Ojebeta's Facial Tattoos

George P. Landow, Professor of English and Art History, Brown University

In one of the novel's most painful ironies, Ojebeta's mother tries to protect her from slavery with two devices. First, she gives her young daughter "safety charms, the bells and cowrie shells that jingled and clanged when she made the slightest movement." Second, she pays a great deal to have her face covered with unusual markings:

All over her features were traced intricate tattoos, the pattern of spinach leaves, with delicate branches running down the bridge of her nose, spreading out on her forehead and ending up at the top of her ears. On each cheek was drawn the outline of a large spinach leaf looking ready to be picked. It was not that many Igbos did not have facial tribal marks of different kinds, rather that few would have put so many on the face of one little girl. But Ojebeta's mother Umeadi, when she realized that her daughter was going to live, had had a reason for going to the expense of engaging the services of the most costly face-marker in Ibuza. For, with such a riot of tribal spinach marks on her only daughter's face, no kidnapper would dream of selling her into slavery. What was more, if she got lost her people would always know her, for although the patterns on her face might seem madness here to these Igbos from the East who frequented Otu Onitsha market, among the Western Igbos called the Aniochas it was a distinctive and meaningful design. [39]

In what sense does her mother's precautions help her?

Postcolonial Web Africa OV Nigeria OV Emecheta OV