Thursday, March 23, 2017


Nigeria’s art traditions go back thousands of years. And while some of it was tied to religious purposes, there are many objects that are used for everyday purposes. Different tribes in Nigeria excelled at different arts, although there are many traditions that span the entire region.

Archaeologists have found evidence of pottery dating back to 100BC and terra cotta wares from about 800AD. Many of these pots have complicated carvings on them. In many cultures, the potters were women. Terra cotta was also used to make sculptures, but these statues and figurines were also made from other materials such as bronze, brass, and ceramic. The Nigerians also made masks out of bronze and copper as well.

Masks were also an important part of Nigerian culture. Most of these masks were made from wood and painted in a variety of styles. The Yoruba masks are probably the most well known (or at least the most well preserved). It’s thought that if you wear these masks at funerals or other ceremonies, then it appeases the gods. (Or at least your introvert soul.)

Nigerians are also known for their brightly colored cloths. The dyes are made from a number of natural plants in order to get the color they are looking for. There are differences in the dying and weaving techniques among different tribes. Of course, there are other smaller carvings and handicrafts that are also created by Nigerian artists: woodcarving, ivory carving, and woven baskets are also commonly found in the home.
by Emeka Okereke
There are many Nigerian artists who are quite known for their work in a variety of mediums. A few of the more prominent ones today include Victoria Udondian (painter, fashion designer), Emeka Okereke (painter, photographer), Adamu Waziri (animator for Bino & Fino), Karl Ohiri (photographer), Wura-Natasha Ogunji (performance artist), Lucy Azubuike (photographer, performance artist), Marcia Kure (painter), Adaku Utah (performance artist), Otobong Nkanga (photographer, painter, performance artist), and Nnenna Okore (sculptor).
by Nnenna Okore
Literature in Nigeria is mainly written in English, but there are many writers who write in a number of other regional languages like Hausa, Urhodo, Igbo, and Yoruba. Scholars have divided Nigerian literature into four periods. The earliest is known as the 14 Kingdoms (from about 10th­­­­–19th century), followed by the Sokoto Period (19th–20th centuries), Colonial Period (early part of the 20th century), and the Post-Independence Period (latter part of 20th century to today).

There were many writers who emerged from the earliest period who laid the groundwork for writers for centuries to come. Some of the most important writers to emerge from this period include Ibn Furtu (late 1500s), Muhammad ibn Masani (1600s), Abdullahi Suka (1600s), and Sheikh Jibril ibn Umar (1700s). 

Today, there have been many 20th and 21st century writers who have had a tremendous impact on not on Nigerian and Anglophone literature in and of itself but on an international level as well. Probably one of the most well-known authors from Nigeria is Chinua Achebe. I (and probably most college English majors) had to read his famous novel Things Fall Apart. And while I tried to fake my way through the book at the time (that’s what you get when you double major in English and Music), I went back years later and re-read it for real. And I ended up reading No Longer at Ease and Arrow of God after that. He’s sometimes referred to as the Father of Modern African Literature. In 2007, he was awarded the Man Booker prize for his lifetime achievement and influences to African literature. 

Another Nigerian author worth mentioning is Wole Soyinka. He has written many plays but also several memoirs, poetry collections, essays, and a couple of novels. Although he mainly writes in English, he is a Yoruba speaker. Soyinka was recognized for his contributions to literature in 1986 as he accepted the Nobel Prize for Literature. This made him the first African to be awarded this prize.

Up next: music and dance

Sunday, March 19, 2017


Most of my searches when I was researching its neighbor Niger also popped up a ton of hits for Nigeria. I was forced to sift through them to find what I was really looking for. And now it’s relevant. This is a country that has made world news many times, but most of the time when it does, it’s not pleasant. In recent years, Boko Haram has pushed it back into the news once more. And of course, there’s that Nigerian prince who’s been trying to e-mail us to hold some of his money for a small kickback since the late 1990s. As tempting as that sounds, I’ll pass. Just because I’m not really into scams. But it leads me to wonder: it can’t be all bad and scammy, right? I know there’s more to this country than this.

Zuma Rock

Similar to its neighbor Niger, the name Nigeria is stemmed from the Niger River. The name Nigeria is often contributed to Flora Shaw, a British journalist. 

Nigeria is located in West Africa, surrounded by Benin to the west, Niger to the north, a small border with Chad to the northeast, Cameroon to the east, and a coastline on the Gulf of Guinea. The two main rivers that run through Nigeria are the Niger River and Benue River, which come together to form a Y. The country has quite an extensive array of landscapes: highlands, plateaus, hills, mountains, coastal plains, swamps, savanna, and desert. 

