When we did our first prospective visit to Nigeria back in 2008 I must confess that all the Last Places team was a bit nervous. We knew well Nigeria’s neighboring countries; Cameroon, Benin, and Niger, but none of us had visited Nigeria before and all the stories we had heard where not pushing us to propose Nigeria as one of Middle-Africa’s travel destinations. But once again, our curiosity, faith in unexplored territories, and the belief that Nigeria was much more than what TV used to show about this African Nation, made us go for it, and here we are, presenting a web page, specialized in travel information about Nigeria and inviting you to discover this wonderful country with us. Nigeria is certainly a challenging destination for first-timers to Africa, but with a good guide and a good car you can have a great time and discover spectacular places that receive very few tourists along the year. Lagos is one of the most exuberant cities in Africa, while port city Calabar makes for an enjoyable stopover for travelers on their way to Cameroon. Across Southern Nigeria, old kingdoms carry on their customs, from creating elaborate brass sculptures to venerating the ancient gods. More modern traditions include one of the world’s pioneering primate conservation organizations. In the north, where the land dries out as it stretches towards the desert, Muslim Nigeria thrives in dusty trade cities where memories of the Saharan trade routes still linger. While a few parts of the country remain problematic (around the oil producing Niger delta), the vast majority is as warm and welcoming to visitors as anywhere in Africa. Challenging yet exuberant, this is Africa in the raw – there’s nowhere quite like it on the continent.
Also known as Kambari or Tsishingini.
Population & Ecosystem
150.000 Kamberi live in the fertile forested plains of Kebbi and Niger States.
Economy & Society
The Kamberi are farmers growing millet, guinea-corn, groundnuts and yams.
They are grouped into three tribes all speaking different dialects; Tsishingini, Tsikimba and Cishingini. Not all the dialects are mutually intelligible. Many Kamberi people have a negative attitude to modern ways. The elite class among the Kamberi feel that the traditional authorities have not approached this well and the authorities blame the Islamized and Hausa elite for failing to cooperate with them. The authorities have tried by gifts and decrees to get the Kamberi to conform to the national culture, but this has been misunderstood and suspected because the authorities did not take the Kamberi culture and world view into account. In most places the Kamberi are ruled by non-Kamberi chiefs and their elite have begun to oppose this. Most parents are against sending their children to school, feeling that it is a waste of time when the children could be doing farm work. The literacy level in Kamberi land may be 3%.
Culture & Religion
Kamberi women and men (at a lesser extent) still practice facial and body scarification and tattooing, despite attempts to stop the practice by the local authorities in Genu Emirate. Lower and upper lip piercing (small woods or blue glass beads) is still done among young women.
Kamberi women take time decorating their hairs with metal wraps and beads and they put on colourful short skirts when going to the market or during ceremonies. The usage of plastic colour beads for necklaces and bangles is common between young women and men.
The majority of the Kamberi practice ethnic religions. They believe that at death they will join their dead ancestors. They believe in and claim to often see ghosts walking about at night. The ghosts are said to have fire coming forth from their armpits and are known to beat people to death. Most Kamberi believe in witchcraft and many gods. They are also animists (believe that non-living objects have spirits), and they worship and sacrifice to various inanimate objects. Medicines and oaths also play a role in Kamberi beliefs.
Also known as Dukkawa, Dukku, Dukanci, or Baduku.
Population & Ecosystem
90.000 Dukawa live around Yauri and Yelwa regions. Dukawa homeland is hilly, rocky territory where rivers provide much fish and islands serve as fertile land for their crops.
Economy & Society
The Dukawa make their living as fishermen and farmers, mainly raising millet and guinea corn in the highlands and onions along the rivers. Other crops include maize, peanuts, sweet potatoes, and beans. The Dukawa grow their own tobacco, and many of them enjoy smoking. Town dwellers also have large farms in the bush where they live for part of the year. They are closely related to the Kamberi, speaking a similar language.
Many defensive towns still remain in the Dukawa region; surrounded by strong, high walls with holes in them for guns and arrows. Deep moats surround the walls, outside which is another trench with low walls and prickly thorns. Some Dukawa live in small rural villages outside these towns. Their homes are small huts with walls only four feet high and containing mud beds, beneath which a fire burns. The Dukawa have a history of being great fighters; bows and poisoned arrows were their principal weapons. Successful hunters and warriors wore black shirts and bracelets made of the skins their victims. Hunting continues to be an important cultural aspect of Dukawa life. Arrows are sometimes fired out of guns, especially when hunting big mammals.
Unlike most tribes in Nigeria, circumcision is not a common practice among Dukawa. Instead, a boy's journey into manhood begins when he is able to wrestle. At that time, his father will give him a cloth and some land to farm for the next seven years, until he is ready to marry. Girls and boys have an opportunity to meet at the wrestling matches, and a girl is given flour to sprinkle over the head of the boy she chooses. All of these Dukawa cultural traits still exist. However, in recent years, increasing numbers of Dukawa have begun assimilating into a more modern, commercialized society.
Culture & Religion
Dukawa women have practiced facial and body scarification and tattooing like their Kamberi neighbours until recent times. The influence of Islam and Christianity and social and economic changes have influenced Dukawa aesthetic values and today is rare to see young women with body marks. Said this, the usage of nose metal piercings, jewellery (beads and metal bracelets) is still common among younger generations. The traditional dress for women was bundles of leaves tied around their waists. In some cases, brass rings are still worn in women's lips as the traditional ear ornaments made of red stone or red silk.
Due to contact with Muslim traders, a number of the Dukawa are Muslim. However, the majority of the Dukawa practice ethnic religions. They believe that at death they will join their dead ancestors. They believe in and claim to often see ghosts walking about at night. The ghosts are said to have fire coming forth from their armpits and are known to beat people to death. Most Dukawa believe in witchcraft and many gods. They are also animists (believe that non-living objects have spirits), and they worship and sacrifice to various inanimate objects. Medicines and oaths also play a role in Dukawa beliefs.
Also known as Lela, C’lela, Lalawa.
Population & Ecosystem
170.000 Dakakari live in the forested hills around the city of Zuru in Kebbi State.
Economy & Society
The Dakakari are mainly farmers and hunters. In search of good land many have migrated to Niger state. They return to their original centres for burials and festivals. They farm guinea corn and millet. Iron ore is found in this area and used to be locally smelted.
Culture & Religion
Today Dakakari tribal marks are similar to those of their Dukawa neighbours. Women usually have more marks on their forehead, neck, chest back and the arms. The front teeth were also filed to a point for beauty. Walki is the leather girdle worn till now by men to farm and during wrestling.
Dakakari worship their gods in forest and mountain shrines. One of the most important Dakakari sacred places is Girmache shrine, located near Zuru city. The shrine is more or less a grove because thick trees and water inhabited by crocodiles dominate the area, and local people come around to worship and offer sacrifices to the gods of the shrine and present gifts to the crocodiles. Every year the sacred crocodiles are taken out of the pond and men dance with them during the Zuru Uhola Cultural Festival.
Also known as Cipu or Acipa.
Population & Ecosystem
20.000 Cicipu live in the rocky hills and forested plains north of Rijau in Niger State.
Economy & Society
The Cicipu are mainly farmers and hunters. They farm guinea corn and millet. Cicipu women produce clay pottery for home consumption.
Cicipu society is governed by a king and a council of elders, all residing in original village on top of Korisino Mountain.
Culture & Religion
Cicipu women used to pierce their lips and insert a wooden stick or straw. Today only the older generation show the wholes on their lips. Scarification has also lost importance due to social, cultural and economic changes in Cicipu society. Rites of passage continue to have a strong impact in Cicipu society and boys and girls dress in colourful attires made of goat skin and decorated with coloured beads. In religious terms Cicipu people continue to worship the old gods despite an increasing numbers of Christian converts.
Also known as Zulawa, Bi Zule, Gezawa, Mbarmi, Barma, or Geji.
Population & Ecosystem
4.000 Zul live in the fertile plains and feet of rocky mountains between Toro and Zaranda in Bauchi State.
Economy & Society
The Zul are farmers growing millet, guinea-corn, groundnuts and yams. They own some cattle and sporadically Zul men organise hunting parties. The Zul used to live isolated in mountains around Zaranda and Geji towns. British colonial administration forced to come down and this meant the gradual erosion of their original culture. Zul language was reported in to be dying out and to have very few speakers. However, this appears to be wrong. There are both more speakers and the language livelier than previously thought. The number of speakers varies considerably from one source to another, but is probably about 4000.
Culture & Religion
Zul women used to pierce until the early 1960s their lower and upper lips where round pierces or white wood would be inserted. Beautiful facial tattoos (diagonal stripes on both cheeks) lived a bit longer than the lip piercings but by mid 1970s the practice also had stopped. Fuzzy hair can still be seen in some older women as well as the facial tattoos. Zul people have been converted into Christianity by missionaries but the older generation still worships the old gods. Singing and dancing are an essential part of Zul society.
