Body modifications and body art to many in the beauty world and the fashion industry, have been a good means of beautifying and describing oneself. Like artists, these have used their skin to express diverse emotions and exposed the world to a rare kind of beauty that only lies in the depths of an individual heart. For many regions and countries, tattoos came into existence in the early 1700s and 1800s and were only associated with a kind of people, and mostly in a negative light. It has been a way of identifying ex-convicts, sailors, bikers, and gang members. It was later until later in the 1900s, that body art began to take its rightful place in the art and beauty world. But for Africans, body modifications and body art has been in existence for as far back as time itself. Since Before the invasion of the white man, African body art had existed and was an act of immense significance. The African body art is interwoven with the traditions and culture as well as religion of the African people, and in most cases, serves as a symbol of the transition from childhood to adulthood. These tattoos, as diverse as they are, are rich in meaning and are particular to the different tribes that make up Africa. This article will focus on 10 different body art from the giant of Africa, Nigeria. It will introduce you to the meaning, use, and cultural attributes attached to these body arts and the value it has amongst these extraordinary people.

1 KADA MAI BAN TSORO (crocodile)

The menacing crocodile Hausa design. Kada Mai ban Tsoro in Hausa, represents the “dangerous crocodile.” The Kada represents a desire for power, deception, and mischief and is not particularly positive, but has mostly passed a message of strength and valor. These tattoos are found on the most revered ancient warriors, to express their might and strength. The Hausa crocodile design is ideal for popular ideas



The Yoruba Kolo tribal body art is a popular design among the Yoruba people. Historically, the Yoruba tribe of Nigeria marks their body with extensive scar tattoos known as kolo. These markings are part of the Yoruba tattoos and symbolize courage and beautification. They are also a means of symbolizing the transition from childhood to adulthood. The symbols were popular among women who acquired them before marriage and childbirth and were gradually applied to the body over several sessions by the ‘oniisonon’ or ‘skilled designer’, who at the time, were revered and held in great regard




The Ichi tribal designs originated from the men of the Igbo tribe. They represent nobility, pride, and respect. Ichi inscriptions are essential to the Igbo tribespeople and are respected members of the society. Before the incursion of Christian missionary activity, Ichi served as a means of protection for those who had facial marks. For instance, they were not prone to abduction for slavery which was rampant at that time The two types of Ichi designs include Agbaja, distinguished by their moon-like circles and semicircles, and Ndri design, known by sun-like carved lines from the forehead to the chin. The high value placed on ichi also made it a prerequisite for Ozo title-taking in most Igbo communities. Ichi is seen as a sign of class stratification, not only by receiving the marks but by the Nwa Ichi’s ability to ‘hire’ the costly implements used to make the marks.




The Wodaabe people are a subgroup of the Fulani ethnic group, known to be traditional nomadic cattle herders and traders in the Sahel, who migrate through southern Niger, northern Nigeria, northeastern Cameroon, and the western part of the Central African Republic. Most of the Wodaabe have their faces tattooed. They use razors to cut their faces with charcoal to mark the site. The modifications occur at a young age, with differing subgroups having different patterns on their faces. Wodaabe women dot their temples, cheeks, and lips with geometric tattoos to ward off evil spirits and symbolize beauty. For the Wodaabe people beauty is a very key feature of their tradition. It is believed that a man would allow his wife to sleep with a more handsome man, outside their marriage, in other to give birth to a beautiful child. The male beauty ideal of the Wodaabe stresses tallness, white eyes, and teeth; the men will often roll their eyes and show their teeth to emphasize these qualities when looking for a bride.




The Heena design is a culture that is so widespread around the Sahara, sub-Saharan, and beyond. The design was first thought to have originated in Egypt,—with mummies found with traces of henna in their hair and nails, to India where it became famous, and to Arabia, where Muslim women were encouraged by Prophet Muhammad (SAW) to apply it. Today in northeastern Nigeria (Borno), it is referred to as nalle, adopted from the Tuareg, anella. This word was later Hausanised and became lalle. For centuries, women have used henna to adorn themselves, drawing patterns on their hands, palms, and feet, which in many Hausa and Fulani weddings symbolize beauty, purity, rebirth, and youth. Henna also known as “lalle” or “kunshi” and its usage in the northern part of Nigeria has been a part of the culture for at least a thousand years, according to Nigerien archaeologist Djibo Hamani. He says henna is still found growing in archeological ruins in these parts of the world as quoted in



