Lying in the west coast of Africa, Nigeria is a country occupied by an enormous variety of ethnic groups. The country is predominantly occupied by Muslims and Christians, which are concentrated in the North and the South, respectively. Because of such religious diversity, the country widely celebrates all major religious festivities, Muslim and Christian alike.
Festivals and fiestas hold a lot of importance for all Nigerians, and thus, most celebrations last for weeks, and the people put all their heart into them. Spectating the unique and awe-inspiring festivals of Nigeria is often more feasible a vacation for the average tourist, as easy living and cheap flights to Nigeria make the overall bill very light on the wallet.
A lot of Nigerian customs and festivals date back prior to the arrival of major religions in the area. They have unique methods of celebrating the year’s harvest, one’s betrothal, naming days and funerals. Many tribes believe that the dead join the ancestors in the heavens, and thus, they give the deceased a proper send-off.
Included in these events, are of course, the Muslim celebrations of Eid. Muslims celebrate Eid twice every year. The main Eid, Eid ul Fitr, is after the end of Ramadan, a month in which they fast every day from dawn till dusk. Eid is celebrated differently by Muslim tribes, but it is a merry day for all.
In the South, Christian festivals are celebrated majorly. They celebrate their festivals in a more mainstream and indigenous manner, moving closer to the ways observed worldwide. Besides religious festivals, there are lots of cultural fiestas that are celebrated yearly.
The Eyo Festival takes place upon the death of any King or Chief in Lagos. This serves two purposes; to honour the passing away of one Chief, and also to welcome another King. White clad ‘Eyo’ masquerade in thousands, mainly in Tinubu Square, Lagos. During this festival, the mob does not let people ride on vehicles, wear sandals, smoke, or do anything of the sort.
They often beat up people who are seen violating the customs. All the participants pay homage to the Oba of Lagos. On the last day, a priest sacrifices animals on the shrines of the ancestors, and lets the blood pour under religious rites. The sacrifices later become food for the feast that follows the proceedings.
There is also a festival to honour the god of thunder, Sango. The Sango festival lasts about twenty days, during which sacrifices are made at the shrine of the god. As all the ritual proceedings advance to an end, the priest becomes possessed by Sango to eat fire and swallow gunpowder. The procession then continues, accompanied by palm wine, roasted meat, and more dancing.
The Benin festival is held once every four years, at the end of the rainy season, after the gathering of the harvest. It serves two purposes; celebrations of a successful harvest, and to acquaint the eligible generation under a common ritual of the village. Only the wealthiest can afford to have their children take part in the matchmaking ceremony, but all the villagers join in the festive atmosphere. In the past, girls who took part in this mostly wore nothing.
However, since nudity is frowned upon nowadays, they are clothed, and adorned in heavy armlets and leg ornaments. These are so heavy that they often have to hold their arms over their heads during the festival to support the weight of them. Both genders have elaborate markings painted on their bodies. The boys also take part in a tug-of-war to show their strength.
Another major festival is the Argungu fishing festival. This started in 1934, to build peace among the people of Argungu and Sokoto. This three day event culminates in an hour long fishing session. And this is not like any other fishing practice in the world; thousands of men crowd the river, armed only with their fishing nets. At the sound of a gun, everyone piles into the Matan Fada River, aiming to catch the biggest fish.
This is a male-only event, and the audience often has state and federal government officials. After the hour is over, the fish are carried to the scales for the all-important weighing. The winning fish often exceeds 50 to 80 kilograms in weight. The pair of men which catches the largest fish is awarded one million naira, equivalent to 8,000 US dollars, and also a new bus.
Tourists who experience the Nigerian festivities often label them as life changing, and very inspiring. So come! Witness the most unique and bizarre, yet exciting class of traditions and festivals there is in the world, Nigeria!