Also known as Ngas or Kerang.
Population & Ecosystem
200.000 Angas live in the town of Pankshin (Amper plains) and the surrounding hills.
Economy & Society
The soil of the plains of Amper are littered with granite and farmers in the district grow crops on terraced fields to plant cereal crops such as millet, guinea corn and maize. The people used the granite boulders as foundations and walls for their houses.
Culture & Religion
The Angas celebrate a major festival called the Tsafi Tar or Mos Tar, during the celebration, a brief event called Shooting the Moon takes places to mark the end season and the beginning of a new season. The festival is usually celebrated during the time of harvest.
Also known as Egon, Ero, Mo Egon, Hill Mada or Mada Eggon.
Population & Ecosystem
250.000 Eggon live in the fertile plains of the Benoue Valley. A few still live in mountains villages.
Economy & Society
The Eggon are one of the more economically advanced of the Benue Valley tribes. In the hills they grow guinea corn, cotton, yams, and tobacco. They practice in weaving and dying, producing cloth that is much in demand and can be traded. The Eggon villages in the hills are made up of round huts with conical thatched roofs grouped around a central courtyard. In the plains the Eggon are mostly farmers, selling dried fish and palm oil for cash. The plains Eggon build large houses within compounds and fortify their villages. The Eggon receives its name from the hill where the people lived before coming down to the plain.
Culture & Religion
Older Eggon men and women still have tribal marks and marks of lizards, birds and other objects on their necks, arms and belly. During traditional dances men wear spectacular headrests made of baboon skin.
Eggon are mainly traditionalists in terms of religion, but that Islam and Christianity is gaining ground among them. The Eggon generally believe in Ahogben (God) who is far beyond the sky and they believe he created man and the universe and anything good is from him, because he is far above they feel they can only communicate to him through Ashim (a close god to humans) which is a supreme God. Individuals or families also keep items like a pot or stone as their god at home which they believe in and also make sacrifices to. But with the coming of missionaries, Islam and Christianity have spread widely in their land. Today Islam and Christianity are the major religion in the land.The supreme god is called Angbashim. In order to consult this god a libation is poured on the ground seven times with some confession by the elder or priest. Apart from the Ashim, there are some religions practiced by individuals or families such as Akuk, Arikya, Gango and Yamba. They use items like stones, cowries, pots and sticks as gods. Such items are kept mostly at home in a separate room for worshiping and they offer sacrifices to the item, believing it chases away evil spirits in the land or away from the family and make land fit for farming.
Also known as Kadam, Kompana, Beya, Ndamti, Vomni or Verre.
Population & Ecosystem
60.000 Koma is a relatively isolated hill-dwelling ethnic group in northern Adamawa, in the Alantika Mountains, which shares a border with Cameroon.
Economy & Society
Hill-dwellers are spread through the south and southwest of these mountains, including many on the Cameroon side. There are 21 Koma villages in the Cameroonian side of the Alantika Mountains and 17 villages on the Nigerian side. Alantika means where ‘Allah hasn’t yet arrived’ in the Kanuri language. The explanation for this is the fact that the Koma tribal people living in the Alantika Mountains keep their Animistic religion and their ancient traditions despite being surrounded by Islamic societies in the nearby plains. The Koma are divided between two different clans: the Koma Kadam (East side) and the Koma Kompana (West side), and all their villages are controlled by the Emir of Nassarao (Nigerian side) and the Lamido or Emir of Wangay (Cameroon side) who profess the Islamic religion. The Koma have to pay taxes (in spices) to the landlords of the Alantika Mountains. In the last 20 years some Christian missionaries have constructed missions in the Alantika Mountains but there are few conversions till this day.
Customarily inheritance in Koma is in the maternal lineage. As a mark of acceptance and friendship, a Koma man may share his wife with friends, especially visitors. They have an average population of about 400 people per village, and many engage in rearing of animals.
Culture & Religion
The Koma are committed to their traditional culture. The men wear loincloths and women wear fresh leaves. Koma men are much more receptive to wearing of Western clothes than the women. Koma people are mainly attached to the African religion and they have a unique ritual known as ‘farting dance’. Koma medicine men engage in extended farting sessions on the occasion of public dancing ceremonies. They train with a master and are capable of farting for hours on end. When the anus area becomes irritated from prolonged flatulence, it is soothed with a healing powder. The tradition is thought to originate in mockery of puritanical Muslims, who used to enslave Komas and drove them to move their habitat into the hilly areas they now occupy.
Also known as Gbagyi.
Population & Ecosystem
1 million Gwari are widespread in the fertile plains of Niger, Kaduna, and Plateau states and the Federal Capital Territory.
Economy & Society
The Gwari people are predominantly farmers but they are also hunters while some are involved making traditional arts and craft products such as pottery and woodwork like mortar and pestle. Gwari are good with mixing clay to produce decorative household products such as pots. They are also known to be very good farmers, as they use local farm instruments like hoes and cutlasses to farm yams, maize, millet and groundnuts.
They are divided into two main groups. The eastern groups is called Gbagyi-Ngenge or Gbagyi-Matai and they are more populous. The western groups are called Gbagyi-Nkwa or Gbagyi-Yamma. The western and eastern groups speak different languages, and within them, there are sub-groups and dialects.
Culture & Religion
Body and facial tattooing are still practiced among certain Gwari groups. Body ornamentation tin select the cast of tattoo, piercing of surely parts of the torso similar nose, ear, abdomen etc. Traditionally, Gwari women do torso ornamentation to attract men.
The Gwari people are adherents of Islam, Christianity and traditional African religion. In their traditional religion, some Gwari believe in a God called Shekwoi (one who was there before their ancestors) but they also devote themselves to appeasing deities of the god such as Maigiro. Many Gwari believe in reincarnation.
Also known as Gengle.
Population & Ecosystem
80.000 Mumuye live in the Shebshi Mountains and surrounding plains in Jalingo region, Adamawa.
Economy & Society
Mumuye are farmers, although the soil in this area is not exceptionally fertile. During the dry season from October to March nothing can be grown on the desolate scrub-like land. Millet is the staple crop in the region and is used to make flour and beer. The uncertainty of harvests in this region have led to the development of various prayers and offerings that are made during both planting and harvesting cycles in hopes of increasing the annual yield. Hunting is widely practiced to augment the local diet, and game is generally abundant. Each village has its own hunting lands, and permission is required for an outsider to hunt on these lands.
The Mumuye were pushed into their current locale during the Fulani holy wars, which extended from the 17th century into the early 19th century. Along with their neighbors, with whom they have much in common, they fled southwards into the hills of eastern Nigeria where they divided into small communities that remained relatively isolated from one another. The Benue River Valley had very little to offer to Europeans in terms of natural resources, and so they remained relatively isolated from colonialist enterprise.
The relative isolation of individual communities remains today. For the most part, small villages are made up of one or two extended families and the spouses who have married into those families. Individual lineages identify with a totemic spirit that is metaphorically embodied in certain animals. Families that might otherwise be unrelated may develop political ties because they both belong the same spirit. The result of this sort of relationship is a somewhat decentralized power structure that permits the members of each totem group to retain a degree of power.
Culture & Religion
The Mumuye have a unique appearance. Their distinct style of dress clearly sets them apart from their neighbours. Men wear one or more leather girdles, the ends of which are decorated with beads and cowries (bright shells). Goat skins are also worn with the girdles. Both men and women wear beads, brass and iron bracelets and anklets, and pieces of wood in their ears. Women also tattoo their stomachs and wear straw and wood in their pierced nostrils. Men file their four upper front teeth to points. Most Mumuye make rows of small cuts above their eyes, at the temples, and on their cheeks. The totemic groups mentioned above are of primary importance in Mama religion, for a lineage's membership in a certain group is defined by the group to which their ancestors belonged. Offerings and sacrifices are made to the family ancestors to appease them and to thank them, especially during harvest times. The dancing of bush cow masks is known to be a part of a secret society whose main purpose is to ask the ancestors who are associated with the bush cow for abundance and agricultural fertility. The skulls of ancestors are considered the resting place of their souls. Wooden statues that are carved to represent the dead are placed near the skull of the deceased person. It is believed that the spirit is then able to enter the statue which can be transported into the house where it is involved in the daily lives of the living.
Mumuye sculpture is unique, assuming a long narrow pole-like style. They also use bird and buffalo masks and big elbow carrier anthropomorphic masks.
Also known as Kwayam, Beriberi, or Yerwa.
Population & Ecosystem
3 million Kanuri live in the dry plains Northeast Nigeria up to Lake Chad.
Economy & Society
Kanuri economy is based on millet agriculture; in recent times, however, peanuts (groundnuts) have become an important additional cash crop. The Kanuri live in settled villages and towns and farm the sandy soil of the surrounding countryside. Maiduguri is the capital of Bornu state. The Kanuri are a commercial people with well-developed internal trade; they trade with the Fulani and Shuwa Arabherders for dairy products. Cowhide and goatskin are exported in quantity.
