One of the major attractions of Nigeria to the outside world is her rich cultural heritage. Home to almost 250 ethnic groups and over 400 languages, the allure of the country’s different traditions, cultural practices and tasty delicacies is impossible to ignore. Nigeria plays host to almost 200 cultural festivals yearly and has proven to be a famous tourist destination to travelers and thrill seekers all around the world. While all these festivals offer a different experience, I believe these 6 are quite unique and should definitely be added to any adventurer’s bucket list of things to check out while in Nigeria.
The Eyo Festival
The Eyo Festival is a Yoruba festival that takes place in Lagos, the most populated and most famous city in Nigeria. The festival is also known as Adamu Orisha Play and is traditionally performed on Lagos Island. During this festival, the commercial look of Lagos Island turns to a “sea of white”. The festival features masquerades which are actually costumed dancers referred to as “Eyo”. The Eyo is believed to represent the spirit of the ancestors and is not viewed as a mere mortal. The Eyo Festival takes place in the occurrence of the death of an Oba (King) or a chief or an elder of a high ruling family in order to honor their lives and escort their departed souls. The festival can also take place during the installation of a new king.
The Eyo Parade usually starts from the Iga (palace) and then proceeds to the shrine of the Eyo deity known as Agodo. After this, the Eyo is free to go anywhere on Lagos Island. People on the streets often join and accompany the parade, jubilating with dance and music and creating a colorful and entertaining spectacle. When the Eyo encounters people on the way, he greets them with the phrase ‘Don’t fear anything, have a taste of the palm tree’ and taps the person on the shoulder with his opambata (palm branch). If the Eyo is offered money, he’ll pray for the person and sing the praise of his Iga. There are also certain things prohibited at the festival: motorcycle taxis, bicycles, sandals, smoking and a hairstyle known as Suku. The Eyo are known to hit anyone found violating the rules with their staffs.
The Yam Festival
The New Yam Festival is a cultural event annually observed by the people of the Middle belt, South and East Nigeria. It comes up at the end of the rainy season which varies from community to community but falls between early August and October. The festival is also known as Iwa Ji, Iri Ji or Ike Ji, depending on the dialect spoken, which means ‘new yam eating’ and is also celebrated across West Africa and some other African countries. Yam is a staple diet among the Igbo and is the first crop to be harvested. Hence, it is seen as the most important crop. As a result, the festival symbolizes the conclusion of a harvest and the start of another work-cycle.
On the eve of the festival, all old yams from the previous work-cycle’s harvest are either consumed or thrown away due to the belief that only fresh yams should be consumed to kick-off the New Year. On the day of the festival, the oldest man in the community or the king eats the first yam and offers it up with prayers to their deities and ancestors. This act is to express the gratitude of the people for their abundant harvest as well as for the protection of their lives. The celebration can run from a day to a week depending on the local community or region. Nonetheless, the festival is marked by masquerades dances, fashion parades and dances by local indigenes displaying their yam harvest.
The Durbar Festival is an annual event celebrated in several towns and cities in Northern Nigeria such as Katsina, Bida, Kano and Gombe. It is a festival that has featured prominently for more than 500 years and was introduced by Sarki Mohammadu Rumfa of Kano in the late 14th century as an avenue for the local leaders to pay homage to the Emir and to showcase their military powers and skills before going to war.
The festival usually comes up at the end of the holy month of Ramadan, during the Eid-Al-Fitr celebrations. It begins with Islamic prayers and is followed by an orchestrated parade of the Emir (King) and his royal entourage on horses escorted by traditional musicians playing local music with the procession ending at the Emir’s palace. Even though the Durbar festival could be presumed to be the Emir’s affair, it still serves as an event that involves the whole community as well as tourists and visitors who have come to witness the spectacle.
The Durbar festivities include special dance routines, music, horse parades and an event known as the ‘Jahi Race’. The Jahi Race is the most anticipated part of the celebrations and is an event where several horsemen charge towards the Emir at top speed, pull over when they reach him, and raise their swords or flags as the case may be before taking a bow to the applause of the spectators.
