Festivals in Nigeria, some of which date to the period before the arrival of the major religions in this ethnically and culturally diverse society. The main Muslim and Christian festivals are often celebrated in ways that are unique to Nigeria or unique to the people of a locality.
The Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation has been working with the states to upgrade the traditional festivals, which may become important sources of tourism revenue. There are more than 365 festivals in Nigeria according to the Minister of Information and Culture, Mr Lai Mohammed and government is working hard to harness these festivals as a way of showcasing and boosting the country’s diverse cultures.
Carnivals and festivals are part of Nigerian culture that is deeply rooted in history. It is an expressive way of displaying our wealthy cultural heritage as well as the traditions of various ethnic groups of the country. It is also a grand way of familiarizing ourselves with age-long tradition. Nothing brings people together like festivals; it plays a critical role in the building of nation, bringing people together irrespective of their social, economic, or religious background.
Carnivals are celebrated in grand styles with music, dances, fashion, and food, coupled with hospitality towards visitors who came to enjoy a first-hand experience of Nigerian culture.
Let’s take a look at 10 famous festival/carnivals in Nigeria:
The Eyo Festival is a Yoruba festival celebrated in Lagos, Nigeria. The attraction holds in the Tafawa Balewa Square with thousands of attendees each year.
The festival, also known as Adamu Orisa has no fixed date on the calendar. The word EYO represents the costumed dancers also known as masquerades who perform during the festival.
Eyo festival takes place in honour of a King or important Chief who has passed away or in honour of an important Lagosian who has contributed immensely to the state’s development.
The first procession of the Eyo festival was on February 20, 1854 to commemorate the life of Oba Akitoye.
On the morning of the festival, the ‘Orisa Oniko’ parades. The parade is believed to rid the occasion of evil spirits.
The week of the festival is usually colorful as performers are seen in their white regalia with colourful hats that indicate their different conclaves.
During the Eyo festival, some things are prohibited and they include, wearing of sandals, riding motorcycle and bicycles, tying of head ties for women, and making of ‘Suku’ (Yoruba Hairstyle).
Over the years, other tribes and foreigners have joined to celebrate the event and they can testify to the fun activities showcased on this popular cultural festival.
The good thing about this festival is that it brings diverse people together. It is about the beauty of a tradition that had been preserved for a long time and is still in the safe keep of the Lagos Island indigenes.
ARGUNGU FISHING FESTIVAL
Best known for its spectacular fishing festival, Argungu is a city in Kebbi state in North-West Nigeria.
Argungu festival is a special occasion celebrated every year to mark the historical end of the wars between the Sokoto caliphate and the Kebbi Kingdom.
The festival often celebrated in the month of February is a 4-day event that was established in 1934.
It was initially set up in the form of religious rites but later taken over by the Kebbi State Government because of its growing popularity and economic potentials.
The exciting spectators and the anxious competitors at this cultural programme is one thing that makes Argungu Fishing Festival an epic one.
The festival presents an opportunity for the different tribes in the north to unite and compete healthily for fun.
These exciting competitors are known to swim the river in search of the biggest fishes.
The ecstasy at this festival makes it a famous festival. Over 30,000 fishermen take part in the annual Argungu fishing contest.
So far, the biggest fish caught was in 2015, weighing 75kg.
General Yakubu Gowon, together with Alh. Diori Hammani of Niger Republic was the first Head of States to attend the festival in 1970. Since then, all Presidents of the Federal Republic of Nigeria have attended.
NEW YAM FESTIVAL
The New Yam Festival is an annual festival celebrated mainly by the people of the Middle belt and the Eastern part of Nigeria.
Celebrated between August and October, the festival is as old as the Eastern culture.
It marks the end of harvest and the beginning of the next farming cycle. It is also an opportunity for sons and daughters to come together to celebrate and reaffirm the bond of brotherhood.
In the Eastern part of Nigeria, yam is considered the King of crops and is the first to be harvested.
The evening before the celebration, yams from the previous year’s crop are either eaten or discarded because of the belief that the New Year must begin with freshly harvested yam.
On the festival’s day, the king or titled elders of the community roast a ceremonial yam.
Afterward, ‘the god of farming’ is offered a portion of the yam as a way of expressing gratitude for bountiful harvests. The yams are then shared, and the community is free to begin to eat the new yam. Only dishes of yam are served at the feast, as it serves as a symbol of yam abundance.
The festival is significant because, back in the days, the people have the belief that eating the new yam before the festival will incur the wrath of the gods.
However, it is important to note that the new yam is not diabolic, contrary to religious beliefs.
According to the Igbos, it is just a way of thanking God for giving them bountiful harvests.
The annual Durbar festival, also known as ‘Hawan Daushe’ is celebrated in the Northern parts of Nigeria and is one of the most colorful and famous festivals in the North.
It marks the end of Ramadan and is also shared with Eid-el-Kabir and Eid-el-Fitri Muslim holiday.
It is a royal parade of thousands of men on horses adorned with garments and regalia.
