Nigerian traditions and customs

What traditions and customs are there in Nigeria?

Let’s know what are the customs and traditions of Nigeria, an African country.


Food in daily life

Western influences, especially in urban centers, have transformed Nigerian eating habits in many ways. City dwellers are familiar with the canned, frozen, and pre-packaged foods found in most Western-style supermarkets.

Foreign restaurants are also common in big cities. However, supermarkets and restaurants are often too expensive for the average Nigerian; therefore, only the rich can afford to eat like Westerners.

Most urban Nigerians seem to combine traditional cuisine with a bit of Western-style food and comfort. Rural Nigerians tend to stick more to 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 hands or with a utensil, it is considered dirty and rude to eat with the left hand.

Although the ingredients in traditional dishes vary from region to region, most Nigerian cuisine tends to be based on a few basic foods accompanied by a stew. In the south, crops such as corn, yams, and sweet potatoes form the basis of the diet. These vegetables are often pounded into a thick, sticky dough or paste.

It is often served with a palm oil-based stew made with chicken, beef, goat, tomatoes, okra, onions, bitter leaves, or whatever other meat and vegetables come to hand. Fruits like papaya, pineapple, coconuts, oranges, mangoes and bananas are also very common in the tropical south.

In the north, grains such as millet, sorghum and maize are boiled in a porridge-like dish that forms the basis of the diet. This is served with an oil-based soup usually flavored with onions, okra, and tomatoes.

Meat is sometimes included, although in the Hausa it is usually reserved for special occasions. Thanks to the Pël cattle herders, fresh milk and yogurt are common even without refrigeration.

Alcohol is very popular in the south, but less so in the north, where there is a strong Islamic influence. Perhaps the most popular form of alcohol is palm wine, a tart alcoholic beverage that comes from palm trees. Palm wine is often further distilled to make a strong, gin-like liquor. Nigerian breweries also produce various types of beer and spirits.

Food customs on ceremonial occasions

Food plays a central role in the rituals of virtually every ethnic group in Nigeria. Special ceremonies would not be complete without the participants sharing a meal.

It is normally considered impolite not to invite guests to share 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 naming ceremony.


There are three types of marriage in Nigeria today: religious marriage, civil marriage and traditional marriage. A Nigerian couple may decide to participate in one or all of these marriages.

Religious marriages, usually Christian or Muslim, are celebrated according to the norms of the respective religious teachings and take place in a church or mosque. Christian men can only have one wife, while Muslim men can have up to four wives. Official civil weddings are held at a government registry office.

Men are only allowed one wife in a civil wedding, regardless of their religion. Traditional marriages usually take place in the home of the bride and are performed according to the customs of the ethnic group involved. Most ethnic groups traditionally allow more than one wife.

Depending on who you ask, polygamy has advantages and disadvantages in Nigerian society. Some Nigerians see polygamy as a divisive force in the family, often pitting one wife against another. Others see polygamy as a unifying factor, creating an integrated support system that allows wives to work as a team.

Although Western forms of courtship and marriage are not unknown, the power of traditional values ​​and the strong influence of the family mean that traditional forms are followed, even in the cities and among the elite. According to the old ways, women did not have much choice about whom to marry, although the number of arranged marriages is declining.

It is also not uncommon for women to marry in their teens, often to a much older man. In cases where there are already one or more wives, it is the responsibility of the first wife to take care of her newest wife and help her integrate into the family.

Many Nigerian ethnic groups follow the practice of offering a bride price for a future bride. Unlike a dowry, in which the woman brings something of material value to the marriage, a bride price is a form of compensation that a husband must pay before he can marry a wife.

Bride price can take the form of money, cattle, wine, or other valuables paid to the woman’s family, but it can also take a more subtle form. Men may contribute money to a future wife’s education or help set her up in a small-scale business or agricultural enterprise.

This form of bride price is often incorporated as part of the courtship process. While women who leave their husbands will be welcomed back into their families, they often need a justification to break off the marriage. If the husband is considered to have treated his wife well, he can expect to be paid the bride price.

Although customs vary from group to group, traditional weddings are often full of dancing and lively music. There is also a lot of emotion and cultural manifestations.

For example, the Yoruba have a practice where the bride and two or three other women go out covered from head to toe in a white shroud. The groom’s job is to identify his wife from among the women involved to show how well he knows his wife.

Divorce is quite common in Nigeria. Marriage is more of a social contract made to ensure the continuation of family lines than a union based on love and emotional connections.