Kanuri society is stratified into several distinct classes. The family of the shehu, the political and religious head of all Kanuri, forms a royal lineage. Much pageantry continues to be connected with the court. Most Kanuri are in the class of commoners. Before the British came, there was also a class of slaves who could, nonetheless, rise to prominence in court. Kin groups are not as important among the Kanuri as they are among most other African peoples; the household of a rich, powerful, and noble individual becomes the central focus for many people. The Kanuri are polygynous. The typical household unit is the nuclear family of husband, wife, and children or the polygynous family living in a compound. Houses are of sun-dried mud bricks and may be square or round, with flat or thatched roofs, respectively.
Culture & Religion
Kwayam tribal women of the greater Kanuri nation still scarify their cheeks and do beautiful complex hairdos. The Kanuri became Muslims in the 11th century. Kanem became a centre of Muslim learning and the Kanuri soon controlled all the area surrounding Lake Chad and a powerful empire called Kanem Empire, which reached its height in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries when they ruled much of Middle Africa.
Also known as Jibanci or Jibawa.
Population & Ecosystem
30.000 Jibu live in the extreme eastern part of the middle belt, along creeks or in valleys in that hilly/mountainous area.
Economy & Society
Most of the Jibu are farmers. The main crop is guinea corn; they also raise corn, bananas, and to a smaller extent rice and peas. All the farming is done by hand-digging the soil and making it into rows with shovels made by local blacksmiths. They do not own cattle or horses. The soil is not fertile at all and it has become very difficult for the farmers to obtain the fertilizer needed to grow their crops. They also gather edible leaves of various kinds from the woods. There are at least 16 kinds of mushrooms. The older women are good mushroom hunters and they easily distinguish which are edible and which are poisonous.
The two major towns are Serti and Beli. There are well over 100 villages, each with a village chief. Many of the villages are situated on the north or western side of the Taraba River. Many other villages are located father to the northwest either along creeks or in valleys in that hilly/mountainous area. The Fulani cattle sometimes destroy the Jibu crops. Since the paramount chief is Fulani, the people don't receive any remuneration for the damaged crops.
The people live in small mud houses with grass roofs. If the family is large, there will be several huts. The kitchen is an open house with just a grass roof and usually sits in the middle of the other huts. Most homes have several big clay water pots for carrying water from the river or creek, and for storing the guinea corn drink. All the vessels are made by the women. There is one village that is famous for its pottery because it has the right kind of clay. All of the family help with the farm work.
Culture & Religion
The Jibu are committed to their traditional culture. The men wear loincloths and women wear fresh leaves. Jibu men are much more receptive to wearing of Western clothes than the women.
The religion of Jibu is called "buki", which means "thing of death." It is a mixture of rituals, putting curses on enemies and removing curses by paying shamans. They have rituals to placate the rain god, river god, mountain god, etc. Men and women differ in the way they do buki. The men go as a group to sacred spots high in the hills to do buki. The rituals include slaughtering chickens and pouring out guinea corn beer as sacrifices to the gods. Women never see the men doing buki. Occasionally the men do buki close to the village. During this time the women and children are required to stay in their huts. The belief is that if they see the rituals, they will die or go crazy.
In past generations, Islam has been forced on the Jibu people. Most of those who profess Islam do not understand its teachings well, but continue to profess Islam as it offers more government jobs, better education, and other benefits.
During the past dozen or so years, the Christian population has increased greatly.
Also known as Fula or Mbororo.
Population & Ecosystem
6 million nomadic or semi-nomadic Fulani live between the dry plains of Sokoto and the fertile Nigerian Middle Belt. The Fulani in Nigeria are a sub-group of the much larger Peul or Fula people, a tribe that is spread across much of West Africa.
Economy & Society
Most Fulani in Nigeria are nomadic or semi-nomadic, mixing farming with shepherding. Although some Fula tribes travel seasonally with their flocks, the Fulani in Nigeria have a permanent home they live in for half of the year. They only travel during the dry season, when grazing lands and water are scarce. Many of the men have multiple wives. Since cattle are a symbol of wealth among the Fulani, brides are sometimes chosen because of the amount of cattle they own.
Fula society is divided into casts. The fairly rigid caste system of the Fulani people has medieval roots, was well established by the 15th-century, and it has survived into modern age. The four major castes in their order of status are ‘nobility, traders, tradesmen (such as blacksmith) and descendants of slaves’.
On top of the pyramid there are the Dimo, meaning ‘noble’. The imo are followed by the artisan caste, including blacksmiths, potters, griots, genealogists, woodworkers, and dressmakers. They belong to castes but are free people. On the lower part of the pyramid there are those castes of captive, slave or serf ancestry. The Fulani castes are endogamous in nature, meaning individuals marry only within their caste.
Central to the Fulani people's lifestyle is a code of behaviour known as pulaaku, literally meaning the ‘Fulani pathways’ which are passed on by each generation as high moral values of the Fulani, which enable them to maintain their identity across boundaries and changes of lifestyle. Essentially viewed as what makes a person Fulani, or ‘Fulaniness’, pulaaku includes:
Munyal: Patience, self-control, discipline, prudence
Gacce/ Semteende: Modesty, respect for others (including foes)
Hakkille: Wisdom, forethought, personal responsibility, hospitality
Sagata/ Tiinaade: Courage, hard work
Culture & Religion
The traditional dress of the Fulani consists of long colourful flowing robes, modestly embroidered or otherwise decorated. Both men and women wear a characteristic white or black cotton fabric gown, adorned with intricate blue, red and green thread embroidery work, with styles differing according to region and sex.
It is not uncommon to see the women decorate their hair with bead hair accessories as well as cowrie shells. Fulani women often use henna for hand, arm and feet decorations. Their long hair is put into five long braids that either hang or are sometimes looped on the sides. It is common for women and girls to have silver coins and amber attached to their braids. Some of these coins are very old and have been passed down in the family. The women often wear many bracelets on their wrists. The women can also be seen wearing a colourful cloth around, the waist, head or over one shoulder.
Like the men, the women have markings (combination of scarification and tattooing) on their faces around their eyes and mouths that they were given as children.
Fulani men are often seen wearing solid-coloured shirt and pants which go down to their lower calves, made from locally grown cotton, a long cloth wrapped around their faces, and a conical hat made from straw and leather on their turbans, and carrying their walking sticks across their shoulders with their arms resting on top of it. Often the men have markings on either side of their faces and/or on their foreheads. They received these markings as children. Fulani ethics are strictly governed by the notion of pulaaku. Women wear long robes with flowery shawls. They decorate themselves with necklaces, earrings, nose rings and anklets.
One of the most important events in Fulani culture is the Gerewol, a yearly ceremony that gathers all the Fulani clans so that young members of the tribe can flirt and meet their future wives and husbands. Gerewol happens at the end of the rainy season (late September, early October) but rehearsals and smaller Gerewol ceremonies can be seen all year around. During the Gerewol, dancing and singing become central.
The Fulani have a rich musical culture and play a variety of traditional instruments including drums, hoddu (a plucked skin-covered lute similar to a banjo), and riti or riiti (a one-string bowed instrument similar to a violin), in addition to vocal music. Zaghareet or ululation is a popular form of vocal music formed by rapidly moving the tongue sideways and making a sharp, high sound.
The Fulani were one of the first people groups in Chad to be converted to Islam. The Fulani still hold on to many old Fulani traditions. They believe that family, cattle, strong morals, beauty, poetry, singing, and dancing are the most important things in life.
Annually performed in May on Lagos Island, the whole of Carter Bridge to Tinubu Square is closed for the Eyo parade. This festival in Nigeria is a cultural display of the Isale Ekpo people and has, over time, garnered fame among tourists for the masquerade displays of head-to-toe white costumes. These costumes represent the spirit of the dead (Egungun in Yoruba language).
Osun festival is held towards the rainy season, usually last week of August. It is a traditional tribal festival from the Yoruba people, held to honour the river goddess Oshun. Thousands of people attend to bear witness to the ceremonies, which include priests seeking protection for the villagers for the year to come by offering gifts and sacrifices. The festival is held at the Oshogbo Sacred Forest.
Sango Festival, also known as World Sango Festival is usually held in August at the palace of the Alaafin of Oyo. The festival which is observed in over forty countries in the world is held in honour of Sango, the thunder and fire deity.
Ogun festival is an annual festival performed in Ondo state .The festival is a celebration of a god, Ogun the god of Iron .Ogun is known by the Ondo people as the god of iron, he was a great hunter who was betrayed during his journey in Ire-Ekiti which led to his death, legend has it that Ogun rose from the dead to behead all who betrayed him.
