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10 Mysterious Things You Should Know About The Edo Tribal Mark

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Tribal marks are deeply rooted in the rich cultural heritage of several tribes across Nigeria. Among these, the Edo tribe stands out with its unique and intriguing tribal marks, known as the “IWU.” Unlike the more commonly seen facial tribal marks, the Edo tribal marks hold a special place, imprinted on various parts of the body such as the stomach, side, and back. Iwu is done by Osiwu, the esteemed traditional surgeon of the Edo community

Hailing from the southern region of Nigeria, specifically Edo state, this community is renowned for its extensive contribution to various industries, including rubber, oil palm, cashew, cassava, rice, maize, and cocoa production. Furthermore, Edo state is home to an industrious and hospitable population.

Understanding the mythology surrounding the IWU tribal mark is crucial to appreciating its significance when encountering an Edo individual adorned with such markings. This insight ensures that you won’t find yourself bewildered or uninformed in the presence of Edo tribal mark bearers.


10. Iwu Signifies Identification 

It is not feasible for individuals from the Yoruba or Hausa tribes to connect with the IWU tribal mark, as it is specifically meant for the Edo culture. The distinctive IWU mark serves as a visual representation of Edo people’s lineage and heritage, allowing the Edo community to readily identify with each other. Unlike other tribal marks, the IWU mark is not placed on the face but rather on the body, making it easier to recognize someone as an Edo individual when they bear the IWU mark.

9. Iwu Marks Are Very Painful 

Tribal marks are created through scarification methods, using razors or sharp implements to etch designs onto the body. The IWU tribal marks, specifically, are incised onto the body with sharp tools, which undoubtedly causes significant pain. It is worth considering the immense discomfort children with IWU marks must have endured during the marking process. However, once the wounds heal, the IWU marks are transformed into aesthetically pleasing patterns, highlighting their beauty.


8. Iwu Is Unique to the Edo People

The IWU mark holds a unique distinction within the Edo culture and sets it apart from other cultures. Unlike other tribes, such as the Yorubas with their ILA marks, the Hausa with their ZUBE marks, or the Igbo with their rare ICHI marks, the Edo people possess the IWU mark as a recognizable symbol of their heritage. The specific arrangement and order of these tribal marks allow for easy identification and differentiation of the Edo culture from others, showcasing the significance and individuality of their tribal mark.

7. Iwu Mark Is A Cure

One significant aspect that stood out about the IWU mark is its reputed healing properties. It was observed that individuals with a particular ailment known as UDE, which affects the spleen and results in a reduction of healthy blood cells, often experienced anemia and an increased vulnerability to infections. This is due to a lowered count of red and white blood cells respectively. Remarkably, the IWU mark has been recognized for its potential in alleviating this condition. It has been proven to aid in the more rapid removal of “bad blood” and consequently assist in the healing process.


6. Iwu Mark Beautifies Its Host

Tribal marks serve not only as identification of one’s cultural heritage but also as symbols of beauty, appeal, and prestige. The IWU mark, in particular, is captivating in its aesthetics. The meticulously arranged patterns and expertly crafted cuts create a sense of visual pleasure, evoking admiration comparable to that of masterful artwork. The first time I encountered the IWU mark, I was overcome with awe, finding myself completely engrossed by its remarkable beauty. I couldn’t resist capturing the moment through photographs, as I wanted to preserve and continually appreciate the exquisite essence of Edo culture. Individuals who proudly bear these tribal marks exude a profound sense of happiness and fulfillment, cherishing the remarkable adornment bestowed upon them. Such inherent beauty is truly enchanting.


5. Iwu Signifies Adulthood 

Various indigenous tribes have their unique traditions of marking individuals with tribal marks, typically on the face, during infancy or shortly after birth. However, the Edo culture stands apart with its distinct IWU mark, which sets it apart from others. Interestingly, the IWU mark can be acquired both during early infancy and during the transition from adolescence to adulthood. This remarkable feature of the IWU mark serves a dual purpose of cultural identification and distinguishing adolescents from adults within the Edo community.


4. Iwu Signifies Salvation 

The origin of the Iwu mark can be traced back to the reign of Oba Ewuare (ca. 1440). During a period of deep mourning over the tragic loss of his two sons on the same day, Oba Ewuare faced a widespread exodus of his subjects who were filled with fear and panic. In an effort to prevent further desertion and to ensure the easy identification of his loyal subjects, Oba Ewuare issued a decree mandating that everyone in the community would receive a distinct tattoo mark. This mark would serve as a visible symbol of unity and protection, enabling individuals to be recognized as part of their community and ensuring their safety. Additionally, it is worth noting that the Bini people also practiced body cutting rituals, creating three long cuts on both sides of the body, from the armpits to the groin or in the middle. This practice was believed to possess great spiritual significance and was regarded as a virtue leading to their salvation.

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3. Marriage Calls

In Edo culture, the Iwu mark is traditionally obtained by both men and women prior to entering into marriage. This practice reflects the belief that acquiring the IWU mark symbolizes readiness for the commitments and obligations associated with marriage. As marriage entails significant responsibility and sacrifices, it is regarded as a rite of passage into adulthood rather than an activity suitable for children. The IWU mark serves as a visible indicator, allowing individuals to recognize their own maturity and preparedness for the transformative journey of marriage. Through this union, individuals perceive each other, envision the future, and identify their roles within the wider social fabric in a new light.


2. Iwu Marks Are Specified 

The IWU mark holds distinct significance and is not simply a generic marking. It varies in its design and placement based on gender and even within the royal family. In the case of males, there are specifically seven IWU marks. However, the OBA (King) and his children receive six marks, distinguishing them from other males. Conversely, females bear a total of sixteen IWU marks, but the OBA’s female children are adorned with fifteen of these marks, reflecting their unique status within the royal lineage.


1.  Iwu Mark Are Going Into Extinction 

The practice of tribal markings, including IWU, is fading away, gradually approaching extinction. Our world has evolved significantly, particularly in the 21st century, where modern perspectives and values prevail. It is now widely believed that scientific advancements have provided effective remedies for ailments previously associated with the need for IWU marks, such as spleen sickness. Moreover, many individuals maintain that tribal markings, in general, are regarded as not only archaic but also a violation of human rights. In this modern era, such markings are no longer perceived as a means of identity or beauty; rather, they are often viewed with contempt and disapproval.

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