It is not uncommon for a husband and wife to live in separate homes and be extremely independent of each other. In most ethnic groups, both the man and the woman can end the marriage. If the woman leaves her husband, she will often be taken as another man’s second or third wife.

If this is the case, the new husband is responsible for paying the bride price to the ex-husband. The children of a divorced woman are usually accepted into the new family as well, without any problem.


Age is highly respected in Nigeria. In an area where average life expectancy is not very high, people reaching old age are considered to have earned special rights of respect and admiration. This is true for both men and women.

Socially, greetings are of paramount importance. A handshake and a long list of well wishes for the counterpart’s family and health are expected when meeting someone.

This is often true even if you have seen that person quite a bit before. Whether you’re talking to a bank teller or visiting a friend, it’s considered impolite not to give a proper greeting before getting down to business.

Shaking hands, eating or passing things with the left hand is unacceptable. The left hand is reserved for toiletries and is considered dirty.


Religious beliefs

It is estimated that 50 percent of Nigerians are Muslim, 40 percent are Christian, and the remaining 10 percent practice various indigenous religions.

While Muslims can be found in all parts of Nigeria, their strongest footholds are among the Hausa and Yoruba. Islam in Nigeria is similar to Islam throughout the world. It is based on the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad, which are outlined in the Quran.

Christianity is more prevalent in southern Nigeria. The vast majority of Igbo are Christians, as are many Yorubas. The most popular forms of Christianity in Nigeria include Anglican, Presbyterian, Southern Baptist, and Methodist. Also, there are large groups of Seventh-day Adventists and Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Conflict with the way some missionaries managed churches during colonial times also created a number of splinter African-Christian churches. Most of them adhere to the doctrines of Western churches, but have introduced African music and tradition into their masses. Some have even relaxed Christian restrictions on polygamy.

Relations between Christians and Muslims are strained in many areas. Since the end of 1999, numerous clashes between the two have caused thousands of deaths.

The northern city of Kaduna has been the flashpoint of many of these unrest, as local leaders discussed the possibility of instituting Shari’a law in the region. Demonstrations by Christians against the idea soon led to violent clashes with Muslims. The debate over Shari’a law and the violence that goes with it continues in many of the northern states.

Although Islam and Christianity are the dominant religions in Nigeria, neither of them is completely free from the influence of indigenous religions. Most people who consider themselves to be good Muslims or good Christians often also follow local religious practices.

This makes up for perceived shortcomings in their religion. Most indigenous religions are based on a form of ancestor worship in which family members who have passed into the spirit world can influence things in the world of the living.

This blending of traditional forms with Islam has led to groups like the Bori cult, which use spirit possession as a way of understanding why people are suffering in this life. The mixture of traditional forms with Christianity has led to the development of the Church of Aladura.

The priests of Aladura follow basic Christian doctrine, but also use prophecy, healing, and charms to ward off witchcraft.

Many Nigerians follow the teachings of purely indigenous religions. Most of these religions share the idea that a supreme god created the earth and the people on it, but has left it to the people to decide their own paths in life.

Followers of the traditional Yoruba religion believe that hundreds of spirits or lesser gods have taken the place of the supreme god by influencing the daily lives of individuals. Many Yoruba slaves who were taken to the Caribbean and the Americas brought this religion with them. There it was used as the basis of Santeria and Voodoo.

Because the vast majority of Igbos converted to Christianity during colonialism, few practice the traditional Igbo religion, which is based on hundreds of gods, not a single creator.

Religious professionals

According to Muslim and Christian traditions, the officials of these religions tend to be men. For most indigenous religions, priests and priestesses are common. Traditional priests and priestesses derive their power and influence from their ability to be possessed by their god or from their ability to tell the future or to heal.

In the Igbo religion men serve as priests to the Igbo goddesses, and women as priestesses to the Igbo gods. Although both men and women can feature prominently in Yoruba religion, women are often among the most respected traditional priests.

Rituals and sacred places

Because many of the indigenous religions are based on various spirits or lesser 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. In the same way, the area of ​​control for a spirit also marks places that are holy to that spirit.

For example, a tribe’s water spirit may have a specific pond or river designated as its sacred place. The Kalabari, Okrika, and Ikwerre tribes of the Niger Delta region have festivals in honor of water spirits sacred to their people. The Yoruba celebrate a twenty-day Shango festival each year to honor their god of thunder.

Many Igbo consider it unlucky to eat yams from the new crop until after the annual Yam Festival, a harvest celebration held in honor of the Igbo earth goddess Ani.