Pre-colonial Igbo

One of the earliest civilizations there was the Nok Civilization, who were known for their terracotta figures. Later on the Hausa and Kanem-Bornu Empires prospered as trading posts between the Northern and Western African regions. The Igbo Kingdom of Nri strengthened its presence during the 10th century until the time the British arrived in the country. The Nri had a huge influence on Igbo culture. The Yoruba Kingdoms flourished in the southwest corner the country. The Benin Empire rose during the 15th and 16th centuries. And then the Portuguese and the Spanish arrived. The city of Eko later became known as Lagos (thanks, Portuguese). The Europeans who arrived began to trade, and unfortunately, that included the Slave Trade. Ports along the Nigerian coast were some of the largest slave trading posts. Slavery was also present in their agricultural sector as well, mostly in the palm wine production plants. By the late 1800s, British claims in Africa began to grow, and they made their claim to Nigerian lands, and in 1901, it became a British protectorate. There were several clashes between the Nigerians and the British. The country eventually split into the Northern Protectorate, the Southern Protectorate, and the Lagos Colony. Christian missionaries did arrive, and while they did have their influence, the British were pretty insistent about not interfering with the established Islamic influence on the culture, especially in the north. After WWII, Nigerians began to push for their own sense of nationalism and independence from the British, which they gained in 1960. However, the country was pretty divided along ethnic groups: Yoruba in the west, Igbo in the east, and Hausa in the north. There were several coups in the mid-1960s, which partly led to a civil war, lasting from 1967­–1970. Oil was discovered in 1970, but it was no match to the military juntas and conflicts that lasted from that point to the end of the 1990s. However, they regained their sense of democratic process in 1999, which ended over three decades of military rule. 


Lagos may be the largest city in Nigeria (its metro area is actually the largest on the African continent), but the capital city is Abuja. The capital actually used to be in Lagos, but it moved to Abuja in 1991. Abuja is one of the many planned cities that are also national capital cities. While Lagos is located along the coast in the southwest corner of the country, Abuja is more centrally located. The city is the center of government, commerce, and media, and there are several universities and entertainment spots throughout the city.

Business and financial district in Lagos

In 2014, Nigeria passed South Africa as having the largest economy in Africa. However, years of military rule, corruption, and mismanagement gave the country a slow start. Today, it’s classified as a mixed economy emerging market. Nigeria has the advantage of its abundant natural resources, the second-largest stock exchange in Africa, their oil supply, and well-developed sectors in transportation, communications, legal, and financial fields. Agriculture still employs nearly 30% of its population, but manufacturing, mining, and the service industry serve as an important source of available jobs. However, there are many Nigerian families who depend on remittances from abroad.

Because of Nigeria’s history of being a British protectorate, the dominant religion is Christianity. Both Protestantism and Roman Catholicism are found in the southern regions of the country, although the concentration areas may differ. Islam is more prevalent in the northern areas of the country, with Sunni Islam being the majority denomination. Other minor religions in the country include animism, Hare Krishnas, and various Christian denominations including Anglican and LDS/Mormon.  

This is a Nigerian cartoon that teaches about African culture. I'm going to have to check this out.

Nigeria is a multi-ethnic and multi-linguistic country. It’s estimated that nearly 521 languages have been spoken in this country (nine of these have become extinct). Many people in Nigeria speak several languages, and although they may speak their own languages in the home, English is the official language of the government, commerce, and education and serves as a lingua franca in some cases. (There are a couple of English-based Creoles that also serve as lingua francas.) The major languages spoken in Nigeria are Hausa, Igbo, and Yoruba, but there are many others that are utilized in some capacity. 

In reading articles about Nigeria, I came across a few things that caught my attention. Nigerians were building boats for the Songhai Empire’s fearless leader (based in Mali) Mansa Abubakari II’s expeditions to the Americas decades before Columbus arrived. And apparently if you’re looking to have twins, find a Nigerian, and more specifically someone of Yoruba linage: their bloodline has the greatest chance of having twins. It’s also home to the most butterflies in the world. And in a few days, I get to write about an author who I first read in college and went on to read several of his books.

Up next: art and literature

Sunday, March 12, 2017


This has been a busy weekend! I had to order my daughter new glasses, and then my son and husband went to Cincinnati for an overnight art field trip while my daughter and I got to visit a cat café and go to cosmic bowling later on. And so now I’m finally finishing my three-day weekend with some Nigerien food. 

