Tradition is the long-established custom, practice or belief of a community. It is usually passed down from generation to generation. Besides, tradition is an inherited way of thinking, acting or living.
Nigeria, being one of the largest populaces in Africa, is inhabited by over 250 varieties of ethnicities with distinct cultures and traditions. The ethnic groups range from the Yoruba people in the southwest, Igbos in the southeast, Niger Deltans in the south-south and the Hausas and Fulanis in the northern regions.
Many of these traditional practices have been abolished with the emergence of modern beliefs and the influence of colonial masters. Yet, there are still certain practices and traditions that are still celebrated in diverse cultures across the nation today.
Here are some of them:
Many tribes and cultures in Nigeria celebrate their festivals with masquerades. Masquerades are persons specially chosen from the masquerade cult to dress in costumes or disguise to entertain or perform certain traditional rites during festivals in many Nigerian communities.
Masquerades are believed to be ancestral spirits who come to visit the living from time to time, especially during these festivals. Some of them are believed to be messengers that chant in a language only the occultist will understand. Others result in flogging and punishing onlookers as it is with the case of Ugwuaji masquerade, a community in Enugu in the eastern part of Nigeria.
According to the Ugwuaji tradition, it is taboo to look at a masquerade at night except one is initiated into the masquerade cult. It is also a taboo to challenge a masquerade even when it is preventing people from going to the stream or forcing them to sweep the village market or town halls. Desecrating the masquerade will attract a fine (a fat goat or its equivalent in money) to appease the land and masquerades. Unfortunately, your religion or identity as a foreigner can’t exempt you from this law. In Nigerian parlance, “everybody go collect.”
Inheriting Women Practice
Some communities in the Yorubaland, Ndokwa and some parts of the eastern region of the nation, have a practice of marrying the widow of their deceased brother. The Yorubas who practice this call it “opo sisu.”
It is believed that to protect, care for and preserve the wealth of their deceased relative, marrying the widow is the best way to keep her, the deceased properties and children if any, in the family. But trust human beings and their flawed nature, greedy relatives take advantage of this practice to forcefully inherit the wealth of the deceased and end up maltreating the widow and her children.
As of 2023, this is still in practice in many cultures across the nation. Female circumcision also known as female genital mutilation (FGM) is the act of removing some or all of the external female genitalia or other injuries to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. In some tribes, this circumcision is done before marriage. Others do so after birth. And for some, crying for an uncircumcised dead female is not allowed until her corpse has been circumcised.
It is believed that to avoid promiscuity a woman, her genitals should be circumcised. It is also seen as a passage rite for womanhood. This unhealthy and barbaric practice, although frowned upon, is still carried out due to lack of exposure, poverty and greed among the people of these communities.
This practice is done majorly in the southeast, southwest, northwest, south-south (Niger Delta), north-central and southeast. The southeastern parts have the highest rate of female circumcision.
The Water Spirit Worship of the Ijaws
The Ijaws are an ethnic group in the Niger Delta of south-south Nigeria. They are predominantly found in Bayelsa, Delta and Rivers States. They also reside in Ondo, Edo and Akwa-Ibom States, and are migrant fishermen in camps as far as Sierra Leone and Gabon. Their major occupation is fishing and farming.
As people who live mainly by the riverine areas, their traditions and practices originate from the worship of water spirits known as Owuamapu and the veneration of ancestors. The Ijaw people believe that water spirits are like humans in having personal strengths and shortcomings and that humans dwell among the water spirits before they are born.
The Ijaws believe that water is friendlier to them and so they pray to it. They also believe that every unmarried girl has a water lover, so, through the ritual of Iria, they try to connect the unmarried women with their water spirits to ensure their future fertility.
Each year, they hold celebrations in honour of the spirits which lasts for several days. They also practice divination called Igbadai, in which recently deceased individuals are interrogated on the causes of their death.
Four communities in Nigeria worship snakes—the Nembe people of Bayelsa State, Idemili people of Anambra State, Machina people of Yobe State and many parts of Imo state.
The Nembe people worship the python. They consider it a totem and believe that it is the manifestation of a spirit being—a deity. When a python is spotted in a home or on the road in the Nembe community, it is not killed. Rather, it is removed using traditional methods. A dead python is also buried respectfully if found in Nembe.
The python is also loved, feared and worshipped by the Idemili people of Anambra and many parts of Imo state. With the people of Idemili, the python lives in harmony with the inhabitants of these towns. It is a respected deity and there are shrines dedicated to its worship. It is forbidden to kill a python in these areas. Killing a python comes with grave consequences.
For the Machina people of Yobe State, snakes of an unknown specie are very revered. They are believed to be part of the royal family and as such it is taboo to kill this type of snake. The snakes come out when the royals are celebrating or when they are in mourning. They have venom but do not harm people when they come out.
The left hand in many parts of the country has a taboo attached to it. It is believed that giving and receiving with the left hand, especially from elders, is a sign of disrespect. In some communities, eating and drinking with the left hand is seen as an insult. If the left hand is used in giving or receiving from an elder, the elder involved will take it as an insult and reject the offer.
There are many other strange and archaic practices still practised across the nation. These are just a few of them.