Death and the afterlife

Nigerian Christians and Muslims believe that after death, a person’s soul is released and judged by God before going to heaven. Many traditional religions, especially those of the Eastern tribes, believe in reincarnation. In these tribes, people believe that the dead will return as members of their mother’s or sister’s family.

Many in-depth ceremonies are necessary to prepare the body before burial. For example, if the person has a physical disability, measures will be taken to prevent it from being passed on in the next life. An infertile woman may have her abdomen cut open before burial or a blind man may have a salve made of special leaves placed over her eyes.

Regardless of religion, Nigerians bury their dead. This is common among Christians and Muslims, but is also based on traditional beliefs that the body must be returned to the land that sustained it during life.

Muslims are buried so that their heads face the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia. For others, it is customary to bury a man with his head turned to the east, so that he can see the rising sun.

A woman is buried facing west, so she knows when the sun sets and when it is time to prepare dinner for her husband in the next life. People also cover the body with black earth during burial because many believe that the red earth will cause skin blemishes in the next life.

Ethnic groups in eastern Nigeria believe that the more music and dance there is at funerals, the better the chances of that person succeeding in the afterlife.

The size of funerals depends on the social position of the deceased. Men are expected to set aside money to be used to ensure they have a properly arranged funeral. Women, children and teenagers tend to have much less elaborate funerals.

Secular celebrations

Nigeria celebrates three secular national holidays and several officially recognized Muslim and Christian holidays when government, commerce, and banks are closed. Secular holidays are New Year’s (January 1), Labor Day (May 1), and National Day (October 1). The Christian holidays are Christmas (December 25), Good Friday and Easter Monday.

Muslim holidays are Eid al-Fitr (the last day of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of fasting), Tabaski, and Eid al-Moulid. Aside from Christmas, religious holidays fall on different days each year.

The arts and humanities

Arts support

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. The sculpture was used in blessings, in healing rituals or to ward off bad luck. However, with increasing modernization, Nigerian art is becoming less and less purpose-oriented.

In some cases, Nigerians have abandoned entire forms of art because they no longer serve a purpose. For example, the elaborate tombstones once widely produced by the Ibibio are becoming increasingly rare as Western-style cemeteries are replacing traditional cemeteries.

The government has recognized this decline in Nigerian art. In an attempt to promote Nigerian nationalism through art, he has launched some programs, such as the All-Nigeria Festival of Arts, to reinvigorate the Nigerian art world.

Many wealthy Nigerians looking to recapture their roots, as well as Western tourists and collectors seeking an African art experience, are willing to spend money on Nigerian art. This has led to a slight revival of the art industry.


Nigeria has a long and incredibly rich literary history. Nigerians are traditionally storytellers. Much of Nigeria’s pre-colonial history is the result of stories passed down from generation to generation.

With colonization and the introduction of reading, writing and the English language, Nigerian storytellers soon began to share their talents with a worldwide audience. Perhaps Nigeria’s most famous writer is Wole Soyinka, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1986.

His most famous works include A Dance of the Forests, The Swamp Dwellers, and The Lion and the Jewel. Other famous Nigerian authors include Chinua Achebe, whose Things Fall Apart is a favorite of Western schools as an example of the problems inflicted on African societies during colonization, and Ben Okri, whose novel The Famished Road won the Booker Prize for Great Britain in 1991.

Graphic arts

Nigeria is famous for its sculptures. Bronze works from the ancient cities of Ife and Benin can be found in museums around the world. These areas in southern Nigeria still produce large quantities of bronze castings. Woodcarvings and terracotta sculptures are also popular.

Nigerians are expert dyers, weavers and tailors. They produce massive amounts of beautiful, rich and colorful textiles. However, most of them are mainly sold for everyday use and not as examples of art.

Performing arts

Dance and music are perhaps the two most vibrant forms of Nigerian art. Nigerian music relies on strong beats supplied by countless drums and percussion instruments. Highlife is a type of music heavily influenced by Western culture. It sounds like an African version of American big band or ballroom music. Afrobeat combines African rhythms and melodies with jazz and soul.

One of Nigeria’s best-known Afrobeat artists, Fela Kuti, was heavily influenced by American artists such as James Brown. Palm wine music takes its name from the palm wine lounges where it is traditionally heard. Its fast and frenetic rhythms reflect the bustling nature of many palm wine bars.

Perhaps Nigeria’s most popular form of music is juju, which uses traditional drums and percussion instruments to support vocals and intricate guitar work. Popular juju artists include King Sunny Ade, Ebenezer Obey, and Shina Peters.

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