Tribal Marks


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I remember growing up to notice my mum’s visible “tribal marks” on her face and a drawing on her left hand which I admired. I didn’t know what it was, until she told me it was a palm tree. As I interacted with other people, I noticed more variations of my mother’s facial “stripes”. In curiosity, I asked about these marks on her cheeks and why it was different from others’. She said they were tribal marks and referred to them as “African tattoos”. The concept of tribal marks is fascinating, although I don’t wish I had one on my face. But here is some of what we know about tribal marks.

A Brief History

Tribal marks can be traced to 14th century West Africa, especially Nigeria. They are marks engraved by piercing the skin, and serve different purposes such as beauty, spiritual protection, and native medicinal purposes. They were also very popular during the Nigerian Civil War. Different groups used them to differentiate one tribe from the other and served as a means of identification. I also learned that different tribes have their peculiar tribal marks which signify different things. 

Let’s focus on tribal marks as a means of identification. I find it so amusing when I go to the market with my multilingual mother, and hear her randomly speak a stranger’s language to them. I always wondered how she did it, so one day I asked. Her answer was simple, “I can tell where they’re from just by looking at their tribal marks.” Isn’t that amazing that someone can look at your face and just know where you’re from. The thought of it still amazes me.


That just got me thinking about Peter and John in Acts 4:13. The word says that “they recognised them as men who had been with Jesus.” So, although tribal marks are a West African thing, I believe that Jesus and his disciples must have had tribal marks too. I mean how else could they have known? No, I don’t mean facial or even physical tribal marks but they surely had distinctive marks that were evident to all.

Theirs were marks of love, healing, ministering to the poor and the oppressed, basically marks that caused people in Antioch to identify and label the disciples as “Christ-like” (Acts 11:26). As Christians, Jesus has called us to love each other just as he went about showing love and doing good (John 13:34-35). It was easy to identify Jesus because he healed the sick and ministered to the heartbroken.  Acts 10:38 tells us that Jesus did all these great things after He had been anointed with power and the Holy Spirit. The same anointing Jesus received is the same anointing He made available to the disciples and that same anointing is available to you today! (John 16:5-7).  Jesus promised in John 14:12 that if we believe in him, we will do greater things than He did. How amazing!

Ponder on

If tribal marks were really for identification, how well are you showing off your identity as a Christian? Is it evident like it was for the disciples in Acts or is it debatable? What active steps will you take to ensure that God’s love resides in your heart and everyone you meet experiences His love? Whatever it is, let the Holy Spirit guide your actions.

Remember that God is love and without Him, there is no love (1 John 4:8). And how can you say you love God you cannot see if you have not shown love to the people you see? (1 John 4:20)

If you’ve not been doing a great job showing off Jesus’ love, don’t beat yourself about it. It gets really hard sometimes. Not to worry, Jesus has got you covered! Just invite Him with this simple prayer:

“Dear Lord,

Thank you for this privilege, for calling me into Christ. Thank you for the grace you’ve given me to be a vessel that carries your love everywhere I go. Help me dear Lord to walk in this path you’ve called me to, the way of love. Let everyone see, hear, and experience Christ when they meet me in your precious name I pray.”

Until next time dear friends, keep the ultimate Love…

Love and Light,

Pauline Odoje.


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Sarah Okoye

Sarah is the Social Media Manager at CBN Nigeria in Abuja. She is passionate about expressing God's love to others through blogging and music. She's also pursuing a career in Digital Media Strategy.