Category Archives: IKA CULTURAL TATTOO


Tattoo is a cultural practice of facial, chest and body marks known in Ika as Igu or Egbugbu. Many Ika people who did not know its origin took it as mere body beautification.

The facial marking of an Ika citizen was at times distinct, but resembled Bini and Ishan designs. Ika used uche-knife to cut lines about 1” and 3” on each check and one on the forehead. Some men like the Edos had longer and wider ones as some had several lines on the forehead only, while women had marks on both the forehead like men and women in Ishan.
Facial marks were designed for the slaves in the early days; but after sometime, a free-born of Ika was difficult to know or discover when kidnapped or killed at war, while a slave with marks was easily traced by the master. By this tragedy, Ika freeborn began to have marks except the prince for any nwa eze must not be deformed.

However, Ika people inherited the culture of tattoo from Benin civilization. Tattoo originated in the reign of Oba Ewuare the Great (1440) who wrecked his misdirected anger on Benin people. This was because of the tragic death of his two sons Ezuwaha and Kubyawa in one day. In his grief, he instructed the Osiwu/Osigwu (women perfected in tribal marks) to tattoo all Benin young men and ladies for identification purposes in any part of the world they got to. This was because Binis who had attained the marriage age fled Benin. He further decreed that no married couple would have sexual intercourse; neither should any marriage take place for a period of three years, which he declared for the mourning of his two sons. He also decreed that nobody in the land of Benin should take his or her bath during the period.

Since young men and ladies could not afford to brook any insolence of remaining for three years without having their bath, without marrying and getting children, they started to flee the kingdom.

Thus, the Ika people of the olden days inherited the culture of tattoo as passport to move freely as those untattooed stood the risk of being kidnapped.

As time went on, Ika people adopted tattoo for the body beautification and traditional permission of newly married couple to begin to have sexual relations, but never before then. When an Ika girl was mature, she was given marks on the belly below the navel. If not marked before joining her husband, she was subjected to penalty by the Osigwu-markers’ guild. If she had any sexual intercourse with any man not her husband, she was considered defiled and her child would not be circumcised until she paid the penalty. Nowadays, tribal marks are no longer of useful purpose in Ika community culture. Things are changing and people don’t want to have marks again.

In Ika, the first make-up and skin care materials were obtained from camwood (ufie). Hausa call it lali. Then, Ika maiden adorned their bodies with the camwood and uri (the black tree) body care mixtures. Camwood was also the main ingredient used in the fattening room of women.

The Ika people with black skins and fair skins showed good portray of high art and delineated Ika cultural backgrounds. Then, many had the notion that fair skin colours were better than dark complexions. As a result, a lot of women used ufie products to lighten their skins, sometimes at a high health cost.

TaboosTaboos are prohibition of religious or social or the use or practice or mention of something or contact with someone. They are things forbidden among some tribes or ethnic groups and put the people in bondage of fear of these taboos,that says or touch not, taste not and handle not. Ika community taboos evolve under the strict influence of religious beliefs. Many Ika taboos are cultural issues of religious beliefs which forbid people to do or say.

The important factor in the moral life of the Ika people has been strict observance of taboos and time – honoured usage. These are the ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ regulating every human behaviour. In Ika people’s thought, taboos have collectively taken one special significance by assuming a quasi-personal character in consequence of which it has been given the name, aru-u or nso ali. Ika people believe that in the face of baffling crime or offence, Mmo will judge (track down the offender), which is as much as to say that sinners will not go unpunished.

Ika Myths on TaboosIn the beginning, and in order to live, man adapted himself to his environment. Experience soon taught him what could be done and what must be avoided. His life revolved around taboos consisting in deeds, to abstain from things not to be eaten, acts of breach of moral or spiritual laws, breaking covenants, repeated ablutions before taking part in rites, etc. In other words, taboos refer mainly to forbidden human behaviours. Man found it necessary in an imperfect society, to introduce these elements of subtle ‘coercion’ in order to strengthen his ‘weak will’ in the performance of the ethical duties. These elements are governed by codes and conventions defining man’s relationship, which have to be maintained with spirits, mmo; medicines (ogun), and all creatures, in order to avoid confusion, and to maintain peace in the community.

It is believed that those who broke taboos were, therefore, considered as accursed, who would be liable to bring disaster upon the whole community. By and large, it was also believed that each divinity would punish ritual or moral offences committed within its province; that each aggressive ancestor would reprimand his own people for dereliction of filial duties; and that it is God who judges men pure for what they are in consequence of their character.

Ika myths on taboos are varied, and myths of abstinence which take their roots in totems and creatures (animals and plants) considered by the community to have a close connection with a family group, village or community. This relationship is often in the form of favour or protection, which this group of people may have received from a totem in the past and thus hold it sacred. Ika people believe that it is unkind to kill or eat totems; hence it is a taboo to do so. This belief has imposed upon those involved to avoid or respect these totems. In some areas, sorts of rites are accorded to a totem killed mistakenly. To be continued…
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Source: Ika News Agbor