Traditionally Ogun festival is celebrated in late August or early September with sacrifices of snails, tortoises and dogs .It is a time when music fills the air and marches fill the street as people gather to pay respect to their ancestors .Participants are richly dressed with white and blue powder on their faces and masquerades are seen on the street dancing.
The celebration of the Ogun festival will not be complete till the dancers march to the Ogun shrine where dogs are sacrificed, the priestess performs traditional dances and ritual rites .The worshippers of Ogun believe that observing the Ogun festival brings forth good fortune to the land.
The Egungun Festival
The Egungun festival is a part of the Yoruba traditional religion .It is performed to mark the death of important personalities, the festival is common among the Egbas, Egbados, Oyo and other parts of south western Nigeria. The festival is usually an annual celebration performed within the months of November to April when there is no rain, with the belief that their ancestor should not have to surfer in the rain. Egungun is otherwise known as masked ancestors of the Yoruba land which assures the people that the dead are among the living. The festival is set off when the Chief priest of the Egugun Masquerades invokes the spirit of the ancestors ,this act is known as ”Alapi”, it is done when the Egugun masquerade and worshippers dance , drum and are now possessed by the ancestral spirit. The Egungun masquerade is dressed in colourful regalia with a whip, which is used to flog anyone in the way of the spirits. The festival is believed to help foster unity in the community and it is also economically beneficial.
Eliminya Festival, Otuo
Otuo community (130 km north of Benin City) life is based on the principle of age-grading. Each grade bears a name and has specific tasks associated with it as well as specific ritual duties and roles. Masquerade and dance regalia characterize each group.
In Otuo, men between the ages of 45 and 50 both sponsor and wear masks and headdresses in festivals held to mark their entry into the group of community leaders. The sponsoring age group wears only two of the seven or eight mask types that appear, the others being worn by the age company above them. These masks are used for a season lasting 5-7 years and are thereafter destroyed. Consequently, they are almost unknown to the outside world. The masks incorporate a vast array of images that refer to ideas of power and leadership: leopards, equestrian figures, colonial officers, the Nigerian Army, heraldic angels and airplanes. The names of the masquerades belong to the esoteric lore associated with each age company, although the masks I refer to as ‘bowler hats’ are called by the popular names ‘umbrella’ or ‘helmet’ – names that suggest kingship or the military but in either case, authority. These and the ‘whipping masquerades’ are those costumes carried by the sponsoring age company. All the masquerade headdresses are worn with a costume of woven raffia covering the performer’s head and torso, following the shape of his body. A fringed panel falls over his chest and shoulders. The section covering his head is embellished with a nose-like tassel. The lower hem of the costume terminates in long strands of fiber. The performer’s arms and legs, painted with linear designs, are partially visible through the fringe as is his cloth applique apron. (Today, shorts are worn rather than the backless apron worn in the past that left the buttocks exposed and visible as the fringe swayed.) Each headdress appears to give a distinctive name to the masquerade.
New Yam Festival
As a way of bringing together the Igbo community and expressing gratitude to the ancestors for the successful harvest, each year the New Yam Festival takes place just after the rainy season (around August). This cultural celebration sees Nigerians from the southern and eastern regions coming together in a parade of dances and masquerades.
Ikeji cultural festival of Arondizuogu in Imo State is a popular festival that brings the Igbo speaking community around the world together. Its origin dates back to over five centuries and it is acclaimed as the biggest pan-Igbo cultural community festival with strong heritage, international recognition and is witnessed by thousands of people on a yearly basis. It is arguably the biggest cultural festival in Igboland. In contemporary times, each passing year has witnessed an increase in grandeur, display, dance, sophistication and an all-inclusive participation of all Arondizuogu people and friends. The festival is marked with colourful display of different masquerades such as Ogionu, Mgbadike, Nwaaburuja and Ozoebune; prestigiously parading across the market square to the admiration of the public. The essence of the festival, which ranks among the best surviving traditional ceremonies of the Arondizuogu people, is to celebrate the harvest of the first yams. It serves to unify and foster ties among Aro people who are spread across the entire Igbo speaking states and part of Cross River state. It appeals to the entire Igbo speaking peoples both at home and in the Diaspora.
Ikeji is a four-day festival of propitiation, thanksgiving and feasting which is held annually in March or April. Reckoned with the Igbo calendar, these four days correspond to one Igbo week of four market days (Eke, Oye/Orie, Afo and Nkwo). Each of these days has a special significance and represents one of the several dimensions of Ikeji – a festival renowned for sumptuous feasting, fascinating masquerades, pulsating rhythms, and colourful performances. Traditional musical instruments used to accompany the masquerades are ekwe (wooden slit drum) of various sizes, ogene (metal gong), bells, maracas and oja (wooden flutes). The flutist is a very important element in the ikeji festival. He deftly communicates with the masquerades - weaving soulful melodies and blending esoteric messages into the intoxicating rhythm of the drums. Another interesting aspect of ikeji is the raconteur known as ima mbem - an imaginative tale delivered with a musical cadence that only the initiated can sometimes understand or comprehend. The importance of the flutist during Ikeji festival is very vital, for he communicates things hidden from the ordinary eyes to the masquerades, combined with soulful melodies, steps and gestures, “blending esoteric messages into the intoxicating rhythm of the drums” to the admiration of the crowd.
The Ofala Festival also called Ofala Nnewi, is an annual ceremony practiced by the indigenes of Onitsha. The festival which is described as the most important surviving traditional ceremony of Onitsha indigenes is celebrated within two days mostly in December and January in honour of the Obi (King).
The Nwafor festival is celebrated by the Ogidi people in Anambra state .It is performed after the cultivation of yam to mark the beginning of a resting period after cultivation .It also a time to pray for a productive farming season. The festival takes a period of 11 days, it usually starts from the first Friday (Afor) in the month of July and for the next 10 days .The festival is named Nwafor because it starts with a Friday which is ‘Afor’ in Igbo.
In preparation for the festival the people in the community sanitize their environment to enable the free flow of the event and in readiness to welcome all the indigenes of Ogidi returning home for the festival. A few days to the festival, on Thursday precisely, The ‘Orie’ (masquerades) performs the traditional dance around the community. The festival proper is on Sunday, this is when the people of Ogidi gather at the community hall to say prayers thanking the gods for a successful cultivation period and also pray for a large Harvest of the New Yam.
Iria or Oboko Ceremony
The Iria ceremony is the ancient cultural heritage of the Ijaw people of Okrikra Island and nearby communities.
Coming of age is something that is universal, but what is one communities’ idea of the celebration of feminism is another’s idea of gender discrimination. We are going to take a look into the different worlds that we all live in. In the Nigerian Delta tribes are scattered around. In some of these tribes the Iria ritual is practiced. Some of the groups that practice the ritual include the Iyankpo group, the Ijimkorobo group, the Alagbariye group from Ebeni, and the Saugeye group.
The Iria ritual is practiced differently in different places around the country of Nigeria- some forms of the ritual being a bit harsher while others are less demanding. The three main forms of the ritual are the Kala egeribite, Opu egeribite/egeribite, and Bibite. In many of the communities the Iria ritual is thought of as a celebration of feminism, whereas women that have left the village and gone to the city and returned to the community as well as foreigners don’t think of it as a celebration of feminism. Instead they see it as outdated, or embarrassing and unjust.
The girls involved in the ritual usually range from the age of 14 to 16 (girls that are preparing themselves for marriage.) In some places the ritual begins with the girls appearing bare breasted in front of the crowd for “inspection.” The purpose of appearing in front of the community like this is for the community to make sure that the girl’s virginity is intact. If the girl refuses to show her breasts or “fails” the inspection they experience public outcry and scorn. That is not a problem for most women being that most enjoy this ritual and see it as an honour. This opinion that many of the women have is the polar opposite of many women outside of these tightknit communities. This part of the ritual is mainly practiced for Waikiriki women.
The next stage of the ritual begins immediately after the first. In this stage the girls enter “fattening rooms” where they are held for a month with rich local foods. In other communities the women are shackled down decreasing their movement. They can be held in these fattening rooms for as long as 6 months. The girls cooped up in these rooms do have things to do though; while the girls are in the fattening rooms they learn traditional songs and dances from the elders in the village. Only females are allowed to enter the fattening rooms.
The purpose of the fattening rooms is to allow the girls to become plump and ready for marriage. This is the exact opposite to the society most people are accustomed to, where women prepare themselves for their wedding by losing weight.
The belief in these Nigerian tribes is that all the young women of the village form romantic attachments with water spirits. For them to be able to marry and have children they must detach themselves from the spirits. Through their time in the fattening rooms the young Iriabo make many trips to the town’s river at dawn. At the river the girls practice the songs they learned in the fattening rooms. On the last day all the girls gather at the river and sing their songs all together. This is the day that the water spirits are believe to come and capture the girls. For the girl’s safety and fertility to be ensured the Osokolo, or the senior male member of the Owuper society whacks them with a stick.
