Nigerian versatility in art is so great that it is generally felt that all
African nations should view Nigeria
as the principal trustee of the most durable fruits of black artistic genius. It
is not precisely known when the first works of Nigerian art reached the outside
world, but in 1897, following a British punitive expedition to Benin, over
2,000 Benin bronzes and ivories were shipped to England and later dispersed all
over Europe and America.
At the NationalMuseum
in Lagos, works
from all over the federation present a vivid picture of the national diversity
of arts and crafts. Today, the heritage and tradition of excellence in Nigeria
arts continues and typified by the works of world renowned artists.
The oldest sculptures found in Nigeria were from the Southern Zaria and Benue
areas of central Nigeria.
It consists of terracotta figures made by people who achieved a high degree of
cultural sophistication. These sculptures, together with other cultural
elements, have been named the Nok Culture.
The best known Nigerian artworks are the Benin
Antiquities. Legend recounts how the Benin
people learned the art of bronze casting from Ile-Ife around 1400 A.D. Oba
Ogunta, the sixth King of Benin, is credited with having encouraged this art in
Evidence shows the Nok people had knowledge of iron smelting and
adorned themselves with tin and stone beads, earrings, nose rings and
bracelets. The Nok Culture is dated between 500 B.C. and 200 A.D.
Igbo Ukwu bronze casting
The next known phase of Nigerian cultural evolution was Igbo Ukwu
bronze casting. Found in the small village
of Igbo-Ukwu, near Awka,
the casts date from the 9th Century A.D. They first came to light in 1938 and
consist of staff heads, crowns, breastplates, pendants, ornaments, anklets,
wristlets and chains. About the same time, the Igbo-Ukwu people were casting
bronze and the ancient Ife
people were also producing works in bronze, copper, and terracotta.
In the first quarter of this Century, Ife
works caused a great stir among world art critics and historians who were
unaccustomed to such naturalism in African art.
cultural heritage is woven from threads of history and diversity, legend and
conquest. Tourists visiting the country will gain insights to a glorious past
as well as a promising future, set amid the natural beauty of this diverse
country. From rain forests in the south, broad savanna woodlands in the center
to a semi-desert region in the north, Nigeria offers a remarkable range
of physical beauty in her land and hospitality of her people, ready to be
enjoyed by the tourist fortunate enough to choose this land of ancient empires
as their travel destination.
is a vast country with a population of about 140 million people covering about
923,766 square km of landmass, located wholly within the tropics. The country
aptly described as the 'Giant of Africa' is richly endowed with ecological and
cultural resources, which are of universal recognition. The richness and
diversity of the Nigeria
culture is a manifestation of the socio-cultural differences of the over 250
ethnic groups that inhabit the land for ages.
Casting is still done but there is nothing produced now to compare with
the fabulous Ife
and Benin Bronzes. These perfect examples of portraiture and the "cire
perdue" method of casting, together with the equally perfect terracotta,
thought to be of the same period and possibly by the same craftsmen, have no
Apart from the Benin
and Ife bronzes, archaeological finds at
Igbo-Ukwu, in EnuguState, 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.
Bida Brass Works: Bida town is noted for its
handicrafts made from recycled beer bottles and coloured glass jars. Brought to
Bida from Babah during the reign of the late Etsu Nupe Usman Zaki, popular
brass works are found at Gbongbofu, Tswatako and Tswata Mukun area of Bida town
process is almost the same as blacksmithing, except that the raw material is
placed in a special basin which is put over fire made by the blowing of
bellows. The brass which is the raw material melts after being heated for some
minutes. The molten brass is later beaten into required shapes and sizes over
an anvil. The products are mainly used for decoration, storage and cooking. For
tourist/visitors souvenirs are available in the form of earrings, bangles,
rings, trays, plates, walking sticks, brass toys etc.
As 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 coloured and durable.
Though places like Benin
and Awka are acknowledged as centres of wood-carving, wood carvers have
flourished all over southern Nigeria
From time immemorial, making figures
for shrines, portraiture, masks, and 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 décor.
Since the ban on the use of ivory, such objects are made from cow tusks among
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 armoured of the north. Their art is now applied to
the production of skilfully fashioned and decorated trays, bowls and pots,
rings, bangles and the like.
Leather and 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 SaharaDesert.
Calabash, a pumpkin-like fruit with various
shapes, is widely used as container for food or drinks. Excellent leatherwork
and calabash carvings are produced in Kano
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 centre in the country is Suleja in NigerState.
In 1963, a Nigerian pottery worker, the Late Dr. Ladi Kwali, toured Great Britain and Europe to demonstrate the art of
pottery making in Nigeria.
Products of the Pottery centre at Okigwe in ImoState are widely distributed in Nigeria
Local pot-makers mould earthen pots
in Auakawa village, northern Nigeria.
The art of pottery is deeply rooted in Africa,
where earthen pots have been used since ancient times as cooking and storage
vessels and even as coffins.
