they are also connected to me through the great relationship I have with my friend. Tribal marks are no longer the norm among Yoruba people. British colonisers viewed the practise at barbaric, like many other misunderstood African traditions. Consequently, and due to the need to protect the welfare of children, the practise died out and it is now banned in several states in Nigeria. We celebrate it as it had a place in our history and was an important rite for Yorubas.
Dialogue is at the heart of U.Mi-1 and each piece of our clothing carries with it a story of Nigerian culture.
U.Mi-1, invited by the ITC Ethical Fashion Initiative, showcased this collection at Pitti Uomo in Florence as part of the Generation Africa show. It featured refugees as models. It was an important highlight as they wanted to show the importance of enabling Africans to work and their ability to contribute to fashion’s value chain. Indeed, there was no difference between the professional models and the refugees once they imbibed the walk and the look of a model.
Identity and being part of a community is important to everyone. How do you identify yourself? What makes you part of a tribe? We hope through our clothing and stories you feel part of the U.Mi-1 tribe.