This part of the ritual varies throughout the tribes. In some tribes the spirits are hit out of them before the fattening rooms and in others many of the men from the village gather around and whack the women with the stick instead of the one Osokolo. Depending on the tribe or village the women may or may not be bare breasted whilst this takes place.
When it is time for the women to exit the fattening rooms a party is thrown in celebration of her becoming a new woman. The members of the community decorate the square or a space within the Iriabo’s father’s house. When the Iriabo is finally released from the room, which she has been contained in for around a month. As you can imagine this is an extremely important part for any woman participating in this ritual. As she exits the room the members of the community greet her with song and music played on their drums. Throughout the party the women dance and enjoy becoming a new woman. If by any chance the Iriabo get tired she takes her place in booth that was made for her and observes the celebration.
There are many different characteristics that make the Iria ritual one of a kind. Some of them include the arts, which is the different dances, songs, and music within the ceremony and the party that follows. Throughout the process of this rite of passage the women chant and sing to the water spirits showing religious devotion. Another characteristic is the pageantry that appears within the whole ritual. Pageantry can be seen in the beginning of the ritual where they parade around bare breasted to when the women finally exit the fattening room and are paraded around the square.
The fattening room is an ancient practice in Calabar which gradually going extinct. The fattening room is a place young women are prepared for womanhood. In ancient times, fat was viewed as a sign of prosperity, fertility and beauty. Young girls are usually taken to the fattening room during puberty. Acceptance into the fattening room was viewed as a privilege as it was a demonstration of virtue, sexual purity and Proved virginity. The ability of the young girl to gain weight in the fattening room was a sign that she possessed all the above mentioned qualities.
A young girl due to enter the fattening room is usually mandated by her father to do so as the girls chastity is viewed as her father’s responsibility. The father of the girl also invest by paying what is called ‘me’ (coral beads) to appease ‘Nku’ (the river goddess of the house) before she is accepted into the fattening room. The concept is to show that the parents of the girl are wealthy enough to give their daughter a good life.
Once in the Fattening room the girls are kept away from their family members and friends, the only visitors allowed are the elderly women in the community who come to pass on lessons on marital etiquette and acceptable social customs and behaviour. The girls are also handfed Heavy meals rich in carbohydrate and fat, sometimes the girls do not find this process pleasant as they have to consume the food regardless of their appetite. They are also given all-round beauty treatment from head to feet, using what is called ‘ndom’ (native chalk) and other massage oils made from natural plants. The training and beauty therapy is carried out over a period of one month or more while the girls are each housed in seclusion away from the public as they undergo preparation for marriage and womanhood. Before the end of their stay in the fattening room the girls are circumcised by their mothers this is to ensure she has limited sexual activity and remains chaste till marriage, it also helps her remain faithful in her marriage.
At the end of the Nkugho the girl is ceremoniously revealed to the community to show how big and beautiful she is now, well-wishers and potential suitors are also invited to watch her dance. The Ibibio people of Akwa Ibom State also practice the fattening room tradition. The tradition is somewhat similar to that of the Efiks, but the Ibibios call the fattening room ‘Mbopo’.
Argungu Fishing Festival
Argungu is an annual four-day fishing festival that has been held in the north western state of Kebbi since 1934. It is held at the beginning of March, and thousands of fishermen come to compete to catch the largest fish on the Sokoto River using only traditional handmade nets. In Argungu you can also visit Kanta Museum. Kanta Museum, adjacent to the main market. Built in 1831, the building was named after Muhammed Kanta, who founded the Kebbi Kingdom in 1515. It was erected by Yakubu Nabame, a former Emir of Kebbi, and served as the Emir’s palace until 1942 when the British built a new administrative palace during the reign of Muhammed Sani. The museum is divided into eleven compartments and has a notable collection of weapons, consisting of charms, spears, swords, wood, stones, bows and arrows, local guns and even drums on display.
The main Durbar Festival is celebrated at the end of the Ramadan and it is the most highlighted event of northern Nigeria’s Muslim community. Some Muslims travel to Mecca in Saudi Arabia during this time, while others celebrate Id el Kabir at home, where both Muslims and non-Muslims are invited to attend the celebrations. The best cities to witness this festival are Kano, Kaduna, Bida and Katsina. Witness the grand procession of horsemen in colourful warfare attire, rounded up by the Emir with musicians and parades on either side. Enjoy traditional dancing, acrobat performers, bejewelled camels and horses, festive meals, and the famous Jahi horse race.
Eid al Kabir
This Muslim festival is known as Eid al-Adha in other countries, which translates into ‘festival of sacrifice’. It occurs around late October, varying according to the Islamic calendar, on the last day of the Hajj (the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca). In Nigeria you will see this festival being celebrated in the countryside as Durbar festivals. Here the villagers come out in traditional bright coloured West African costume, and congregate in parades and horsemanship competitions throughout the day. The northern states, such as Kano, are known to have the best displays.
Sharo / Shadi Festival
The Sharo or Shadi flogging competition is a traditional rite of passage for Jafun Fulani men. The youths, escorted by girls, are led into the ring of spectators bare chested and armed with whips. As the noise of singing, drumming and cheering rises to a crescendo, each young man must stoically endure a flogging to demonstrate his manhood. The young man only qualifies to marry if he passes the test, which is administered by another youth of about the same age and size. Most do pass, but carry scars from the ordeal for the rest of their life. The sharo is generally staged at the time of the dry-season guinea corn harvest, and again during the festival of Id-el-kabir. Usually it lasts for a week and is held in a marketplace. There are other tyes of entertainment including dances, musical performances and tricksters, but the flogging ceremony is the main event.
The Gerewol also written Guerewol is an annual courtship ritual competition among the Fulani Mbororo people of Nigeria and other regions of the Sahel. Young men dressed in elaborate ornamentation and made up in traditional face painting gather in lines to dance and sing, vying for the attentions of marriageable young women.
At the end of the rainy season, end of September, the Fulani travel to different places in Northern Nigeria to participate at the Gerewol festival, a meeting of several nomadic Fulani clans. Here the young Fulani men, with elaborate make-up, feathers and other adornments, perform dances and songs to impress women. The male beauty ideal of the Fulani stresses tallness, white eyes and teeth; the men will often roll their eyes and show their teeth to emphasize these characteristics.
The Fulani clans will then join for their week-long Gerewol celebration, a contest where the young men's beauty is judged by young women.
Gerewol rehearsals and smaller Gerewols can be seen in Nigeria all year around. It is important to have an informant well connected to the different Fulani clans so that the information is verified and transmitted in time.
The music and line dancing is typical of Fulani traditions, which have largely disappeared among the vast diaspora of Fulani people, many of whom are educated, Muslim, urbanites. This is characterized by group singing, accompanied by clapping, stomping and bells. The Fulani Gerewol festival is one of the more famous examples of this style of repeating, hypnotic, and percussive choral traditions, accompanied by swaying line dancing, where the men interlink arms and rise and fall on their toes.
The Gerewol competitions involve the ornamented young men dancing the Yaake in a line, facing a young marriageable woman, sometimes repeatedly over a seven-day period, and for hours on end in the desert sun. Suitors come to the encampment of the woman to prove their interest, stamina, and attractiveness. The participants often drink a fermented bark concoction to enable them to dance for long periods, which reputedly has a hallucinogenic effect.
Vunon Cultural Festival
The Vunon Festival dates back to about three centuries ago. It is celebrated by the Bachama, Batta and Mbula people for the first rain of the year. It usually takes place at Farai, the village of Nzeanzo. The three-day cultural/religious ceremony is to recall the death of Vunon, Nzeanzo’s mother, whose hut is kept as a shrine, attended by a priest and priestess in the spirit groove near Farai.
The first day begins with wrestling and dancing at the spirit groove (Wodi Khake). This normally ends up with a procession from the spirit groove to one of the festival grounds (sites) situated at Farai. Here, well dressed women in traditional costume, entertain the spectators with a spectacular dance (Bwe Pule).
Aside wrestling and dancing, artefacts or crafts like pots, calabash, wooden spoons, hoes, and other goods are sold to spectators, visitors and tourists. Beverages of all kinds and food are sold to guests in what could be called a picnic sitting arrangement.
The Farai cultural/religious festival is an annual event. It is a celebration of demigods believed by Bachama people to have been real people at one time.
Nzeanzo is the youngest of these demigods worshiped annually at Farai village. During this festivity period, fighting and stealing are taboos. The Bachama/Batta men or women are perceived to be culturally tolerant or socially notorious; morals are decidedly lax during these days.
Kwete Cultural Festival
The Kwete Cultural Festival, an annual event, which serves as a prayer for the people of Bachama Kingdom for bountiful harvest, has been celebrated in the bid to revive and promote their rich cultural heritage. It is a common belief, among the Bachama people, that if the Kwete cultural festival does not take place, nobody would be allowed to cultivate their farm lands; therefore, the festival is aimed at marking the commencement of the new farming season in Bachama Kingdom.
