Festivals in Nigeria

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Horseman at Kano Durbar (2006)

There are many 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.[1] The Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation has been working with the states to upgrade the traditional festivals, which may become important sources of tourism revenue.[2]

Christian festivals[edit]

Christians account for about 40% of the Nigerian population, living throughout the country but predominantly in the south.[3] The main Christian festivals are Christmas and Easter. The way in which these holidays are celebrated often incorporates traditions from earlier religions.[1]

Christmas is held on 25 December each year to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. It is a public holiday in Nigeria.[4] In Igboland, in addition to a church service and distribution of gifts the festivities may include Mmo (masquerade) dancing, where men in their twenties or thirties dress in colorful costumes and wear masks. These masquerades, which pre-date the introduction of Christianity, honor the ancestral spirits.[5] In some areas, palm branches are hung inside and outside the houses, signs of peace and symbols of Christmas.[6] Easter is held to commemorate the crucification of Jesus Christ on Good Friday and to celebrate his resurrection three days later on Easter Sunday. It is a public holiday in Nigeria.[4] Easter usually occurs in April.[7] Easter Sunday is a joyful occasion, celebrated with feasting, dancing, drumming, and sometimes with public masquerades and dancers.[8]

Christmas and Easter may be times of heightened tension between Christians and Muslims in some areas. On Christmas Eve in 2010 at least 38 people were killed, including shoppers and church attendees. Members of the extreme Islamist sect Boko Haram were blamed for several incidents.[9] Some reports placed the death toll as high as 80.[10] In 2011, Easter occurred just after elections in which Goodluck Jonathan, a southerner and Christian, had been elected President. Churches were burned in some parts of northern Nigeria, and some Christians were killed in post-election violence.[11]

Muslim festivals[edit]

About half of the population of Nigeria adhere to the Muslim religion, with Muslims living throughout the country but particularly in the north.50% are Muslims 40% are Christians and 10% percent are other practiced religions [12] There are three main Muslim festivals, Eid Al Fitri, Eid Al Maulud and Eid Al Kabir, all national public holidays.[4] The different ethnic groups in different locations have different traditions for celebrating these festivals.[1]

The three-day festival of Eid Al Fitri celebrates the end of the holy month of Ramadan, a period of fasting from dawn to dusk each day. The festival is a time to give charity to the poor, and to celebrate the completion of Ramadan with family and friends.[13] Eid Al Maulud is held to observe of the birthday of the prophet Muhammad, and occurs in Rabi' al-awwal, the third month in the Islamic calendar. Politicians and religious leaders have used the festival to urge Muslims to embrace forgiveness, sharing, kindness and love, and to eschew violence.[14][15]

Bida Emirate durbar festival, 2001

Eid al Kabir (known as Eid al-Adha elsewhere), or "Festival of Sacrifice", is an important religious holiday celebrated by Muslims worldwide to commemorate the willingness of Abraham (ʾIbrāhīm) to sacrifice his son Ishmael (Ismā'īl) as an act of obedience to God, before God intervened to provide him with a ram to sacrifice instead. A ram, goat, sheep, cow or camel is sacrificed, with the family eating part of the animal and donating the rest to the poor. The festival is celebrated on the tenth day of Dhu al-Hijjah, the last month in the Islamic calendar.[16]

Durbar festivals are celebrated at the culmination of Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha. Durbars have been held for hundreds of years in the northern states, notably the Kano Emirate, and gave an opportunity for conscripts to the army to display their skills as horsemen. In modern times, durbars are held in honor of visiting heads of state. They include a parade, shows and competitions. The horsemen are dressed in vividly colored costumes, with period weapons, and are accompanied by a drum corps and musicians.[2] Modern Durbar festivals include prayers at the start of the day, followed by parades in town squares or in front of the local Emir’s palace. Horsemanship is still the main focus. Each group must gallop at full tilt past the Emir, then halt and salute him with raised swords.[17] Durbar festivals are being developed as important tourist attractions.[18]

