10 Must-See Cultural Sights in Nigeria
1. Up in Nigeria’s northern region, Masa (made from corn) is a breakfast staple. It’s fried like bean-cakes, in a circular custom-made 20-hole kitchenware. From the beginning to the end, the process of making Masa takes roughly seven minutes; and when done, it is usually served with a generous helping of stew, sauce, or vegetable soup. I understand it is also served with suya or honey.
2. In Uyo there are many palm wine tappers, sellers and buyers. This picture–taken at a drinking joint off Oron Road–shows the special calabash (known locally as Ukpe) the people use as cup. I am told that chiefs reserve the right to use a cow horn for the same purpose. Interestingly, there is a belief among locals that palm wine prevents an attack of Malaria.
3. Badagry is packed with traditional shelters made from raffia palm. Relaxation centres are also mostly built with local materials, raffia palm being one of them. The areas between Topo and Ajido (the Badagry lagoon runs right along to the right) are good places to see these huts in their numbers. Depending on when you visit, the view also includes locals tilling the soil ahead of the planting season, some paddling their canoes back home from a fishing trip, and others just generally taking a nap under the surrounding vegetation. If there is a place so at home with nature, Badagry is one such place.
4. Ibereke masquerade (Rivers State). It takes a while to evoke the spirit of this masquerade. “It never comes out anyhow–we must pour libation,” I am told by the minders. And once it’s been properly appeased, Ibereke (meaning ‘wonderful’) spills out from its circular box, stretches for some 40 feet northward and does things you’ll never see another masquerade do. Then it takes another round of ritual to ‘calm’ it down and get it recoiling into its casing. No wonder it’s called ‘wonderful’.
5. A fascinating feature of Jos is the Colonial-era stone-houses. Since there are rocks everywhere and within easy reach too, the European settlers tapped into the natural resource to erect these everlasting buildings. There are literally hundreds of these about in the capital and beyond. What manpower went into the constructions I cannot imagine; but I love going about town and seeing them. They are a delight for me, but sadly some of the really defining ones are being altered or completely pulled down to make way for modern buildings.
6. I am used to water vendors in Lagos pulling a truck full of black kegs. In Yenagoa, the kegs are dove-white. They brighten the cityscape–for real! But in a city practically surrounded by water, should water be a scarce resource? That said, nothing compares with this sight: a woman in rain boots, bent over and clearing the grass in her swampy compound. I was curious, so I stepped closer to where she was for a chat. She smiled, straightened up and marched towards me. Then she said: “I am just keeping my surroundings clean, and trying to keep away mosquitoes.”
7. One sunny day recently, I met a Nono (traditional yoghurt) vendor, a tall and smiling Fulani lady. I haven’t had the drink in months, so I order for little bowl of it, stirred and mixed (with a spoonful of ground, refined sugar) to a smooth paste. The interesting bit is I had an opportunity to look inside the colourful calabash for the very first time. And what did I see? A big chunk of ice, which keeps the Nono chilled, in the thick milky pool. The calabash is filled with N1, 500 worth of Nono. I asked if she makes enough profit from the trade. “Market no dey,” she said.
8. Iya Ibeji has been an herbal medicine practitioner almost all her life. She was barely five years old when she was sent off to live with her grandmother, who at the time stocked and sold roots and herbs in the community. Today, she is one of about 40 traders in the huge Kuto market (in Abeokuta), who dispense herbal remedies to the city’s residents who believe in the potency of alternative medicine. “I have operated from this spot for nearly 20 years,” she says. “The beauty of herbal medicine is that it deals with illnesses once and for all as opposed to orthodox medicine, which doses work in cycles.”
9. Travelling as I do (by road, with a backpack and a laptop) affords me the opportunity to compare and contrast the different aspects of Nigerian life. I am able to see what the different regions and tribes have in common; and what we have in common but offer with slight variations. Nowhere is this more forceful than in the foods/fruits we eat. Breads take different shapes, sizes and texture as I cross inter-state boundaries; rice goes from being served with stew to being served with pepper-soup; roast yams and plantain are served with chicken, spiced stew or fish, depending on the area I find myself; and bean cakes, pap, groundnuts come with their own flavours and variants.
10. Catholicism is deeply grounded in Nigeria’s eastern region. I was pleasantly surprised to see statues of Holy Mary in private compounds and kids gathered for bible study sessions after school on weekdays. But I was not so surprised to see that there are many shops in Enugu which sell everything and anything Catholics might need for their private devotions. I walked into one of such and it was an education of sorts. The shop-owner took his time to teach me who some of the statues and symbols represented. I was impressed most especially by the story of the Saints (St Anne, St Gabriel, St Joan, etc.) so I bought a pocket-sized summary to digest later.