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Book: Body Talk and Cultural Identity in the African World

Chapter: 8. So That We Might Find Ourselves: Refashioning Embodied Beauty and Collective Identity in Yoruba Culture

DOI: 10.1558/equinox.24096


This paper examines the Yoruba cultural practice of body/facial marking, a culture that is believed to be dying out as a result of the influence of modernity. In the past, Yoruba people marked their bodies with culturally cognitive semiotics for dual purposes of collective identification and beauty; the former was an especially important protection against the abductions that occur during war and slave raiding. For a people who were under the constant threat of being kidnapped, the body became a site for mapping consanguinity and a strategy for ensuring survival and/or retrieval. The other purpose, beauty, is realized through the designs of the markings. With modernity, the culture of facial/body marking has greatly waned and even in certain places, an illegal practice. Yet Yorubas realize the dual purposes of collective identity and beauty that facial/body marking serves through the emergent culture of Aso-Ebi. The Aso-Ebi practice is a relatively modern practice one in which members of a family, along with their friends choose a particular material to wear during a ceremony. While on one hand, the Aso-Ebi is a modern evolution of facial/body marking; on the other hand, its practice is complicated by the fluidity of modernity.

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