Settled in Western Africa, Nigeria nestles just between Benin and Cameroon. Named after the Niger River which commences its flow into the country in the northwest, coursing southwards through tropical rain forests and marshes, until it finally meets the Gulf of Guinea. Nigeria’s climate is tropical, marked with differing seasons, therefore winter may be the best time to visit during the dry season; from December until the end of March. Nigeria is the most densely populated country in Africa which is why its culture is so welcoming to visitors with a population of 140 million people and over 200 ethnic groups, all possessing assorted languages and traditions, resulting in a nation of abundant ethnic diversity. Three of the largest ethnic groups include the Hausa-Fulani, Igbo, and Yoruba.
Nigeria is native to one of the most ancient civilizations in the world; some of the longest lasting Homo sapiens fossils have been discovered by archaeologists near Akure, a city in south-western Nigeria. However, the remains of the aged society belong to the Nok culture which emerged around 1000 BC. The remains of Nigeria’s history are spread all over various cities and towns, revealing its past of former empires that flourished long before the 15th century, some of whose earthworks are currently undergoing restoration by the Nigerian government.
On the outer borders of Osogbo, capital of Osun state lies the forest of the Osun-Osogbo Sacred Grove which used to caress the outskirts of most Yoruba cities. In 2005, UNESCO World Heritage recognised it to be a symbol of identity for the Yoruba people, as it emphasised the custom of forming sacred groves outside all other communities. The river Osun cascades through the forest southwards and is claimed in mythology to be one of the wives of Shango, the Yoruba god of thunder and lightning. Many other Yoruba deities are paid tribute with shrines, works of art and sculptures.
Just west of Osgobo 100 km away is the Oyo National Park, enveloped in wild life animals such as elephants, baboons, antelope, buffalo, and many bird species. The park’s name originated from the ancient capital of the Yoruban Oyo Empire of established in the 14th century, and contains many relics of this political city. Some of the historical and archaeological attractions include the Agbaku cave, the traditional Akesan Market, Akoto wildlife museum, and Alaafin’s Palaces; all of these which naturally combine both history and Mother Nature.
Located south of Oyo is the Benin City where the lgue festival is celebrated between Christmas and New Year. It lasts seven days, where tradition expresses that offerings be made to Oba Ewuare, the king of the Benin Empire in traditional combat outfits for a mock skirmish. The main theme of the festival is peace and Oba’s blessing of the land and his people. In February the Ihuen Eguare festival is acclaimed by the Esan people of Ekpoma, a celebration which is meant to placate the gods to bestow prosperity and healthy fortune upon their followers.
Many of the festivals in Nigeria are tied to ancient conventions while others are merely social events that have no ritualistic connotations attached. Music festivals like the Lekki Sunsplash held in Lagos on December 25th and 26th showcase the talent of many Nigerian musicians and draw about 100,000 people annually. Other festivals such as the Argungu Fishing Festival began in 1934 to symbolise the beginning of peace after centuries of hostility between the Kebbi Kingdom and the Sokoto Caliphate state. On the last day of the festival, a tournament takes place where thousands of contestants line up along the river and dive into the river at the signal of a gunshot, giving them exactly an hour to catch the largest fish.
Plenty more festivals and cultural celebrations are held during the winter, as well as throughout the year in Nigeria. The Nigerian Tourism Developments Corporation strives to improve the festivities and carnivals, which have attracted a lot of attention from travellers who wish to explore all of what this exotic country has to offer.
What might cultural festivals reveal about a country’s society?