Prayer begins the festival, followed by a parade of the Emir and his entourage on horseback, accompanied by music players and ending at the Emir’s palace.
The festival can be traced back to hundreds of years ago in Hausa land.
It was introduced by Sarki Muhammadu Ramfu of Kano in the 14th century as a way of demonstrating military power and skills before going to war.
Each town, district, and noble household is expected to contribute a force for the defense of the Emirate.
It is always colourful as the horsemen are adorned in colorful robes, stylish turbans, ostrich feathers and glittering swords.
The horses used in the festival are also styled with colorful apparels.
All these are done to honour the Emir who enters the parade, shielded from the sun by a large, rotating parasol.
Ojude Oba is an annual festival celebrated in Ijebuland, Ogun state, usually celebrated on the third day of Eid-il-Kabir, a Muslim festival.
It is the period when Ijebu sons and daughters come home from diaspora to join their brothers at home.
The festival aims at celebrating the rich culture and heritage of the people of Ijebu-Ode; it also unifies culture lovers from every part of the world.
Ojude Oba has been an annual event and dated over 100 years ago when the first converted Muslims visited the King, to appreciate him for allowing them to practise Islam in the state.
During the visit, they prayed for the monarch to enjoy good health.
On the day of the festival, locals and visitors are seen, dressed in colourful outfits, while making their way to the Awujale palace to pay homage to the paramount ruler of Ijebu, The Awujale of Ijebuland.
The palace is the traditional arena for the yearly celebration.
Ojude Oba festival is celebrated amidst pomp and pageantry.
Egungun festival is an annual festival performed between November and April among the Yoruba people, and it is dedicated to the worship of all the Yoruba ancestors.
It is believed that it helps develop trade and commerce and it generally bonds Yoruba people irrespective of their religion. The circumstance surrounding the origin of this festival is mystical in nature and based on legendary folklore which has been passed down successfully to generations.
Celebrants are masqueraded to celebrate the ancestors, hence the name ‘Egungun’, meaning ‘Masquerade’.
The rhythm-less bata drum is a trademark of the festival as the masquerade dance without rhythm.
The Egungun priests, dressed in elaborate masquerade costumes, preside over the invocation of the ancestors and dance to the bata drum, together with initiates.
The belief remains that the spirits of the ancestors reveal themselves by possessing the masquerades. The masquerades are also armed with whips to flog anyone in the way of the spirits.
The priests are also tasked with spiritual cleansing of the community.
The historical Ofala festival is usually celebrated towards the end of every conventional year.
The name, Ofala is derived from the conjunction of two words, ‘Ofo’ meaning ‘Authority’ and ‘Ala’ meaning ‘Land’. It is a sign of authority and legitimacy bestowed on the traditional ruler in the land to guide.
The festival is also an event that marks the end of the 13th month in the Igbo calendar and the beginning of another Igbo year.
A traditional twenty-one gun salute starts the festival, followed by an all-night Ufie drumming (royal gong), dancing and other cultural activities. The next day, women and youth of the community, together with guest from other communities, dressed in ceremonial attire, make their way to the palace ground.
Following the gathering of the crowd, the red-cap chiefs, also dressed in traditional attires, proceed to the traditional ruler’s palace in order of their seniority.
The highlight of the festival is the entrance of the traditional ruler in his royal regalia before the hailing of the crowd.
Every August, believers and tourists from both inside and outside the country flock in their thousands into Osun to celebrate and participate in the two-week-long Osun-Osogbo festival.
The grand and colourful festival is organized at the ‘Osun’ sacred groves in Osogbo. The festival is an initiative aimed at showcasing the Yoruba cultural heritage. Osun Osogbo is a traditional celebration that is thought to be 600 years old.
The elements that add pomp and colour to the festival include; drumming, dancing, musical performing, wearing of elaborate costumes, speaking of the Yoruba language, recitation of praise and poetry amongst others.
The Osun river goddess is credited with the founding and establishment of Osogbo town. The 600-year-old festival is built around the mythical relationship between the river goddess, Osun and the first Monarch of Osogbo kingdom, Oba Gbadewolu Laroye.
The priestess of this grove is Adedoyin Talabi Faniyi. The Osun devotees dress traditionally in white cloths and believe that the River goddess brings divine favour and has healing and fertility powers.
Calabar Carnival Festival is also named the ‘Africa Biggest Street Party’. It was created to make Cross-River state the No 1 centre of tourist attraction in Nigeria.
The state-wide carnival has successfully become a unique event where people all over the country and those abroad go to have crazy fun and experience amazing hospitality.
Colorful costumes, outstanding performances, dancing, street parades, and many others are part of the elements that make the Calabar Festival an outstanding event.
This Port Harcourt Carnival combines a contemporary Caribbean style carnival and a cultural carnival changes.
The Carnival starts a few weeks before Christmas and lasts for seven days.
During this time, several ceremonial events are held, most of which hold some cultural and or sacred significance.
The Carnival also features musical performances from both local and international artists.