The festival gives the youth an opportunity to demonstrate their strength in a wrestling competition, just as the women also compete in traditional dances, showcasing their rich cultural attires; and all these activities are of importance to the Bachama people, because they do not want their rich cultural heritage to go into extinction.
This is also a period where the traditional monarch, the Hama Bachama, associates with the custodians of the ritual houses (sacred palace); the Hama Bachama uses the festival to acknowledge the achievements of his sons and daughters, wherever they are, and also to sanction those that had violated the laws of the land.
The Kwete festival, which draws attention of people from far and near, is divided in to two parts: the first day is for the women to exhibit their cultural artefacts, in a way, demonstrating that women are not relegated in the affairs of the kingdom.
Zuru Uhola Cultural Festival
Zuru Emirate in Kebbi State is the home of the Dakakaris, a people known for their endurance and hard work. The people are also known for their farming prowess and have a rich cultural depicted during festival called Uhola. It is a symbol of the old tradition of the Dakakari inherited from their ancestors. The Zuru Uhola cultural festival is a yearly event celebrated by the Zuru people; families and clans converge to showcase their history, cultural status, farming potentials, hunting and fighting skills as well as the achievements of the people in different spheres of life.
The festival, according to the Emir of Zuru, Gomo II is a symbol of unity and reflection of the strength and values of the people. The emir also described the festival as the creation and tradition of their ancestors who sacrificed so much to bequeath to the people a culture which even the passage of time have failed to render obsolete.
The Uhola Cultural Festival is held April 25 and 26 in Zuru with the highlight being the carrying of sacred living crocodiles on the back of noble men.
Vernacular architecture of Nigeria
Vernacular architecture is commonly recognized as the fundamental expression of the world’s cultural diversity. The desire for modernization and the well-known globalization phenomenon are some of the most frequent evoked issues responsible for endangering the survival of vernacular heritage in Africa. In Last Places we aim to highlight the outstanding universal value of vernacular architectural heritage in Nigeria and to raise awareness to the increasing need, not only the protection of these structures’ integrity but also for the preservation of such ancient and sustainable building techniques as a living heritage.
The architecture of the ancient Yoruba of Southwest Nigeria was a communal endeavour and the house was a statement of ideological, economic and social position in the larger urban context. Adams Adeosun bemoans the fact that it is fast disappearing.
Universally, architecture is dependent on culture, which, in simple terms, embodies the way of life of a people. Even though factors such as climate, materials and methods directly influence building practices, they submit to the common denominator of culture. The traditional Yoruba man was a polygamist, counting his wives and children when numbering his properties - and his lifestyle fed into his building. Yoruba architecture is a family panegyric - it shouts the glory or misfortune of a family in clear structural language. Traditional Yoruba settlements were vast cities (as evidenced in Oyo, Ife and their sprawling counterparts) whose land-use patterns were confined to residences, markets, palaces, shrines and farmlands.
The Yoruba house as the physical manifestation of unity
In mainstream African cultures, the man is both arrowhead and anchor of the family. From this perspective, it is only sensible that the blessing and responsibility of owning a house is bestowed on him. In the past, whenever a Yoruba man decided to build a house, he began by informing his friends, who gathered their wives and children at the building site on a fixed date. Construction was hardly a vocation until much later. While the actual construction work fell to the men, the women and children were in charge of the catering and house finishing.
The Yoruba home could take one of two forms: The traditional compound, built around one or more courtyards, or the rooming house, famously called 'face-me-I-face-you'. The rooming house became popular in the 1930s, but the courtyard design is the root architecture of the Yoruba people, inspired by a culture of honouring family.
To accommodate an extended family, the house would be a rectangular, open-plan compound, with one entrance gate and rooms opening onto one or more courtyards. Between the rooms and courtyards, there would be porticos of lean-to roofs with timber columns for support. A segment of the compound would belong to a lineage or, in the case of traditional rulers and, perhaps, the wealthy, a wife and her children. This system allowed for much personal contact, which contributed to the unity of the community microcosm that is the family. The image of co-wives connecting and gossiping in a courtyard was, in fact, a cliché.
The more recent face-me-I-face-you is a non-compound design with rooms arranged in two rows opposite each other along a passage that leads to a shared corridor that served as space for domestic chores and relaxation. This building type, which could accommodate almost as much as the compound, was not necessarily for close relations as it was not uncommon to find two, usually more, different families (even cultures) occupying a housing unit. However, it is not exclusive to the Yoruba landscape.
The traditional Yoruba city is a model of social hierarchy. The king's palace is at the centre, his chiefs are around him, and then come the people, in order of importance. The town radiates from the king's palace to the outskirts, after which there are farmlands. The defining characteristics of palaces include multiple courtyards and ornamentation - usually columns of abstract sculpture. The principal market, which is the city's equivalent of the courtyard, shares the city centre with the palace.
The ambition of Yoruba architecture
Before the emergence of expertise, architecture followed a process of trial and error. The way doors and windows vary in size - especially in and around preserved traditional groves like the Osun shrine in Osogbo - is proof that measurements were achieved by instinct rather than knowledge. The standardisation of Yoruba vernacular architecture started when European missionaries arrived, armed with the paraphernalia of change. It progressed when ex-slaves returned home from Brazil with a newfound style and reached a peak after Portland cement became popular.
In 1842, when Reverend Henry Townsend laid the foundation of the White House in Badagry, he rerouted a country's architecture. The Badagry building was the first storeyed building in Nigeria and its construction marked the point at which Yoruba traditional architecture started aspiring to modernism. Later, 85 Odunfa Street, built by a Sierra Leonean in 1914, became the first three-storey building in Lagos. Christened Ebun House, it is in the theatrical Baroque style of 16th century Italy. Soon after, storeyed structures became the new measure of wealth. Bungalow owners began to deck their old houses and new buildings would not stop after the first floor. When the owner could not afford more than one floor, he decked his house and hoped to complete it later.
Ancient Yoruba houses still stand in the hinterlands. Some of these visibly falling structures have become relics, representing a family's age-old history. Others have received a more modern makeover - mortar roughly applied over wattle-and-daub walls and thatched roofs replaced by corrugated iron sheets. It is the morn of the 21st century and history is crumbling under the weight of the future. The root architecture of the Yoruba people is fast disappearing. Ancient houses are being torn down and modern buildings grow in their place. Marketplaces are giving way to malls and palaces have been supplanted by ultra-modern government houses. The nouveau riche make their way to architects with images of Caribbean mansions taken off the Internet.
The world is a global village now and local culture is losing its influence on Nigerian architecture. There is a Small London and a Chinese Village in Lagos. The ancient courtyard buildings that spoke for the wealth of families in the not-so-distant past are now markers of poverty. Cultural identity has been stripped from the architecture of Yorubaland.
Large Hausa towns tended to have wards assigned to different ethnics. Kano for example had 127 wards. In 1450, a Fulani ward was added. Between 1500-1804 other wards were added: Ayagi ward for Yorubas, Tudun Nufawa ward for Nupe, Dandalin Turawa ward for Libyan Arabs.
House compounds had a box design with a dome roof or flat clay roof. A courtyard existed in the center of the compound. A compound had a zaure or entranceway that lead to a forecourt called a kofir gida then to another entrance at the centre, where the head, wife, and relatives lived. The compound would also have storage for granaries and other storage items.
Hausas began building walls early in antiquity. The term birane or walled town was in use since the 1100s. Hausa walled towns eventually evolved into walled cities. Overtime, walls would encompass farming land, for further protection. Queen Amina of Zaria had walls built out of adobe around the city of Zaria. Zaria's wall was a testament to the prosperous and illustrious reign of the queen. Kano's outer wall during the the 1800s was twenty feet wide at the base, thirty feet high, with a circumference of twelve miles, covering an area of sixteen square mile.
Hausa Walls usually contained large gates similiar to Marinid gates of the Moroccan Rabat in the 1300s and Andalusian gates found in Fez. These gigantic gates were made of termite resistant palm wood covered with iron plates. The gates were strong and sturdy. Only the British could knock it down with the use of cannons in 1902-1903.
Hausa Sudanese style Mosques
Hausas built numerous mosques. Hausa mosque displayed the Timbuktu/Djenne style, introduced by the Dyula fleeing the Moroccan invasion of Songhay. In 1534, the Timbuktu/Djenne later fused with a Tunisian style introduced by Tunisian Muslim fleeing the Ottoman invasion. Initially, mosques were built with thatch, reinforced earth and wattle-and Daub. Some were built with a special Hausa mixture of mud, katse (vegetable matter), and oxen blood. Later burnt bricks were used. The usage facilitated the easy construction of a rectangular building, a requirement in the building of a mosque. Sturdier walls made multi-story buildings and a heavy clay roof possible.