I know it's not healthy, but I really like sausage. And these are great!
I’m starting today off with some Nigerien Sausage Rolls. In a large bowl, I combined 3 c of flour, 1 stick of butter, 2 eggs, ½ c of water, and ½ Tbsp of salt together and kneaded it until it started to come together as a dough. I didn’t realize that I was out of all-purpose flour, so it ended up being 1 c of all-purpose and 2 c of spelt flour. Then I let it rest for about 2 hours. I bought already cooked turkey sausage crumbles, so I skipped the part where I browned it. When the dough was ready, I rolled it out and cut out rectangles. I took these rectangles and laid my sausage crumbles near one of the short ends. Starting from that end, I started rolling it up, trying to keep the sausage on the inside. When I got to the end, I pinched the outside edges to keep it all together and laid the whole thing on a baking sheet. Once I finished doing this will all of the dough, I brushed them all with an egg wash made from the egg whites. I baked this in a 400ºF oven until they were golden on top. I didn’t keep exact track of the time, but it was probably in the 10-13 minute range. I thought they were good, even though I think they might’ve been better with the using only all-purpose flour.

The picture doesn't show much, but there wasn't much to talk about either.
Next, I made Egusi Soup. I started out browning some ground beef, draining, and setting it off to the side. Then I put a can of diced tomatoes (juice and all), some diced green peppers and onions into my blender and blended them just a little (but not too much). Then I poured this into a pot, added in my ground beef, 2 Tbsp of vegetable oil, and the 1 c of ground egusi (I actually used pumpkin seeds that I had to grind myself since I couldn’t find the egusi. I saw it there last month when I was stopped by, but they must’ve been out.) And I left out the Maggi cubes because they have MSG in them. I let this all cook down for about 20-30 minutes, adding in a little beef stock, salt, and pepper for flavoring in lieu of the Maggi cubes. This one was not my favorite. The flavor was ok, but the texture was throwing me off. And the color, too. There were also places where the pumpkin seeds didn’t get ground all the way, so every now and then it felt like I was eating a shard of bark.

I actually kind of liked the addition of the shrimp with it, but I think a different kind of bean would've tasted better.
I also made Ewa Dodo (literally, ewa is black-eyed peas and dodo is plantains). I rinsed my peas in cold water and then boiled them for 2 minutes. I took them off the heat and let them soak for about an hour. Then I simmered in the same water for an hour until they are tender. This time, I watched my water levels like a hawk. After this, I added in some onion, tomato, and some crushed red pepper and let it cook for another 15 minutes. Then I threw in some tomato paste, oil, and salad shrimp and let it simmer covered for another 10 minutes. Separately, I sliced my plantains, sprinkled them with salt, and fried them. I drained the fried plantains on a paper towel and served next to or on top of the black-eyed peas. First of all, I wasn’t impressed with the way the plantains fried up. They fried up hard like chips and not as flavorful as I thought they could’ve been. Second, I think black-eyed peas have a musty flavor. But adding the shrimp, tomatoes, and spices helped. My husband thought it was too spicy, but I didn’t think so. I only used 1 ½ tsp for a large pot. He’s such a wimp. The kids barely touched this.

No complaints in the fruit department. It's all good here.
And finally, I made a Mango Salad. I didn’t feel like actually cubing pineapple and mangoes myself. So, I bought canned fruit and let someone else do the hard part. In a small bowl, I mixed together a drained can of diced pineapple and mangoes. Then I mixed together ½ c lemon juice and a cup of apricot nectar and poured on top of the fruit. I served this on lettuce leaves and garnished it with sliced strawberries. This was probably the best part of the meal. The mixed juices gave the normally sweet fruits a slightly sweet-sour flavor. I thought it was great!

Overall, this one was a half and half.
I realized today how important it is to multitask. I was making all of these dishes pretty much at the same time. I typically have more than one dish going at the same time. I prioritize my time and maximize my downtime. But you can only pull off multitasking if you are efficiently organized. Otherwise, I’ll forget about a dish, and it goes to crap (as I’ve found out before). I do this in my work day as well as taking care of my family (with the same results). However, on the downside of being a multitasker, I often feel like I’m working All. The. Time. Sometimes I just want a moment to chill, drink my coffee, and read my book. One day, one day.

Up next: Nigeria

Saturday, March 11, 2017


Nigerien music consists of the many cultures that make up its people. In their music, you’ll find elements of Hausa, Tuareg, Fula, Zurma Songhai, Arab, and other cultures that have contributed to their musical traditions. And generally speaking, many of these musical traditions are similar to other traditions and styles found throughout West Africa. 