Calabar Carnival Festival
Tagged as ‘African Biggest Street Party’, the Calabar Carnival is a festival that comes up annually on the first of December and runs till the 31st of the month in Cross River State, Nigeria. The festival was launched in 2004 by the former Governor of Cross River State, Donald Duke, who had the vision to make the state the desired destination for tourism not just in Nigeria but also in Africa. Since its launch, the festival has raised the cultural scope and accessibility of Nigeria and the host city of Calabar continues to welcome one of the largest annual turnouts of tourists and visitors to an event.
The festival’s program is drafted every year with new initiatives introduced but it usually includes events such as a football competition among the five competing carnival bands (Seagull, Passion 4, Masta Blasta, Bayside and Freedom), musical performances from local and international artists, fashion shows, Boat regatta, traditional dances and the annual Ekpe Festival just to mention a few. The main highlight of the festival is the glamorous street parade which features performances and parades by different countries including Trinidad and Tobago, Brazil and Jamaica. The parade has often been compared to the Carnival of Brazil.
Osun Oshogbo Festival
The Osun Oshogbo festival is a two week long festival that takes place annually in the month of August in Osogbo, Osun State. The festival has been celebrated for almost six hundred years and was built around the relationship between the river goddess Osun and the first monarch of Osogbo Kingdom, Oba (King) Gbadewolu Laroye. The festival symbolizes the traditional cleansing of the city and the cultural reunion of the Osun people with their ancestors and founders of the kingdom. For the people of Osogbo, the festival marks what they consider a Founder’s Day and the event often attracts nearly a 100,000 people to the Osun Osogbo Sacred Grove.
Ojude Oba Festival
One of the most glamorous festivals in Nigeria, Ojude Oba Festival, which means ‘the Kings Fore-court’ takes place annually in Ijebu-Ode, a city in Ogun State, Nigeria. The Ojude Oba Festival usually holds on the third day after Eid-Al-Kabir and historically started almost a century ago as a religious gathering. However, the festival has gone beyond any religious restrictions today and hosts over 200,000 locals and visitors from all walks of life.
The festival celebrates the rich and remarkable culture of the Ijebu people and also provides a platform for people who have moved to other parts of the country and the world to reconnect and celebrate with one another with joyous welcomes, drumming, singing and dancing. The locals, visitors, tourists and dignitaries all march to the venue of the festivities and pay homage to the king of the Ijebu Kingdom (known as the Awujale) by presenting him with various gifts. The festival features the display of glamorous attires and hairstyles, local cuisine, and horse riding amongst others. There are also performances and displays by participants based on their age group and awards are given out for horse riding, best attire and best dance routines.
- “Eyo Festival”. Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. 10 October, 2016. Web. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eyo_Festival
- “Eyo Festival of Lagos”. Cultural Events. Nigerian Institute For Cultural Orientation. 10 October, 2016. Web. nico.gov.ng/index.php/cultural-events/37-cultural-events/375-eyo-festival-of-lagos
- “Yam Festival”. Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. 10 October, 2016. Web. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yam_Festival
- “The New Yam Festival”. Facts.ng. Festivals. 10 October, 2016. Web. https://www.facts.ng/culture/festival/the-new-yam-festival/
- “Durbar Festival”. Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. 10 October, 2016. Web. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Durbar_Festival
- “Durbar Festival; the Historic and Royal Celebration”. enroute.ng/festivals. 10 October, 2016. Web. Enroute.ng/festivals-and-carnivals/durbar-festival-historic-royal-celebration/
- “Calabar Carnival”. Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. 10 October, 2016. Web. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Calabar_Carnival
- “The Osun Oshogbo Festival”. Cultural Events. Nigerian Institute For Cultural Orientation. 10 October, 2016. Web. nico.gov.ng/index-php/cultural-events/1149-the-osun-oshogbo-festival
- “5 Things to know about the Ojude-Oba Festival”. Jumia Travel .10 October, 2016. Web. https://travel.jumia.com/blog/ng.5-things-to-know-about-the-ojude-oba-festival-5073