Collectively, culture is a way of life in a given society. Tourism is the vehicle through which this way of life is appreciated. In Nigeria, culture is manifested in art, dance, language, literature, folklore, mores, music, governance, and even the environment.
According to archaeological findings, Nigeria’s artifacts depicting the early life of the people dates back to 2000 years. The Nok Culture, the earliest of the finds depicted the early life of the people of the Nok region North of the Benue River.
The characteristic features of the Nok culture, which flourished from 500, BC to AD 200 is the terracotta figurines associated with it and the extensive use of iron. The source of the knowledge of an iron technology has been attributed to the civilization of ‘Meroe’ in what is today the Republic of Sudan, as well as to Carthage in North Africa.
Arts & Culture
- Weaving wood carving
- Ivory carving and metal works
- Leather and calabash pottery
- Clothe weaving painting
Brass & Bronze
Casting is still made but there is nothing produced now to compare with the fabulous Ife and Benin Bronzes.
These perfect example of portraiture and the “cire peerdue” method of casting, together with the equally perfect terracotta thought to be of the same period and possibly by the same craftsmen, have no equals anywhere.
Apart from the Benin and Ife bronzes, archaeological finds at Igbo-Ukwu, in Enugu State, have revealed advanced ancient works of art. The Igbo-Ukwu bronzes, which have elaborate intricate symmetrical designs, are as remarkable as the better-known Ife works.
Because grass is plentiful in the northern parts of Nigeria, northern craftsmen and women make grass baskets, fans, tables and floor mats. Some of the objects are beautifully colored and durable.
Though places like Benin and Awka are acknowledged as center of wood-carving, wood carvers have flourished all over southern Nigeria since time immemorial, making figures for shrines, portraiture, masks, representations of the spirits of the field, forest stream, earth, sea, sky, water, fire and thunder.
The works of old carvers remain in many villages where they provide the villages with their shrines, utensils and ornaments to this day. Many of the older examples of these products are preserved in the national and other museums.
Ivory carvings have for many years adorned ancestral altars in Benin and the palaces of Nigerian rulers. Ivory carvings are also available in homes and offices as paper knives, inlaid cigar boxes, cigarette holders, ladies earrings, hatpins, necklaces, bangles, and innumerable small pieces of decor.
Glass and Metal Works
The metal works, glass beads and bangles of Bida are familiar articles to visitors to Nigeria. The bead makers in particular preserve their ancient skills as a family tradition. The metal workers were originally the armored of the north. Their art is now applied to the production of skillfully fashioned and decorated trays, bowls and pots rings, bangles and the like.
Leather & Calabash
The skin popularly known as Morocco leather comes from goatskin from Sokoto.
It was erroneously given the name “Morocco leather” because, until recently, it reached Europe through Moroccan traders who bought them from Nigerian caravan traders across the Sahara Desert. Excellent leatherwork and calabash carvings are produced in Kano and, Oyo.
Excavations have shown that pottery attained a high level of development in Nigeria several hundred years ago. The tradition has been maintained and Nigerian pottery today ranks among the most artistic in the world. The best-known pottery center in the country is Suleja in Niger State.
In 1963, a Nigerian pottery worker, the Late Dr. Ladi Kwali, toured Great Britain and Europe to show the art of pottery making in Nigeria. Products of the Pottery center at Okigwe in Imo State are widely distributed in Nigeria and abroad.
Another outstanding craft of Nigeria is cloth weaving. The popular Akwete cloth woven in a town of that name in Abia State is fast changing the dress fashion of many women who live in, or come to the country.
Produced on a broad loom, Akwete is usually about 1,200 millimeters wide. It is produced in attractive designs and rich colors. There are also the “Aso-Oke” woven on narrow looms notably at Iseyin in Oyo State, the Ebira weaving at Okene, Kogi State.
Painting in Nigeria
Apart from such crafts as bronze-casting, wood carving, leather work, pottery and weaving, a form of artistic expression that has quietly gained a stronghold but has not been given its due recognition in Nigeria is painting. As a medium of artistic expression, painting is not completely new in the country.
The two groups of rock paintings in Kano and Bauchi are the most important yet found in the country. The Birnin Kudu cattle paintings and symbolic drawings show affinity to some Saharan paintings.
The coloring of masks monochromatically or polychromatically is also a form of painting that has been in existence in Nigeria for as long as the festivals and ceremonies for which such objects were made. Body paintings and decoration for ceremonial rites and festivals are also a common practice in many parts ‘of the country. The designs and decorations used in body painting have esoteric connotations and the human body so painted at times in varied contours, visually becomes a really beautiful “living art piece”.
Another form of artistic expression closely akin to painting that has been in practice in the country for a long time is the multicolored decoration of the inner and outer walls of houses with beautiful and elaborate symbols and designs. Some of such designs have their origin in the Islamic influence on Nigerian culture and are popular in the northern parts of the country. Read about Nigeria’s tourist destinations »