Nigeria, with its vast diversity, offers a lot to its citizens, residents and visitors in term of music, culture and traditional celebrations with its numerous festivals and carnivals.
Nigeria is a multilingual and multicultural country, and this diversity comes with a variety of traditional celebrations, all with their musical, cultural and sometimes spiritual trappings. These festivals are all across the country, from east to West, from North to South and take place all year round.
The Observers Life brings you a list of the topmost exciting and crowd-pulling traditional and music celebrations in the country. These are:
- The Calabar Carnival: The Calabar Carnival, holding in December every year, is the latest amongst the events on this list, but it is arguably the biggest in term of the magnitude of crowd and publicity it generates every year.
Started in 2006 by the then governor of Cross Rivers State, Donald Duke, the event features as many as 50,000 colourful costumed participants divided into bands and draw millions of spectators from around the world yearly either as live spectators or TV viewers.
The lively and fun event attracts thousands of Caribbean citizens, Europeans, other Africans and Nigerians in the Diaspora, for a month-long treat that ushers to usher in the new year.
Local leading entertainers and international guest artists grace the event just as band members of festival dancers and performers spend months to perfect the show before the live audience.
- Osun Osogbo Festival: The Osun Osogbo Festival, which holds in August each year, is a festival to honour the goddess of the river Osun, believed to be a goddess of fertility. The festival, which is usually a 12-day event, rounds off with a procession to the Osun Sacred Grove, a dense forest that houses sanctuaries, shrines, sculptures and artworks in honour of Osun and other deities. The major highlight of that event is the performance of the Arugba (the virgin carrier of the Calabash of appeasement), who carries the sacrifices and offerings of the people from the Oba’s palace to the Osun Riverbank in the presence of the people.
The festival is attended by thousands of people from Nigeria and abroad and is seen as a real homecoming for Osun worshippers and some Caribbean and South American citizens, who have their roots in the Yoruba lands and have kept the traditions alive in the Diaspora.
- Sallah Durbars: the Sallah Durbars across various emirates and kingdoms in Northern Nigeria is the biggest festival and people parade in Northern Nigeria. Known as Hawan Daushe in the Hausa language, the event comes as part of the festivities to celebrate Edi-il-Fitr (at the end of Ramadan) and Eid-il-Kabir (the bigger Sallah) in most of the northern states in Nigeria.
The event features a parade of horsemen (usual noblemen) in colourful regalia and robes in a procession into the parade ground, with the Emir (the traditional ruler) coming up at the rear on his horse dressed in royal robes. All accompanied by the royal trumpeters and flutists.
Visitors are treated to fine horsemanship as the riders prance and gallop about on their horses while brandishing their swords to display their valour in honour of the Emir. Apart from horses, other animal species, including camels, baboons and others are also adorned and displayed during the Durbar.
There are also displays by jesters, acrobats, and stunt performers. The major highlight of the Durbar is the Jahi race, where several horsemen race towards the Emir at top speed and abruptly turn aside just before reaching him, and raise their sword or flag before exiting the race.
- The Igbo New Yam Festivals: widely celebrated across the Igbo states, the new yam festival is one of the most famous and culturally relevant festivals held yearly across the Igbo speaking states and their neighbouring communities.
The new yam festival is held on different dates depending on the particular tribe but more popular in August. The festival marks the time of harvest and the beginning of a new planting season, usually between August and October. Old yams are eaten or discarded before the festival and new yams are consumed on the day of the festival, in the form of various yam dishes. This festival is a thanksgiving offering to the god of harvest, for the year’s bountiful harvest. The festivals are attended by indigenes of the communities and their guests, with many coming from outside the communities, including from outside Nigeria. The new yam festival is the only festival that all Igbos have in common, every village and tribe has a version of their new yam festival and a god or deity connected with it.
The Ikeji Arondizuogu, the new yam festival of the Arodizougu people, is probably the most popular and most attended of these festivals. In the last two decades, each passing year has witnessed an increase in grandeur, display, dance, sophistication and all-inclusive participation of all Arondizuogu people and friends. The festival is marked with a colourful display of different masquerades such as Ogionu, Mgbadike, Nwaaburuja and Ozoebune; prestigiously parading across the market square to the admiration of the public.
This 4-day festival corresponds to a week under the Igbo calendar (Eke, Oye/Orie, Afo and Nkwo). Each of these days has a special significance and represents one of the several dimensions of Ikeji – a festival renowned for sumptuous feasting, fascinating masquerades, pulsating rhythms, and colourful performances.
- Argungu Fishing Festival: this fishing festival, which started in 1934 to mark the ending of the centuries-old gruesome conflict between the Sokoto Caliphate and the Kebbi Kingdom, is fast gaining its splendour after it almost went into oblivion in the early eighties. The festival, which holds on the Sokoto River in Kebbi State, in either February or March, is more popularized by its competition among fishermen, both professional and amateur, all jostling to catch the largest catch of the day and win the grand prize.
