Cultural Practices in Nigeria

Cultural practices in Nigeria are those ways of life of people in Nigeria environment most of which have not been affected by external influence. Nigeria has a plethora of cultural practices which cut across the various ethnic groups that make up the country.

List of cultural practices in Nigeria

  • Nigerian language,
  • Food culture,
  • Clothing culture,
  • Religious culture,
  • Traditional belief,
  • Traditional music,
  • Traditional dance,
  • Traditional ceremonies,
  • Traditional arts,
  • Traditional medicine,
  • Traditional market,
  • Traditional industries;
  • The family and inheritance culture.
  • Traditional Marriage

Nigerian language:

Nigeria is a multi cultural state with over 250 languages spoken over the country. Some of the languages are Hausa, Igbo, Yoruba, Fulani, Edo, Ijaw, Isoko, Urhobo, Calabar, Kanuri, Tiv, Idoma, Iteskiri. Some of these languages are spoken outside the country and serves as means of identification of Nigerians in any part of the world. Example, Yoruba language is widely spoken in Brazil owing to slave trade.

Food culture:

Despite the influence of western civilization on dressing culture in Nigeria, the Nigerian people still wear their traditional dresses. Thus Nigeria dresses have served as a means of identifying Nigerian people within and outside the country. In the Northern Nigeria, Agbada, Kaftan with cap to match and long gown with veil to cover the head and part of the faces are popular among the males and females respectively.

In Eastern Nigeria, jumpa with wrapper or jumpa with a pair of trouser with red fez cap or Okonko cap are mostly won by the men while the female folk wears blouse and double wrappers with head tie, called “ichafu” in Igbo. Even the people of Eastern Niger Delta region dress almost the same way like their Eastern neighbours, except that the men wear bowl hat to match the jumpa and trouser.

In the Western Nigeria, Agbada made from Ashoke fabrics with cape to match the blouse and buba with head tie to match are common among the males and females respectively. Edo people tie wrapper at the waist, leaving upper region of their bodies bare with heavy beads around the neck and on the wrist for the male and females.

In whichever way Nigerians dress, they always look gorgeous, in traditional outfit. Unfortunately, because of western civilization and influence, our youth shun their traditional wears in preference for European mode of dressing. Also, the demand of white collar job for corporate dressing has affected those in paid employment who would have preferred to wear the traditional attire.   

Religious Culture:

African traditional religion is the way of life among Nigerian people. This was formed in the earliest time of the evolution of their cultures. The religious cultures of the people resemble each other, at least in some of their ideas of worship. The African traditional religion believes in the existence of Supreme Being who is invisible.

He is the source of life and existence and must be venerated or worshipped through the lesser gods and goddesses by means of sacrifice, rituals and ceremonies. The indigenous religious practice has been referred to as idol worshipping or paganism by Eurocentric writers because it relies on the worship of stones, rivers etc. this description was not acceptable to Afro-centric historians and writers.

The African Religion had before the 16th century, grown into form of religion before the arrival of foreign religion- Christianity and Islam. Going further, Davidson asserts that like Europeans of the middle age (AD 800-1350) Africans lived in age of faith in the indigenous religions.

They believed that political authority came not from men but from God and spirits. Those who exercised power on earth could do so, only if they were accepted as speaking and acting with the good will of the departed ancestors, who in turn were men’s protectors and helpers in the world of the spirits.

Rulers could rule only if they are appointed to do so; and their subjects obeyed them not simply from respect for the king’s power and law but also for reasons of religion. Therefore, indigenous religion, like other religion helped men to live together, express their higher hopes and aspiration and linked the individual to the community.

Like all other religion of the age before science, they include much magic and witchcraft and rituals. They also worked out their own body of thought about the beginning and growth of mankind and about the working of the universe into which mankind was born.

Traditional Belief:

The African traditional religion believes in reincarnation which holds that human beings can go through circle of birth, death and rebirth. This belief is reflected in the names given to new born babies in some Nigeria ethnicity. For instance in Yoruba land, the name Babatunde means my late father has come back to life. In Igbo land, Nnenne and Nnenna mean the rebirth of one’s mother and father respectively.

Traditional Music:

Music is a widely practiced tradition in Nigeria; music is a system of expression which uses sound, rhythm and time composed by man to achieve certain emotional ends. Traditional music is played with traditional instrument such as metal gong, wooden drum or leather drum. Popular traditional music in Nigeria is Atilogwu.

Traditional Dance:

Music and dance goes together, dance is the movement of the body to the rhythms or lyric of music. Nigeria traditional music is used for ceremonies, entertainment and amusement or adding to the fun of daily life. The popular dance in Nigeria is Yoruba bata dance, Atilogwu of the Igbos and kwahil dance of the Tivs. Some of these dances are exported during international cultural exchange and serves as sources of tourist attraction.

