Nigeria is West Africa's cultural powerhouse, a brash, sassy, complicated melting pot of fascinating peoples arrayed across a land that spans the full range of African landscapes, from the sultry rainforests of the south to the semi-deserts of the north.
Nigeria is located on the western coast of Africa and has a diverse geography, with climates ranging from arid to humid equatorial. The country is about twice the size of California and has abundant natural resources, notably large deposits of petroleum and natural gas. With the influx of oil revenue and foreigners, Nigerian cities have grown to resemble many Western urban centers. Even though oil is Nigeria's largest industry, more than 50 percent of Nigeria's population works in the agriculture sector, not to export, but for the country’s self-sustainment.
Nigeria is primarily a land of savanna, tropical forests, and coastal wetlands. These environmental regions greatly affect the cultures of the people who live there. The dry, open grasslands of the savanna make cereal farming and herding a way of life. The wet tropical forests to the south are good for farming fruits and vegetables. The small ethnic groups living along the coast keep their villages small due to lack of dry land and make fishing and the salt trade part of everyday life in the area. Nigeria is a beautiful country brimmed with many inspiring natural attractions. Whether it’s a mountain range, beach, tropical forest, city skyline or desert – local landscapes will make your mouth drop with their beauty.
Fun Fact: The areas around Cross River State harbors, in the southern part of Nigeria, are the places where the largest diversity of butterflies lives. If you like these beautiful, colorful creatures and want to experience fairytale-like moments
Abuja is the capital of Nigeria and is one of the fastest growing cities in the world with a population of around 6 million people in its metropolitan area. Lagos, however, is the largest Nigerian city with a population of more than 21 million people.
Nigeria’s most diverse, and some say captivating, feature is its people. Nigeria has the largest population of any African country. More than 250 ethnic tribes call it home. Each tribe inhabits a territory that it considers to be its own by right of first occupancy and inheritance. Individuals who are not members of a dominant group but who have lived and worked for several decades in the territory are still considered aliens.
The Niger and Benue Rivers come together in the center of the country, creating a "Y" that splits Nigeria into three separate sections. In general, this "Y" marks the boundaries of the three largest and most dominant ethnic groups, with the Hausa in the north, the Yoruba in the southwest, and the Igbo in the southeast. Hundreds of languages are spoken in the country, including Yoruba, Igbo, Fula, Hausa, Edo, Ibibio, Tiv, and English.
Fun Fact: Over 200 million people live in Nigeria, which makes it one of the most populous countries in the world. It ranks among the top 10 most populated countries in the world.
With that snapshot overview of Nigeria, let’s take a drone-eye look at life within Nigeria and begin with the start to the day and the meals throughout.
Western influences, especially in urban areas, have transformed Nigerian eating habits in many ways. City dwellers are familiar with the canned, frozen, and prepackaged foods. Foreign restaurants also are common in larger cities. While you may not see Golden Arches on the horizon, you can grab a quick bite at Mr. Biggs, the oldest fast food chain in Nigeria. Most urban Nigerians combine traditional cuisine with a little of Western-style foods and conveniences. Rural Nigerians tend to stick more with traditional foods and preparation techniques.
Food in Nigeria is traditionally eaten by hand. However, with the growing influence of Western culture, forks and spoons are becoming more common, even in remote villages. Whether people eat with their hand or a utensil, it is considered dirty and rude to eat using the left hand.
While the ingredients in traditional plates vary from region to region, most Nigerian cuisine tends to be based around a few staple foods accompanied by a stew. In the south, crops such as corn, yams, and sweet potatoes form the base of the diet. In the north, grains such as millet, sorghum, and corn are boiled into a porridge-like dish that forms the basis of the diet.
Fun Fact: Calabar Carnival, also known as “Africa’s Biggest Street Party”, is a month-long festival that is celebrated annually on December 1. It’s one of the most popular destinations for Nigerians and tourists from all over the world. Calabar Carnival includes concerts, parades, fashion shows, beauty pageants and other activities.
Alcohol is very popular in the south but less so in the north, where there is a heavy Islamic influence. The most popular form of alcohol is palm wine, a tart alcoholic drink that comes from palm trees. Palm wine is often distilled further to make a strong, gin-like liquor. Nigerian breweries also produce several kinds of beer and liquor.
Food plays a central role in the rituals of virtually all ethnic groups in Nigeria. Special ceremonies would not be complete without participants sharing in a meal. Normally it is considered rude not to invite guests to share in a meal when they visit; it is even more so if the visitors were invited to attend a special event such as a marriage or a naming ceremony.
Next, let’s take a look inside the family and the various roles within society.
