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Iwu: Identifying The Traditional Body Markings of Edo People

Some Edo people have different kinds of markings on their stomachs, sides and backs, then wonder why they are there. These markings are known as Iwu in the culture of Edo people in southwestern Nigeria.

Not until recently did the tradition of Iwu witness a great decline and the set of Edo people with Iwu markings are mostly presently over seventy years of age. The tradition survived until the 1940s: hardly will one see an Edo young man or woman with Iwu markings on his or her body in recent times.

Marking, scarification and tattooing are not alien practices to the African culture; they have been used from time immemorial for identification, beautification, stratification and so on. Some draw their markings on the face, some on the legs but the Edo people went for the body and torso. A good example of facial marking or scarification is the ‘Ila’ of Yoruba people.

Edo people accepted this art of facial identification marks, also known as tribal marks, until five centuries ago when they ditched the facial markings and created Iwu, the body and torso markings.

Unlike the facial mark of the Yoruba people which is acquired few months after birth, Iwu is to acquired during the transition from adolescent to adulthood. In short, Iwu signifies Adulthood. Edo men and women would usually have their Iwu done shortly before marriage.

The Iwu body or torso markings are drawn by the Osiwu, the traditional surgeon of the Edo society.

The Iwu body markings of the male consist of seven marks. The OBA and his children get only six of the marks. The body markings of the female consist of sixteen marks. The OBA’s female children get fifteen of these marks.

However, people of ancient Edo land did not have Iwu markings until when an incident, according to history, brought about the markings and this drives us back to the history of Iwu.

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Written by PH

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