Another outstanding craft of Nigeria is
cloth weaving. The popular Akwete cloth woven in a town of that name in AbiaState
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 millimetres
wide. It is produced in attractive designs and rich colours.
There is also the
"Aso-Oke" woven on narrow looms notably at Iseyin in OyoState,
the Ebira weaving at Okene, KogiState.
Indigo has been used in the dyeing of fabric in
Africa for more than 2000 years. Its presence
was recorded in the 16th century. No other people on the continent
have developed the art to a higher level than the Yoruba. Among the Yoruba, the
art of adire is traditionally reserved to women. The production of adire cloth
from the designing through the dyeing to the marketing and wearing is done
almost exclusively by women.
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 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 colouring 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
Another form of artistic expression closely
akin to painting that has been in practice in the country for a long time is the
multicoloured 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.
Body Arts- Uli
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 possess esoteric
connotations and the human body so painted at times in varied contours,
visually becomes a really beautiful "living art piece".
Traditionally, the women of the Ibo
people of Nigeria
painted their bodies with patterns. They used a dye made from the seeds of uli
plants that temporarily stained the skin black. This type of body decoration is
known as uli painting. Uli designs refer to plants and animals; some are also
based on objects used in ritual and everyday life. Uli designs emphasize the
girl’s best features and highlight her physical strength. The designs are often
concentrated around the neck because a long straight neck was considered
beautiful and strong. One can recognise uli body painting by its characteristic
curvilinear and/or dot patterns and dark blue or black colour when the paint
oxidized and stained the skin.
Hair braiding represents a traditional art in the Sub-Saharan African community, passed down from generation to generation. The act of braiding also plays a role in female socialisation through the dialogues that occur between grandmothers, mothers and daughters as hairstyles are created.
The traditional style of African hair grooming, popularly called “all back”, is made in a way that hair is tightly braided very close to the scalp. The braids can be formed in simple straight lines or in complicated geometric or curvilinear designs. Favoured for its easy maintenance, this hairstyle can be left in for weeks simply by carefully washing the hair using and regularly oiling the scalp and hair. Such hairstyle is often decorated with cowry shell, beads, thread or brass medals, as well as with extensions fixed to the original hair to make it longer.
This colorful annual
festival takes place in Argungu, a riverside town in KebbiState,
about 64 miles from Sokoto. The leading tourist attraction in the area, the
festival originated in August 1934, when the late Sultan Dan Mu'azu made a
historic visit. In tribute, a grand fishing festival was organized. Since then,
it's become a celebrated yearly event held between February and March. During
the festival, hundreds of local men and boys enter the water, armed with large
fishnet scoops. They are joined by canoes filled with drummers, plus men
rattling huge seed-filled gourds to drive the fish to shallow waters. Vast nets
are cast and wealth of fish is harvested, from giant Nile Perch to the peculiar
Balloon Fish. Furthermore there is canoe racing, wild duck hunting, bare-handed
fishing, diving competitions and naturally, swimming. Afterwards, there is drinking,
singing and dancing into the night.
Eyo Festival is unique to Lagos
area, and it is widely believed that Eyo is the forerunner of the modern day
carnival in Brazil.
On Eyo Day, the main highway in the heart of the city (from the end of CarterBridge
to Tinubu Square)
is closed to traffic, allowing for procession from Idumota to Iga Idunganran.
Here, the participants all pay homage to the Oba of Lagos. Eyo festival takes
place whenever occasion and tradition demand, but it is usually held as the
final burial rites for a highly regarded chief.
The Fulani culture presents a complex system, involving age-old
initiations. The most important is the Sharo or Shadi (flogging meeting),
believed to have originated among the Jaful Fulani, whose ranks are still
considered the finest. During the Sharo festival, bare-chested contestants,
usually unmarried men, come to the center ring, escorted by beautiful girls.
The crowd erupts in thunderous cheers and drumming. After some time, a
challenger, also bare-chested, comes out brandishing a whip, trying to frighten
his opponent. The festival proceeds with lively drumming, singing, cheers and
self-praises from both competitors and challengers. When the excitement is at a
fevered pitch, it is the time for flogging. The challenger raises his whip and
flogs his opponent. His opponent must endure this without wincing or showing pain,
lest he be branded a coward.
The Atilogwu dance has been elevated to a dazzling art
form, particularly by the Igbo’s in AnambraState. Atilogwu is a
vigorous dance which literally means "Is this magic?" and combines
elements of gymnastics with foot-stomping rhythms and brilliant colors. It's
performed by young men and women who undergo rigorous training before
presenting the dance in public. Once approved, the dance is performed during
important festivals and great social occasions. In fact, Atilogwu has become a
celebrated signature of Nigerian culture, performed around the world.
Osun was one of the wives of Sango, the god of Thunder and former
king of Oyo. She is widely worshipped in Yoruba land, particularly in the
countryside through which the river Osun flows. The water of Osun is said to
have the power of making barren women fertile. Her most important sanctuaries
are in Oshogbo,
which is contracted from 'Oso Igbo', or spirit of the forest, centered on a
palace shrine where the chief priest performs rites and rituals.