Bullied By Classmates, Discovered By Rihanna: Adetutu OJ Shares What It’s Really Like Living With Tribal Marks In Nigeria


At the time of writing this post, Rihanna follows a total of 1,339 people on Instagram; Adetutu OJ Alabi is one of them.

Just a few weeks ago, Adetutu, a single mom of one and an embroidery artist embarked on a social media campaign to model for Rihanna’s insanely successful beauty brand, Fenty Beauty. She had come across a picture of Rihanna donning one of those trendy half glasses and serving a straight but fierce face to the camera. The picture reminded her of a similar one she had posed for in one of her part-time modelling gigs and she decided she was going to do her very best to get Rihanna’s attention.

And that she did. Because just days after she paired their photos together and went live with her campaign on both Instagram and Twitter, Rihanna clicked the “follow” button.

While as at the time of our interview, the singer or her team haven’t exactly reached out to her for the modelling contract she fervently hopes and prays for, Adetutu is convinced that the follow is a huge step, almost as good as a modelling contract.

Tribal marks

In the not-so-ancient Nigeria, tribal marks were used by different tribes for a variety of purposes which ranged from identification to beautification and healing, among other things. The severity of the scars usually depends on the ethnicity of the bearer. For instance, while the Ogbomosho people have a series of curved and straight lines all over their faces, the Igbos have either a single incision on their cheeks or two small lines by the side of their eyes, and the Nupe people might have either a vertical line or many curves on each cheek.

The above paragraph goes to show that across Nigeria – from north to south to east – tribal marks are fairly common (even if more and more people are backing away from the practice). So, considering how common it is, one would think than here more than anywhere else, people would be more tolerant and accepting of the bearers of these tribal marks. But no, that is not the case.

Adetutu who has four very visible horizontal incisions on both cheeks giving to her at birth by her father, says it has been a hell of an experience living with the tribal marks. The bullying cost her a university education and almost led her to consider taking her life.

Baby daddy

At 21, Adetutu got pregnant for a man who she had been in love with but who was too ashamed to be seen with her or even associated with her. A few days after she broke the news of her pregnancy to him, he absconded; never to be seen again until 8 years later when a popular gossip platform reposted a picture of her from her social media page.

He reached out to her via DM trying to get familiar but well, it was too late.

Tambour beading

Tambour beading is a method of embroidery which originated in Europe in the late eighteenth century and has been embraced by major fashion houses across the world. In the Nigerian fashion industry however, there is only a handful of people who specialize in the art. Again, Adetutu is one of them.

And she stumbled on the craft by chance.

She had applied for a front desk job at a fashion business, but on getting there, the lady in charge saw her tribal marks and wasn’t sure that their high flying clients would be very accepting. Instead of outrightly dismissing her, the lady suggested that they teach her tambour beading which would enable her work behind the scenes. Adetutu accepted, out of curiosity and desperation – she needed to work to raise her child.

She fell in love with the craft and have since started up her own embroidery business where she not only works for some of the biggest names in the Nigerian fashion scene, but also organizes classes to teach as many people as are willing to learn the craft of tambour beading and embroidery.

Watch Adetutu share her story in her own words below.


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