In the beginning,thousands of men line up along the river and at the sound of a gunshot, all of them jump into the river and have an hour to fish and win the grand prize, which is as much as $7,500 US dollars. The competitors are allowed to use their traditional fishing tools, however many are confident and prefer to catch their loot by hand.
The festival also features cultural dance presentations and lots of entertainment.
- Ojude Oba Festival: is celebrated in honour of the paramount ruler of Ijebuland, the Awujale. Ojude Oba (the king’s vast courtyard) is a cultural festival observed on the third day after Eid-il-Kabir, the Muslim greater Sallah. It is a celebration of the unity of the Ijebus, as all sons and daughters of Ijebuland participate in age-grades (regberegbes) parade in the ‘king’s courtyard to pay homage to the ruler.
Though the festival, started in 1892 as a Sallah homage of the Muslims to the Awujale in appreciation of the land given to them to build a mosque, Ojude Oba has grown beyond a religious confine to include all Ijebus. It now attracts tourists from across the world due to the extravagant celebrations and partying, including dances by different age groups in matching traditional attire. The Ojude Oba apart from being a display of fashion, music and dance steps also has a rich display of horses by the warriors. It has also been modernised to include performances by music artistes and a beauty pageant.
- Lagos Black Heritage Festival, popularly known as the Lagos Carnival is held during Black Heritage Week. It is a celebration of the abolishment of the slave trade. Though it started with the event in Badagry, the famous slave trade port, its events have spread to other divisions of Lagos State. The Festival, introduced over a century ago by “emancipados” (emancipated slaves) and their descendants from Brazil, Cuba and West African countries such as Sierra Leone and Liberia, saw returnees bringing with them vibrant carnival culture.
- The festival once suffered a lull until it was reintroduced with a bigger version about a decade ago. Spectators include people from the Caribbean, the United States and other countries of the Americas. The event showcases the culture of Lagosians with colourful fashion, music and dances through the streets.
- Traditional rulers also come out in their regalia to add radiance to the occasion.
- The Sharo/Shadi Festival: famously known for its flogging aspect, is a traditional rite of passage amongst the Jafun Fulani men. The tradition marks the coming of age of youth in the society. During the festival, young men are escorted by ladies into a ring of spectators, bare-chested and armed with a whip.
These young men are then whipped by other men of the age group and physical size, this marked the strength expected of a man, and if he endures it, he is allowed to take a bride amongst the young ladies, otherwise, he is considered less than a man and cannot marry.
Most men pass this gruesome test but are scarred for life by injuries suffered during the whipping. The sharo is generally staged at the time of the dry season during guinea corn harvest, and again during the festival of Eid-il-Kabir. The events of the festival usually last for a whole week and are then followed by celebration and merriment for welcoming the boys who became men.
- Eyo Festival: The Eyo festival is the native festival of the Isale Eko (Lagos Island) is native to Lagos Nigeria, held yearly in Lagos Island. Known as Adimu Orisa, it is a festival featuring the Eyo masquerades in their all-white head-to-toe attires, Opambatas (staffs) and Aagas (decorated wide-brimmed hats) and accompanied by drummers parading round the whole island in groups from their Igas (a type of palace) to the Agodo (shrine) as they ward off poverty, sickness, and deaths while ushering in prosperity and longevity. The procession is witnessed by spectators, who are expected not to wear any headgear, smoke, ride motorcycles or bicycles, or wearing footwear when the masquerades approach.
The Eyo masquerade is believed to represent the spirits of ancestors. Hence, despite its splendour and pageantry, it is not celebrated periodically. The masquerades only come out at special occasions such as burials and coronations of an Oba or high chief.
An Eyo festival is a major tourist attraction in Lagos as the masquerades with their staff and hats of different colours (which show which group a particular Eyo belongs to) are a sight to behold. There are several Eyo groups; Eyo Adimu (the most senior Eyo, Black), Eyo Laba (Red), Eyo Oniko (Yellow), Eyo Ologede (Green), Eyo Olokun (White) and Eyo Agere (Purple). The opambatas are used to ward off undesirable forces.
- Afan National Festival: This festival is a very old festival, almost 400 years old and is surprisingly still strong until this day. The festival is held annually in the town of Kagoro, south of Kaduna State on the first of January. The festival features hundreds of people that converge at the Chief’s place to display various cultural dances and performance. Members of neighbouring communities and states from the Middle Belt are received as guests during the festival.
Tourism is mostly active during festivals because they offer a double treat, the chance to travel and party or is entertained at the same time, and while Nigeria boasts of more than just these 10 festivals, these are the major festivals from all the regions of the country and are worth checking out for your next planned trip with the family or your spouse.