The name “uli” is derived from the Igbo names of the plants that are refined to produce the dye used in the Uli drawing, made on the skin with dark and light dyes, usually yellow, black, white, or red. Their primary meaning is to make a woman beautiful and ready for tribe holidays, as well as to look beautiful in their everyday life.  Uri or Uli tribal marks are temporary lines that create multiple shapes on female bodies, hands, and legs lasting approximately seven days. Uri tribal tattoos represent royalty, beauty, and culture. Although uli is not directly symbolic, it focuses on the creation of a visual impact and decorating the body of the patron. According to local mythology, the practice developed as a gift from Ala, the goddess of earth, who blessed women with the ability to create art, as demonstrated through the creation of uli. The designs themselves are derived from natural forms of everyday life, such as animal patterns, like leopard spots or python markings, as well as other abstract forms. The historical origins of the practice of uli are unknown, uli designs have been found on Igbo-ukwu bronzes, indicating that the practice has been in usage since the 9th century.





The Bini or Edo are people from southwest Nigeria, they are globally known as a great African dynasty. They are also known and respected for their ancient face bronze artifacts. But the Bini people are also known for their beautiful Iwu body art. The Iwu, drawn by an Owisu (one who sculpts tattoos), symbolizes pride, strength, and beauty, and most importantly serves as a transition to adulthood. Unlike many Nigerian tribes that prefer tattoos done on their face, the Edo people are especially known for markings on the stomach and sides of their patrons. Iwu is drawn by the Osiwu, the traditional surgeon of the Edo society. The traditional body markings consist of seven strokes for males and sixteen for females. The Oba (king) and his male children get only six of these marks while his female children get fifteen marks. That’s one mark less for each of them. Although the Iwu markings signify the maturity of its recipients, it also serves as beautification (for females) and identification. A reason non-indigenes and slaves were not allowed to have Iwu on their bodies in Edo land





The Nsibidi is an Igbo tattoo that is also quite popular among the Igbo tribe. These patterns and designs were mostly found on the surfaces of pottery, cooking appliances, and other designs in the house, including the design on the hut of those living then. The Nsibidi design has over 500 designs each with its meaning and specification. So, while many Nsibidi designs were used to beautify the home and its appliances, some were to be tattooed on the bodies of individuals of the opposite sex, for either beautification, identification, protection, and so on. It is also noteworthy to know that these distinct tattoos are more than 200 years old, but till today most igbo households are still found and held in high regard.



The Ndom face painting is an aspect of the life and culture of the Efik people of Nigeria. The Efik are an ethnic group located in southeastern Nigeria, which name ‘Efik’, is also the name of their language.  The actual origin of the Efik people is unknown and a subject of debate. There are claims that the Efik people migrated from the hinterlands and settled in the Ibibio, Ibo, and Cameroon territories. The Efik people are known for their love for each other, their amazing art and use of colors in their culture, and their amazing food. The face and body painting with Ndom among the Efik people symbolizes purity and love. In ancient times, it was a form of self-expression where families develop patterns for themselves and it was recorded particularly for them. Now the painting of the face and body with Ndom is an expression of joy and happiness. It is frequently used on different occasions, such as the birth of a child, wedding ceremonies, festivals, etc. Apart from that, the Nfom face painting served as an indication that the individual wearing the paint, had been initiated into all women society,



Tribal marks mean different things and serve different purposes among different tribes and families. But for the Yoruba people, ila or tribal marks can be used in four ways. Identification, religion, beautification, and for healing. And from the early hears of Yoruba existence, they have made good use of this facial body art. This body art is unique to particular ethnic groups among the Yoruba people, and when more than one ethnic group gives one particular mark, their individuality can be seen, some of these marks include; the Pele tribal mark of the Ile ife people and it’s variants from Ijesha and Ijebu, the Owu facial mark of the Abeokuta people of Ogun state Nigeria, the Abaja tribal mark of the Oyo people, the Gombo mark is also known as keke mark, that is indigenous to the Ogbomosho people of Oyo state Nigeria.


Nigerian Body art was a big part of the Nigerian culture, but after the emergence of Christianity, and Western civilization, most of this practice has lost its place in the lives of Nigerians. For years a lot of Nigerians frowned upon the way and manner in which this practice was shunned away. But In recent years, many people had devised new ways to appreciate this culture. Many have hosted various festivals to appreciate this culture and to teach the intricate art of giving these tattoos, so the culture would not die out. A notable example is the Nka Dioka Cultural Festival, which was reinvented in Neni in 1978 in other to bring back the Ichi culture, and effectively teach It. This festival like many others that Nigerians have devised to keep their culture, has been in practice till this day.


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