With archaeological evidence of human settlements dating back 2500 years, Nigerians have a lot to be proud of, embedded within their culture through dance, food, weddings, and even regular greetings. The oldest remains of civilizations unearthed in Nigeria dates back to the early iron age, where a group of settlers dubbed the “Nok civilization” have left their footprint in the form of multiple, unique ceramic sculptures that haven’t been found elsewhere.
There are five main ethnic cultures in Nigeria with each displaying its own unique traditions and traits:
· Hausa culture
· Yoruba culture
· Igbo culture
· Ijaw culture
· Bini culture
The Hausa are predominantly Muslim, following the teachings of Sheikh Usman dan Fodio. Islam was brought to the Hausa with the arrival of the Fulani people, which have intermixed with the historic Hausa, forming the modern-day Hausa group. Being the largest ethnic group in Nigeria, they make up over 25% of the country’s total population. The Hausa are culturally homogeneous, their traditions having withstood several centuries. Northern Nigeria is home to a majority of the Hausa people, who speak an Afro Asiatic language also termed “Hausa”.
Traditional Hausa clothes include loose gowns, trousers, leather sandals, and turbans. Men wear colorful caps known as hula, often accompanied by a turban to veil the face. Women wear a traditional costume known as Zani, rich in colors. Hausa women commonly use Henna to print decorative patterns on their hands, similar to other Muslims.
Hausa traditional sports are considered brutal. Dambe (boxing), Takkai (stick fighting), Korowai (wrestling) are common forms of entertainment amongst Hausa people.
The Yoruba are the second largest ethnic group in Nigeria, commonly found in the South-Western area. “Yoruba” being their primary language, they make up about 21% of the total Nigerian population. The Yoruba people are great sculptors. They have been renowned for their famous sculptures such as the terracotta work during the 12th and 14th centuries. While Christianity and Islam are becoming increasingly popular amongst Yoruba people, their religious practices stem from centuries-old traditions that include multiple divine deities and complex beliefs about the universe.
The Yoruba host multiple festivals throughout the calendar, with each festival being rich in dance and color, and often utilizing their traditional drums (bata). Festivals are organized on multiple occasions for a variety of reasons; weddings, naming ceremonies, funerals, housewarming, harvest ceremonies, and many more. The annual Osun festival is celebrated in the month of August on the banks of the Osun river to honor the goddess Osun.
The Yoruba people enjoy a diverse cuisine consisting of multiple dishes based on cassava, yams, cocoyams, plantain, corn, beans, meat, and fish. It is common to have a main dish such as Amala (mostly yam) accompanied by a soup such as egusi (ground seeds).
The Yoruba sport a rich wardrobe with traditional clothing. Based on the belief that the social status and personality of a man are intertwined with the kind of clothes he wears, Yoruba people wear a unique attire for each different occasion. Clothing for both genders is made of cotton and comes in bright colors and many different patterns. Menswear includes Dandogo, Agaba, Oyala, and Sulia which they wear over their traditional underwear Buba, Esiki, and Sapara. Women too have a wide range of costumes to choose from, counting Iro, Buba (a traditional blouse), and headgear called Gele. These traditional costumes are accompanied by many types of ornaments such as beads, necklaces, and anklets for both men and women.
The Igbo people of Nigeria, who speak their principal native language “Igbo”, make up about 18% of the country’s population. Igboland is considered their home, which spreads mostly across Southeast Nigeria. Igbo art is unique and known for its wide use of a great variety of masks and outfits. The religion of the Igbo people is mostly Christianity with some followers of the ancient religion Odinani.
Igbo culture has a unique approach to music with various instruments fashioned out of clay jugs (udu), hollow logs (ekwe), and a handbell (ogene). Highlife with a little mix of traditional music is popular amongst Igbo people. Igbo traditional music is often accompanied by masked dances, often seen in numerous religious and social festivals held throughout the year.
The Ijaw people speak up to nine different languages despite making up only 10% of the Nigerian population. Being further divided into 51 different clans, the Ijaw are mostly fishermen who lead a simple life based on farming, fishing, and trading. The modern-day Ijaw people are predominantly Christian while some still embrace the ancient Ijaw religion which consists of water spirits, Owuamapu. Quite expectedly, considering their water-dependent lifestyle, the Ijaw people are mostly settled around the Niger River Delta in Nigeria.
Bridal dowry is considered of great importance to recognize a marriage in Ijaw culture. The dowry vastly increases if an Ijaw man chooses to marry a bride from a different village, which is a kind of compensation paid to the village for the loss of its children.
Being a maritime group, Ijaw bases a lot of its diet on fish and seafood. Oysters, clams, and periwinkles are some other types of seafood that are cooked into various dishes together with yams and plantains.
Benin (also known as Edo) is an ethnic group prominent in the Southern part of Nigeria, speaking the language “Edo”. Making up less than 1% of the Nigerian population, the Benin people are closely related to other minority ethnic groups such as Esan, Isoko, and Urboho. The Benin beliefs revolve around their creator and supreme god Osanobua. Osanobua is believed to be omnipresent, Omnipresent, and Omniscient, allowing him to exist everywhere at any given moment. Edo people have a unique dress culture that is quite different from other ethnic cultures in Nigeria and the rest of Africa. Mostly wearing red attires, men and women wear multiple red ornaments and accessories such as beaded red crowns, red anklets, and certain body markings.