Hausas imported termite resistance palm wood. Such importation, marked the beginning of large dome construction and clay roof of monumental size. Domes would be support by one timber. Between 1469-1499, Kano became very prosperous. Domes were even more grand and monumental. The best example of Hausa style mosque today can be found in the city centre of Zaria, most other adobe mosques have been demolished and replaced by cement structures.
Hausa façades decoration
The Hausas are one of the largest West-African ethnic groups spread across Nigeria and Niger. Pre-colonization, Hausa master builders were an affluent and influential class, organized in a guild with rules and regulations. They were skilled in all aspects of building from structural design to facade decoration. They also absorbed techniques from elsewhere through exchanges with tradesmen that travelled all over the Muslim world.
Hausa architecture consists of one to two story structures made of adobe. Privacy in Hausa architecture is paramount. Homes are built inside a tall compound wall that provides privacy and security to its inhabitants. Aside from the entryway, openings on the street side are non-existent or are very small in size and number. The architecture has a language of its own, and is rich in terms of structural innovation and expression (especially inside), and its expressive facades. The latter can be very intricate, highlighting the entrance and the wall surrounding it. These decorations were specially commissioned by the head of the household to convey a message. The design was ultimately left to the craftsmen to produce, but the owner was motivated by the desire to express a social, religious, economic or even political message to their community. For instance, the better-off a person was, the grander the entryway to their home would be. Similarly, the street-facing walls of the compound would be moulded and decorated for those who had the means to commission such work. The more intricate the decoration, the richer the household or the more layered the message. Facade decoration was therefore a device used predominantly by the elite of Hausa society.
Traditionally, facade decorations were achieved by moulding thick clay onto the adobe walls’ clay finish. The designs were intricate and took a lot of time and skill to achieve. Their execution was undertaken by highly trained builders who sought to showcase their knowledge and skill through their design. It was a truly artistic undertaking. Colonization and Post-colonization building projects introduced cement to the built environment, which created new motivations for plastering one’s traditional home. When used as external coating, the cement provided water proofing for the adobe walls during the rainy season. This new plastering and decoration approach could be done much more quickly than what was done traditionally and gave rise to specialists in the area. Plastering became a separate task in the building process, which didn’t necessarily intervene at the inception of the building, but could be applied later on. The mai shafe or “plasterer” became a new figure in the building environment and offered his services independently of construction timelines.
One consequence of the new facade building technique using cement, is that they provided wider access to these decorations to lower class people. It was ultimately cheaper as it saved money down the line in yearly repairs from water damage, and allowed the common man with certain means to make improvements to his home, express a level of status and gain satisfaction through living in a more attractive dwelling. Unfortunately, cement also happens to be incompatible with adobe, causing the plaster to peel off the wall overtime, and patching the facades up is not as easy as it is with clay.
Since the 1970’s, decorated traditional Hausa houses in cities like Zaria, Kaduna, or Kano are becoming a thing of the past. As is the case everywhere else in Africa, cement-block homes with garages and air-conditioning are considered the new status symbol. It is interesting to note however, that in a quest to re-affirm that sense of status, decorated walls are making a comeback in cities like Kano or Zaria. It would be interesting to see how far such a re-appropriation goes and if it manages to revive (and perhaps even re-invent) this traditional building expression in the long run.
While wall motifs often held a deeper meaning than their decorative aspect, most homeowners did not know what that meaning was. Rather, for them, the symbol lied in the actual existence of the motifs on their wall. That in of itself, along with the aesthetic beauty it held, determined the socio-economic message they were trying to send. By and large, household heads in cities like Kano or Zaria, believed that decorating their outer walls earned them a greater amount of respect and prestige compared to plain walls.
Another positive aspect of the decoration for homeowners, was that they are very useful for way-finding. In Nigeria where home addresses are a rarity, these home decorations provide a way for visitors to identify a particular home. The homes also acted as landmarks in their neighbourhoods, making it easier to find neighbour’s homes as well. But, as mentioned previously, these types of houses are a thing of a past in Nigeria.
One of the reasons for the disappearance of the house wall decorations in urban settings, was the introduction of houses made out of cement blocks. Because that material was considered foreign and was more expensive, it became a higher indicator of economic status and prestige. Homeowners no longer needed to give their homes that particular facelift: the simple fact that their home was made out of cement blocks was enough.
In cities like Kano however, most middle class people have achieved the dream of living in a cement home, taking away some of the material’s status-lending ability. Ironically, it is now becoming more common to see upper class homes with compound wall decorations. In recent years, this trend has been picking up in the city and some fairly elaborate examples are commonplace. Furthermore, post-colonization, compound entries looked a lot like the gates of British middle class homes: simple metal fabrications of human scale that were wide enough to let a car through. For the elite, however, these entries have been taking on more of a monumental quality, a contemporary version of those from a bygone era.
Today, when a new house is being built, it is not uncommon to also request that the architect come up with a cool design for its compound wall (yours truly was approached for similar work a few months ago…). Before entering a home, its outer walls are back to being looked to for indications of taste, wealth and status. It is quite simply the new hot thing.
Many factors serve as drivers for the triumphant comeback of these traditional architectural expressions.
Status: the main motivation for the evolution remains the same it was traditionally: to communicate a higher sense of socio-economic status and aesthetic taste.
The rise of the merchant class: the second factor is the social makeup of the higher economic class in the city. The merchant class of the city (a large portion of whom are traditionally Hausa,) has grown richer in the past decades. They have been building mega-mansions in the city, which have had the city's traditional elite drooling. The style they build in is reminiscent of the contemporary homes of similar merchant classes in Northern Nigeria, home for the oldest traditional Hausa architecture. Because trade ties are very strong between the two countries among the Hausas, it is possible that architectural influences have also followed suit.
Functional needs: the wall decorations and modulations are being designed to have an even stronger three-dimensional quality, which also has practical functions. Niches are carved out to house lighting, bringing the walls to life even at night, but also providing security against potential thieves. They also very often include embedded planters that add to the decorative quality of the outside. Finally, they often display groves through which rain-water can be channelled.
Aesthetics. While the purpose of wall decorations is the same in spirit, they express themselves differently and have taken on a more modern/contemporary incarnation. In Kano, the motifs are larger and sparser than what was traditionally done. They are made using a relief approach (using cement), rather than a scratched-cement approach, which is more traditional, but has functional reasons, as explained above. Furthermore, there is typically no symbolism attached to the motifs themselves. In the past, the status symbol was reinforced by the sheer amount of motifs that could be crammed on the wall, regardless of the aesthetic quality of the overall composition. That is no longer the case here and motifs strived to communicate a strong contemporary aesthetic. This is quite a twist in the comeback of this architectural feature: the wall decorations have now become a symbol of modernity, rather than tradition, because of their motifs and expression.
Today, it seems as though the aesthetic harmony of the motifs (usually no more than different 3 designs for a facade wall) is more important in conveying status than their amount. This purification and simplification could be an indication of modernist (at least architecturally) influence on local taste... Or perhaps is this just the beginning. As more and more people start to have these decorations on their homes, the amount of decorative motif might eventually increase as well, in a never-ending quest for a new level of expression.
North of Niger and Benoue Rivers we find hundreds of different ethnic groups each one of them with a particular style of architecture.
Last Places team has researched most of these tribal areas and found interesting examples of vernacular architecture among several tribal groups.
Here is a list of the State and name of the tribal construction style or the building.
Margi Tribe – Gwoza village (granaries).
Sukur Cultural Landscape is a UNESCO World Heritage Site located in the Mandara Mountains (Northeast Nigeria, bordering Cameroon). It was designated one in 1999 because of its well preserved vernacular architecture consisting of an adobe and stone palace, terraced millet fields, and village with round huts and granaries. The Mandara landscape is one of the most beautiful ones in Nigeria.