Most Nigerians still identify first with their family, then with their community, which is highly influenced by their religion and ethnic group, and finally, more vaguely, with their nation. Age is greatly respected in Nigeria. In a country where the average life expectancy is not very high (on average just 55.2 years), those who live into their senior years are seen as having earned special rights of respect and admiration. This is true of both men and women.
Men are dominant over women in virtually all areas. Women still have fewer legal rights than men. Men have the right to beat their wives as long as they do not cause permanent physical injury. Wives are often seen as little more than possessions and are subject to the rule of their husbands. However, women can exercise influence in some areas. In most ethnic groups, mothers and sisters have great say in the lives of their sons and brothers.
Women in Nigeria play significant roles in the economy, especially in rural areas. Women are often expected to earn significant portions of the family income. As a rule, men have little obligation to provide for their wives or children. Women have traditionally had to farm or sell homemade products in the local market to ensure that they could feed and clothe their children.
Fun Fact: About 75% of the total population uses social media on a regular basis. What’s unique for the Nigerian population is that the majority uses a smartphone rather than a computer or laptop to access the world wide web.
When creating the next generation family unit, there are three types of marriage in Nigeria today: religious marriage, civil marriage, and traditional marriage. A Nigerian couple may decide to take part in one or all of these marriages. Religious marriages, usually Christian or Muslim, are conducted according to the norms of the respective religious teachings and take place in a church or a mosque. Christian males are allowed only one wife, while Muslim men can take up to four wives. Civil official weddings take place in a government registry office. Men are allowed only one wife under a civil wedding, regardless of religion. Traditional marriages usually are held at the wife's house and are performed according to the customs of the ethnic group involved. Most ethnic groups traditionally allow more than one wife.
Over the years, women have not have much choice of whom they married, though the numbers of arranged marriages are declining. It is also not uncommon for women to marry in their teens, often to a much older man. In instances where there are already one or more wives, it is the first wife's responsibility to look after the newest wife and help her integrate into the family.
Divorce is quite common in Nigeria. Marriage is more of a social contract made to ensure the continuation of family lines rather than a union based on love and emotional connections. It is not uncommon for a husband and wife to live in separate homes and to be extremely independent of one another. The majority of Nigerian families are very large by Western standards. In some ethnic groups, the greater the number of children, the greater a man's standing in the eyes of his peers. Family units of ten or more are not uncommon. Newborns in Nigerian societies are regarded with pride. They represent a community's and a family's future and often are the main reason for many marriages.
Throughout Nigeria, the bond between mother and child is very strong. During the first few years of a child's life, the mother is never far away. Children who are too young to walk or get around on their own are carried on their mother's backs. Women will often carry their children on their backs while they perform their daily chores or work in the fields.
When children reach the age of about four or five, they often are expected to start performing a share of the household duties. As the children get older, their responsibilities grow. Young men are expected to help their fathers in the fields or tend the livestock. Young women help with the cooking, fetch water, or do laundry. These tasks help the children learn how to become productive members of their family and community. While Nigerian children have responsibilities, they also are allowed to be children. It is common to see young children playing with homemade wooden dolls and trucks, or groups of boys playing soccer.
Fun Fact: The town of Igbo-Ora is known as Nigeria’s home of twins. Many of the local Yoruba people believe their consumption of yams and okra leaves to be the cause of their high birth rate of twins.
In many Nigerian ethnic groups, the education of children is the work of both men and women, within the family and outside it. Neighbors often look after youngsters while parents may be busy with other chores. It is not strange to see a man disciplining a child who is not his own.
All Nigerian children have access to a local elementary school. The number of girls in class is usually much lower than the number of boys. Sending every child in a family to school can often put a lot of strain on a family. The family will lose the child's help around the house during school hours and will have to pay for uniforms and supplies. If parents are forced to send one child to school over another, many will choose to educate boys before girls.
This commitment to education extends beyond the childhood years. Nigeria's system of higher education is the largest in Africa. There are 43 universities in Nigeria. The majority of these are government-run, but the government has continued to support the creation of private universities. Nigeria also has hundreds of technical training schools. The majority of these focus on polytechnic and agricultural training, with a few specializing in areas such as petroleum sciences and health.
Fun Fact: Socially, greetings are of the utmost importance. A handshake and a long list of well wishes for a counterpart's family and good health are expected when meeting someone. Shaking hands, eating, or passing things with the left hand are unacceptable. The left hand is reserved for personal toiletries and is considered dirty.
Religion plays a prominent role in Nigerian life.
It is estimated that 50% of Nigerians are Muslim, 40% are Christian, and the remaining 10% practice various indigenous religions. Relations between Christians and Muslims are tense in many areas.