Traditional Arts:

Traditional arts in Nigeria are as old as the origin of the people of the country. Early in their history, they tried to depict their aesthetic feelings and what they have seen in drawing and painting and in carving. The Igbo-Ukwu people in Igboland presented an astonishing discovery of ancient works of art such as ornaments, bells, chains and anklet, staff heads, bronze altar and bronze vase. Benin is also famous for carving terracolta heads.

Unfortunately some of the ancient’s works of arts were carted away by colonial masters during slavery and colonialism in Africa. Oral literature is an important aspect of the people’s culture. In every home, after the night meal, children are assembled in the compound under the moon light by an elder and told epic stories about legendary figures, animals and life.

Traditional Medicine:

Traditional medicine is part of Nigeria culture that has not been eroded by the influence of western culture and civilization. Traditional medicine was in existence before the introduction of orthodox medicine. Like western medical practice, before treatment is embarked upon, there is consultation or divination during which the herbalist or native doctor tries to diagnose the cause of illness.

The people believe that every sickness has a cause, this could be pathological or biological or it could be caused by microbes or spiritual. This could be established by observation or consulting the gods. The treatment involves the use of herbs, leaves, bark of trees etc and is carried out by making incision marks on the body and robbing the medicine in powdered form in the body. If the cause of illness is spiritual, treatment could take the form of sacrifice or ritual cleansing.

Traditional Markets:

Market is an economic institution that brings the people together for the purpose of buying and selling goods and services. There are two types of market in the Nigeria traditional societies; these are the general market and the special market.

The traditional markets are held daily while others are held periodically. In this type of market all the goods available in the community are sold. Example, food stuff, household item, farm implement, building and construction equipment. While the special market deals with one or two goods. Example of special market is fish market, palm wine market, vegetable market, fruit market, cattle market.

Traditional Industries:

The availability of fertile soil for cultivation of crops made agriculture the major economic activity of Nigeria. Crops were grown mainly for self subsistence. This necessitated the growth of traditional agro-allied industries. The blacksmith or metal industry was developed to produce metal work such as hoes, cutlasses, sickles, knives, axes, etc for farming.

The major materials used for the production of these iron technologies are the iron ore. The ion industry provided the traditional communities with instrument of defense such as spare and arrows, swords and local rifle of which Awka is famous.

The Family and Inheritance Culture:

The family structure in traditional Nigerian societies can be described as polygamous. That is the culture that allows men to marry many wives as he can cater for. The man and his wives live in the same compound as a nuclear family. In some traditional societies, when a man dies, his male children will inherit his properties.

In Igboland and some other ethnic groups in Nigeria, the female children are considered as visitors who will eventually go to where they belong when they are married, which is their husband family. In Yoruba culture, the traditional inheritance law allows the girl child to share in her father’s property with the male counterpart. The Hausa-Fulani inheritance practice is guided by the Islamic code of law.

Traditional Marriage:

Marriage is a union between man and woman for the purpose of procreation. In African context, the essential objective of engaging in marital relationship is to have children; any other reason like love and companionship are secondly. The preliminary preparations for marriage among many Nigerian groups are similar.

Soul mate selection is mostly undertaken by the parents and elders of the families of the prospective bride and bridegroom, sometimes without consent. There are also instances where the selection is made by the young man and woman who would want to be joined in marital wedlock.

Before joining the prospective couples in martial union, secret enquiries are usually made by the relatives of both the boy and girl into the background of their respective families. The purpose of such inquiries is to find out if there are hereditary diseases such as bareness, epilepsy, leprosy, mental derangement in their respective families and also to ascertain whether their parents have bad hereditary traits as quarrelsome spirits, laziness, unfaithfulness, hot-tempered spirit and stealing habit.

Where any of these is discovered in the course of enquiries, the proposed marriage can be cancelled. But when these traits and hereditary problems don’t exist, formal process of marriage would be initiated by the parents of the boy. Marriage ceremonies vary from one ethnic group to another, in Igboland, the ritual is called Igba Nkwu.

During the ceremony the bride would be given a cup of palm wine to her proposed husband. If she returned the cup of palm wine to her father or brother that signifies that she does not accept the offer and the marriage will be terminated. In Yoruba land, traditional marriage is climaxed at the stage of Idana when the bride price is paid to the family of the bride.

Also different items such as clothing, food, plates, honey, sugar cane, Kola-nuts etc are presented to the girl’s family. Some of these items are used to pray for happiness in the marriage. Among the Fulanis, the prospective husband is subjected to manhood test called Sharo, during which he is flogged by a group of a young men until the prospective bride is satisfied that prospective husband is strong enough to marry her.

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