If anything, they share many of the instruments used in their music. The molo (a type of lute) and the duma (a type of percussion instrument) are commonly used in Hausa griot traditions. The kakaki (a type of trumpet), the alghaïta (a type of shawm), other types of lutes, flutes, percussion instruments, and fiddles are used for a variety of purposes. Singing is also performed either with or without accompaniment. It can also be solo or in a group setting. Some ethnic groups are known for their choral traditions, like the Beriberi, Fula, and Wodaabe. 

Closely tied with music is Nigerien dance, which is a vital part of their cultural festivals, celebrations, and ceremonies. One dance is called the Ruume, a type of circle dance where the dancers sing and clap to the music. Another dance is called the Gerewol, which is a type of courtship dance. The men perform this one, painting their faces and adorning themselves with beads and feathers trying to make themselves attractive to the females who act like they’re blasé about it all but end up choosing the one they like best.

I listened to a few modern groups on Spotify. The first one I listened to is Saadou Bori. He is a reggae musician who performs in an African-style reggae. Like the Caribbean, Africa has its own reggae variations that mixes reggae with their own unique African sounds and instruments. Saadou Bori became pretty popular internationally in the mid-1990s along with fellow reggae musician Moussa Poussy. Fati Mariko is another reggae group/musician. You can definitely pick up on the African drumming styles used in their music.

Mamar Kessey’s music also falls into the reggae category. However, their music also mixes in jazz and traditional Songhai elements into their music. They might be one of the more well-known Nigerien musical groups.

I listened to Etran Finatawa’s album The Sahara Sessions. I really liked this album. They mix together Tuareg and Wodaabe traditions since their members consist of these two ethnic groups. When I listen to this acoustic music, it reminds me of some of the examples of African American work songs we listened to in my college ethnomusicology class. It’s fairly clear whose musical traditions it’s most likely derived from.

One genre I’ve grown to enjoy is Tuareg blues music. I listened to the band Takrist n’Akal. I really like their music. It’s not necessarily blues in an American sense (either Delta or Chicago), but there are still many elements that are similar to it (lowered thirds and sixths, I believe). It’s melodic, and I could hear vocal harmonies in places. The guitar part creates the rhythm underneath the vocal lines. Toumast is another Tuareg blues band. Their name means “the people, the nation” in Tamasheq. If you like this genre but want something a little more on the psychedelic rock side of the blues, you should check out Mdou Moctar’s album Akounak Tedalat Taha Tazoughai (original motion picture soundtrack).

And I did find one hip-hop group available on Spotify. I took a listen to Kamikaz’s album Street réalité. Rapped in French, he envelops a very Afro-French sound to his sound. I really can’t comment on what he’s saying since I have no idea. I’m lucky if I can pick out a word or two. But I like how he raps fast – that will always be impressive to me. And each song was different enough to keep me interested in listening further.

Up next: the food

Thursday, March 9, 2017


Nigeriens have a keen support for their arts, from the traditional handicraft arts to the modern styles. From the early days, traditional arts like jewelry making, pottery, and leather making have held a certain importance to Nigeriens. These types of art are not only found in the markets but they’re also supported by the National Museum and other arts cooperatives. 

Tuareg art of Niger is dominated with many of these types of handicrafts. They would create many items they needed from leather, wood, and metal. Because they were a nomadic tribe of people, they didn’t make masks like other West African peoples. The large masks were too impractical. Instead they created beautifully crafted items they used everyday, like bags, pouches, mats, bowls, jars, saddles, posts, tools, and other items for practical use.
by Rissa Ixa
One famous artist is a Tuareg painter by the name of Rissa Ixa. He went on to found the briefly named Association for the Promotion and Development of Traditional Arts and Cultures in Niger. Another painter who has risen to prominence is Hausa artist Maradi, whose work typically tends to focus on sociopolitical issues.

Literature in Niger as we know it is relatively a recent development. The first novel wasn’t published until 1959. Most of the novels that emerged are centered around socio-political themes and the after-effects of colonialism. The majority of literature is written in French, which helps with its ability to be published and sold among the Francophone countries. But there are also many examples of literature written in other local languages as well. Today, writers produce a variety of genres from children's lit to serious novels. 