Fali or Vimtim Tribe – Mubi town (granaries and homes)
Koma Tribe - granaries and homes
Bena or Yungur Tribe – Riji village (granaries and homes)
Ga’anda Tribe (scarification and masquerades)
Bauchi Emir Palace
Kafin Madaki Palace
Kafin Madaki Mosque
Zul Tribe – Toro village (granaries and homes)
Tiv Tribe – adobe homes
Dikwa Rabeh adobe fort
Kanuri or Beriberi Tribe – adobe villages
Tangale Tribe -Talasse and Tula villages
Waja Tribe (scarification)
Dutse Emir Palace
Zaria Emir Palace
Wusasa Catholic Church
Jaba or Ham Tribe - Nok village
Gwari or Gbajyi Tribe (scarification and tattoo) - granaries
Kano Emir Palace
Kano City Walls
Gidan Makama Palace
Gidan Dan Hausa
Motor Club Kano
Katsina Emir Palace
Katsina Mosque minaret
Old Katsina Training College
Daura Emir Palace
Argungu Emir Palace
Dakakari or C’lela Tribe (potters)
Cicipu, Cipu, or Kazzeme Tribe (Korisino mountain village)
Dukawa, Baduku or Dukku Tribe (scarification and tattoo) homes and granaries
Kamberi or Kambari Tribe (scarification and tattoo) homes and granaries
Nupe tribe – Pategi town (Wood poles and adobe constructions)
Mada / Madda or Yidda tribe – granaries
Eloyi or Afo Tribe – stone huts (1965)
Alago or Arago Tribe - Keana Salt village
Eggon Tribe (dances) – adobe houses and granaries
Nupe Tribe – Bida Palace and decorated houses
Nupe Tribe - Dabba village with decorated houses
Dokomba – fishing village with oval granaries on the River Kaduna (1965)
Gwari or Gbajyi Tribe (scarification and tattoo) - granaries
Rukuba or Bache Tribe – Bouhyd village (granaries and homes)
Jarawa or Izere Tribe (euphorbia fences surrounding villages)
Angas or Ngas Tribe (Animistic - mountain villages and sacred granaries with animal skulls)
Berom or Birom Tribe (euphorbia fences surrounding villages)
Irigwe or Miango Tribe (granaries)
Goemai Tribe (houses)
Kaleri, Kulere, Mama, Ron Tribe (few adobe decorated houses left in Tof and Sha villages)
Hausa Tribe (giant granaries and Hausa-style homes)
Jibu Tribe (Remote Animistic)– Serti town (granaries and homes)
Mumuye Tribe (Scarification and ear piercing)– Jalingo town (granaries and homes)
Mambila Tribe (Scarification)– Sardauna Local Government Area (granaries and homes)
Bolawa, Bolewa or Bole Tribe (Hairdo)– Fika Local Government Area (granaries and homes)
Ngamo or Ngamawa Tribe (Animistic) – Fika Local Government Area (granaries and homes)
Kerri Kerri or Kare Kare – Karai Tribe – Gamari village (on top of granitic mountain in 1907)
Hausa Tribe (giant granaries and Hausa-style homes)
Cross River National Park
Cross River National Park is the largest area of undisturbed rainforest in Nigeria, and has been described as the Amazon of Nigeria; it seemingly goes on forever, over into Cameroon. The park is spectacularly beautiful, with green, rainforest-cloaked mountains and enormous trees. It is split into two parts, the Oban Division and the Okwangwo Division (that also includes parts of the Obudu Plateau), which are approximately 40km apart on either side of the Cross River to the north of Calabar. The park covers approximately 4,000km² of Cross River State and the terrain is tough, with hilly escarpments, steep valleys and peaks that generally rise higher than the surrounding deep forest, some of which reach nearly 1,000m.
These rainforests are some of the oldest and richest in the whole of Africa, and many reports written by biologists, going as far back as the 1920s, emphasise the extreme biological richness of the area, their relatively intact status and the increasing threat from uncontrolled farming, logging and hunting.
The Oban Division has an estimated 1,558 plant species, while the Okwangwo has 1,545 species, 77 of which are endemic to Nigeria. The unique nature of Cross River State tropical forest is due in part to its high annual rainfall of over 4,000mm, and its relatively short dry season. Consequently, this forest, together with that immediately adjacent in southwest Cameroon, is classified as the only true evergreen rainforest in Africa. Over 60% of Nigeria’s endangered plant and animal species are found only within these forests. These include 132 tree species listed by the World Conservation Monitoring Centre as globally threatened. As many as 200 species have been recorded from a single 0.05ha plot, a diversity matched only in exceptionally rich sites in South America. These trees also attract butterflies, and the forests are richer in butterflies than any other part of Africa.
The Okwangwo Division, home to about 80% of all wild primate species in Nigeria, is where Cross River Gorillas share the same habitat with other primates, including Nigerian-Cameroonian chimpanzees and drills. Other rare species include leopard, small antelope, a variety of monkeys, as well as buffalo and forest elephants. The Cross River Gorilla, which had been declared extinct in Nigeria 40 years earlier, was rediscovered in 1987. Last Places organizes trips to Cross River forests to spot Cross River Gorillas starting from the Cameroonian side (Ejagham and Takamanda National Parks).
Gashaka Gumti National Park
Gashaka Gumti National Park is the largest protected area in Nigeria laying in one of the remotest and least-explored part of the country. Its 6.700 km² area contains rolling hills, savannah, and montane forest containing important populations of Nigerian-Cameroonian chimpanzee. There are few other places in the world that contain such spectacular scenery and such diverse wildlife. The hidden corner of West Africa that is Gashaka-Gumti National Park is surely one of the continent's best kept secrets.
The Northern sector of the park is relatively flat and covered with woodlands and grasslands, whilst the Southern sector is more mountainous and contains vast expanses of rainforest as well as areas of woodlands and montane grassland. This rugged terrain is characterised by steep, thickly forested slopes, deep plunging valleys, precipitous escarpments and swiftly flowing rivers. Altitude ranges from 450 metres above sea level in the wild savannah plains of the Northern sector, to the peaks and pinnacles of Gangirwal in the Southern park sector, which at a staggering 2,400 metres above sea level, is Nigeria's highest mountain.
A valid passport and a visa are required for travel to Nigeria. Applications for visas have to be made in advance in the travelers’ home country. Last Places assists all travelers that need any type of help applying for the visa at the embassy. We recommend that passports be valid for six months from date of arrival.
Vaccines and Travel Health
A valid yellow fever vaccination certificate is essential for entry to Angola. Malaria is prevalent in the country. It is wise to take Malaria prophylaxis when travelling through Nigeria. Water supply is unsafe to drink, visitors should drink bottle water. Visitors should also avoid eating unpeeled, unwashed fruit and vegetables.
Security in Nigeria
Nigeria has a population of almost 200 million souls… This means that any small incident can develop in a complicated situation. We recommend to avoid travelling during political elections because some roads get cut or curfews are sometimes applied. Some parts of Northeast Nigeria should be avoided despite that Boko Haram movement has moved to Lake Chad islands and is decreasing. The roads in that region (Borno State) are full of military controls that make the trip tiring. In big cities as it happens all around the world, one must be careful during night time and be careful with personal belongings (mainly passport, vaccination card, and money) in crowded markets where pickpocketing is always active.
When to go to Nigeria
Travelers can visit Nigeria all year around. Last Places offers trips to Nigeria all year around. Said this, dry season –from November till April- allows the traveller visit all tribal areas while whet season – from June till October- may limit the visit to certain regions.
Currency in Nigeria
The unit of currency is the Naira (NGN). If you bring Euros or US Dollars is better you change them in Lagos where you will get a better exchange rate than in other cities. Generally, foreign credit cards are not accepted in many of the stores or even hotels in Nigeria.
Time in Nigeria
Electricity in Nigeria
In Nigeria the power plugs and sockets are of type D and G. The standard voltage is 230 V and the standard frequency is 50 Hz.
Communications in Nigeria
The international dialing code for Nigeria is +234. There are many more mobile telephones than fixed lines and the mobile coverage is much more reliable than fixed lines. Internet access is available at most major hotels.
Language in Nigeria
The official language of Nigeria is English. The lingua franca of Nigeria is Nigerian Pidgin - an English-based creole language. Pidgin is most widely spoken in the Niger Delta, where most of its population speak it as their first language. The language shares a lot of similarities with English-based creoles found in the Caribbean, particularly Jamaican Patois. In Northern Nigeria Hausa is the dominant trade language and a guide fluent in Hausa is needed to communicate with local people in markets and rural areas.
Prohibitions in Nigeria
Do not take photographs of government buildings, or use binoculars near them, as this could lead to arrest. We recommend asking permission to people before taking their picture to avoid uncomfortable situations.
Ocasión única para visitar uno de los países más fascinantes y desconocidos de África Occidental. Con 200 millones de habitantes Nigeria es un regalo para los amantes de la cultura, la historia y de los destinos poco masificados. El viaje, diseñado y guiado por Joan Riera, gran conocedor del país y especialista en sociedades animistas africanas.View Trip Details
Nigeria is Africa’s most culturally diverse country, with more than 500 languages being spoken. It is also Africa’s most populated countries, with almost 200 million inhabitants. With these two headlines, the destination creates big expectations. Nigeria always captivates, surprises the traveller… that person looking for tradition, modernity adapted to the local reality, contrasts. We like to call it Africa’s biggest secrets, and we would like to keep it this way to keep us enchanted.View Trip Details
Last Places has designed an itinerary to understand Nigeria, Africa’s most diverse country in cultural terms. With the help of an anthropologist that has studied several Nigerian ethnic groups we will learn about their daily live and taboos. The trip will evolve from the tropical Southwest to the dry North. First we will explore mighty Lagos and the Yoruba culture. Then, we will cross the Niger River and plunge into an isolated territory with several unique tribal groups that still practice body and facial tattoo and scarification. The trip will end in the Hausa Emirates, whose architecture is a treasure with deep rooted traditions that we will unveil.View Trip Details