While Muslims can be found in all parts of Nigeria, their strongest footholds are among the Hausa and the Yoruba. Christianity is most prevalent in the south of Nigeria. The vast majority of Igbo are Christians, as are many Yorubas. The most popular forms of Christianity in Nigeria include Anglican, Presbyterian, American Southern Baptist, and Methodist. Also, there are large pockets of Seventh-Day Adventists and Jehovah's Witnesses.
While Islam and Christianity are the dominant religions in Nigeria, neither is completely free of influence from indigenous religions. Most people who consider themselves good Muslims or good Christians often also follow local religious practices. Because many of the indigenous religions are based on various spirits or minor gods, each with influence over a specific area of nature, many of the traditional rituals are based on paying homage to these gods and spirits. For example, a tribe's water spirit may have a specific pond or river designated as its holy place.
Just as religion plays a pivotal role in Nigerian life, so do the arts.
Nigeria has a rich artistic heritage, including both traditional and contemporary art forms. Formerly, Nigerian art traditionally served a social or religious purpose and did not exist for the sake of art per se. For example, dance was used to teach or to fulfill some ritualistic goal. Sculpture was used in blessings, in healing rituals, or to ward off bad luck.
With increasing modernization, Nigerian art is becoming less oriented to a particular purpose. The government is more actively promoting Nigerian nationalism through art and to revitalize the Nigerian art world. Many wealthy Nigerians are also looking to recapture their roots, as well as Western tourists and collectors looking for an African art experience, are willing to spend money on Nigerian art. This has led to a revival of the arts in Nigeria.
Fun Fact: Nollywood, the Nigerian movie industry, ranks as the second largest movie producer in the world – right after India’s Bollywood. About 200 movies are produced every week, which means that Nollywood produces more than 10,000 movies per year!. It’s more than the Hollywood does. The most popular movies made by Nollywood are comedies and dramas.
Music and dance are integral to Nigerian culture, and each ethnic group has its own specialties. Traditional instruments include various types of flutes, trumpets, musical bows, xylophones, and wooden clappers, as well as many varieties of drums. Music is used to celebrate rulers and to accompany public assemblies, weddings and funerals, festivals, and storytelling.
Nigeria’s prominence among African nations, it’s vibrant culture and the lifestyle of it’s people reflect decades of changes in inherited traditions and adaptations of imported ones. These are just a few of the so many reasons to learn more about and even visit Nigeria. You won’t be disappointed as you’ll find a lot there: great beaches, water parks, street markets, museums, architectural treasures, national parks and other amazing gems to marvel at in Nigeria. Let alone getting to know the people and all they have to offer, handed down through the generations.
Places To Visit In Nigeria:
Calabar - The gateway to the reserves of the Cross River and the further-flung rainforests of the Afi Mountains (home to gorillas, chimps, rare rockfowl and craggy peaks of stone), the town of Calabar is a well-honed stop-off on the way through to Cameroon or the southern Nigerian coast.
Lagos - Lagos is not only the largest city in Nigeria, but also the single largest on the entire African continent. Just about all can be seen and done here.
Erin-Ijesha – This tiny town is known for one thing: it’s eponymous waterfall that crashes through the southern Nigerian jungles, spans two individual states, and counts as many as seven tiers in total.
Yankari National Park – Whether in search of the roaming herds of African elephants (rumored to be the most numerous on the continent) or to seek out the fascinating relics of earlier peoples in the caves, you can rest assured that this well-serviced national park won’t disappoint.
Kainji Lake National Park – This reservoir, created in 1968, is surrounded by protected game reserves. On the western banks of the water is the Borgu area, which hosts sporadic pockets of Guinean woods and plains, the stomping ground of some truly fascinating beasts: hippopotami; roan antelopes and swinging baboons.
Gashaka Gumti National Park - Gashaka Gumti National Park is the result of a fusion of two great Nigerian game reserves, and is famed for its winding rivers (some of which also occasionally turn into roaring waterfalls) and riparian habitats, which host rare avian species like the red-faced lovebird. On the ground, one can find African golden cats and elephants.
Chimps swing in the trees of the forests while buffalos wade in the watering holes.
Okomu National Park - One of the few remaining enclaves of the virgin rainforest that once dominated the territories of southern Nigeria, this untouched and undeveloped remote spot has allowed it to become a refuge for some of the country’s rarer creatures, like the pangolin, chimpanzees, leopards and even forest elephants.
Edumanom National Forest – This is one of Nigeria’s most amazing displays of biodiversity. It’s headed by the presence of some of the largest remaining chimpanzee colonies in the world, who patrol the freshwater swamps and the verdant canopies. It’s also a home to the rare Niger Delta colobus and other primates worth seeing.
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