Hausa griot
Before the colonial period, their stories were passed down by word of mouth from generation to generation. Most of these stories are tales to teach a lesson or tell their history through a person called a griot. They also have their own proverbs and riddles as well. They actually had quite a few genres they worked with from poetry to theatre.

Up next: music and dance

Sunday, March 5, 2017


When I was a kid, I didn’t know how to pronounce the name of this country. In fact, I was a little apprehensive to say it aloud since it looked close to an offensive word. But later on, I learned that it’s pronounced with the French pronunciation (nee-ZHER, not NYE-jer), and that it’s definitely not the same place as Nigeria.

Niger is named after the Niger River. In a local language, it was called Ni Ger (River Ger). It’s a common misconception (that I also believed) that Niger was named after the Latin name niger, the word for black in reference to the black skin of the people who lived there. (What a Eurocentric way of thinking.) And because its name is close to that of Nigeria, I also learned the differences between the adjective form: Nigerien refers to people and things from Niger; Nigerian refers to people and things from Nigeria.

This landlocked country is located in West Africa. It’s bordered by Algeria and Libya to the north, Chad to the east, Nigeria to the south, Benin and Burkina Faso to the southwest, and Mali to the west. Located between the Sahara in the north and the Sub-Saharan regions in the south, it’s the sixth largest country by area in Africa and 22nd in the world. The Niger River cuts through the far southwestern corner of the country and through the capital city of Niamey. Its desert area is hot and dry with sand dunes and desert plains while the areas around the river basin experience a tropical climate.

Once upon a time, a long, long, time ago, Niger wasn’t covered with desert. These areas were covered in fertile grasslands perfect for raising cattle and growing crops. But the Sahara Desert started creeping its way farther south about 7000 years ago. By about the 5th century BC, this area became part of the crossroads between African migration from the northwest and trans-African trade routes with Arab traders. This also brought along the introduction of Islam. Parts of Niger were included as part of several empires throughout the centuries: Songhai, Hausa, Mali, and Kanem-Bornu. During the 19th century, French explorers finally made their way to the lands of Niger. As they made their way across, they laid claim to the land and people based on European standards without a thought to the people who actually lived there. And the Nigeriens were not having it. Many revolted against the colonialism, but by 1922, they stopped resisting (as much) and became a French colony. In 1958, Niger became an autonomous state within the French community but gained its independence two years later. However, it started its independence as a one-party state and then spent most of the next 35 years toggling between military coups and a political stability.

The capital and largest city is Niamey (pronounced nya-MAY if you go with the French pronunciation, although many American English speakers pronounce it NEE-uh-may). The city was originally a small town and didn’t rise to prominence until the French decided to house a colonial post that eventually grew into its capital in 1926. Although it’s not centrally located, it’s the center of almost everything in the country: government, commerce, education, media, and transportation. There are several universities, museums, sports venues, markets, and many mosques.

Most people in Niger depend on subsistence farming and livestock as their main means of income. Agriculture is one of Niger’s primary economic drivers. However, desertification and droughts have had negative impacts on their crops in the past. The country also has some of the world’s largest deposits of uranium, but declines in demand has led to a weakened economy. On the upside of things, oil was discovered in the Tenere Desert back in the 1970s, but they never really had any serious production because some exploration tests showed there wasn’t enough to pursue. That idea was overturned a few years ago, and Niger produced its first barrels of oil back in 2011. Even so, Niger often depends on financial assistance and foreign aid from other countries. 

Nearly 80% of Nigeriens are Muslim while the remaining 20% consist of a smaller Christian population. Of the Muslims in Niger, the majority are Sunni. There is a certain amount of crossover with indigenous animism, as is found in many countries in Africa. And actually the country has established a constitutional separation of church and state.

The official language of Niger is French, left over from its colonial days. As a multi-lingual country, French is often used as a lingua franca as well. It’s the official language of the government and is spoken as a second language for many of its residents who were fortunate enough to continue their education abroad. Niger has also declared ten national languages: Arabic, Buduma, Hausa, Kanuri, Tassawaq, Tebu, Tamasheq, Zarma/Songhai, Gourmanchéma, and Fulfulde.

Despite its arid landscape, the country has quite a biodiversity. Animals like the cheetah, a variety of gazelle, the oryz, West African lion, elephant, antelopes, and buffaloes are found throughout the country. The Niger River itself is home to 20 species of fish that aren’t found any place else on earth except in the Niger River. There have even been dinosaur bones found hidden away in areas uncovered in the Sahara Desert. I’ve already found my recipes for this country, and I’m looking forward to finding out what else is hidden away in this country.

Up next: art and literature