Other Important festivals[edit]

Argungu Fishing Festival[edit]

The Argungu Fishing Festival is an annual four-day festival in the town of Argungu in the north-western Nigerian state of Kebbi. It began in the year 1934, as a mark of the end of the centuries old hostility between the Sokoto Caliphate and the Kebbi Kingdom. The festival is held on the Sokoto river in February or March. Thousand of fishermen equipped only with nets compete to catch the largest fish. Other attractions include dance and music, sporting competitions and exhibits of arts and crafts.people from various the world come to see or look at this festival [2]

Calabar Carnival[edit]

Main article: Calabar Carnival

The Calabar Carnival has been held in Calabar since 2006, including band competitions, a parade, food and dancing. It has been called Nigeria's biggest street party.[2] The carnival may have as many as 50,000 costumed participants and 2 million spectators, and is broadcast on television across the country. It is the culmination of the month-long Calabar festival.[19]


Main article: Carniriv
Young Stunna performing at Carniriv Opening Ceremony.

The Carniriv (English: Car-nee-rev) is an annual festival, held in Port Harcourt, Nigeria. The Carnival starts 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 Port Harcourt Carnival bears a certain uniqueness as it combines two carnivals - a purely cultural carnival and a contemporary Caribbean style carnival- in one. This gives it an edge over all other regional and continental carnivals, and presents with the principal advantage which must be consummately exploited. The Government of Rivers State recognizes Carniriv as its biggest tourism export. With economic interests increasingly identifying tourism as a viable alternative to the fossil fuel economy–especially in these parts–the state government has exhibited its commitment to developing this carnival into a regionally unrivalled and globally reckoned tourist attraction.[20] Thus, it has always made available the necessary monetary backing needed for the event to hold every year, and has also worked hard through the Ministry of Culture and Tourism to see that it is held.

Eyo festival[edit]

Main article: Eyo festival
An Eyo Iga Olowe Salaye masquerade jumping

The Eyo Festival is held in Lagos, Nigeria.[1] It is usually performed in Lagos Island. Eyo also refers to the masquerades that come out during the festival. It is widely believed that Eyo is the forerunner of the modern day carnival in Brazil.No one is to wear hats during the festival[21]

Osun festival[edit]

The Osun Festival is held at the end of the rainy season, usually in August, at the Oshogbo Sacred Forest. The week-long festival is held in honor of the river goddess Oshun, an important Yoruba deity, and is attended by thousands of people. It includes ceremonies where priests seek protection for their local communities through gifts and sacrifices to the goddess.[2]

Sharo / Shadi Festival[edit]

The Sharo or Shadi flogging competition is a traditional rite of passage for Jafun Fulani men. The youths, escorted by girls, are led into the ring of spectators bare chested and armed with whips. As the noise of singing, drumming and cheering rises to a crescendo, each young man must stoically endure a flogging to demonstrate his manhood.[22] The young man only qualifies to marry if he passes the test, which is administered by another youth of about the same age and size. Most do pass, but carry scars from the ordeal for the rest of their life.[23] The sharo is generally staged at the time of the dry-season guinea corn harvest, and again during the festival of Id-el-kabir. Usually it lasts for a week and is held in a marketplace. There are other tyes of entertainment including dances, musical performances and tricksters, but the flogging ceremony is the main event.[24]

Yam Festivals[edit]

Main articles: Yam Festival and Leboku

Yam Festivals are popular holiday in Ghana and Nigeria, usually held in the beginning of August at the end of the rainy season. It is named after yams, the most common food in many African countries. In Nigeria, dancers wear masks that reflect the seasons or other aspects of nature. People offer yams to gods and ancestors before distributing them to the villagers to give thanks to the spirits above them.[citation needed] Leboku is the name for the annual New Yam Festival celebrated in Ugep, Nigeria, one of the five settlements of Yakurr, to honor of the earth goddess and the ancestral spirits of the land.[25] The Iriji-Mmanwu festival is held in Enugu state in August. At the festival, over two thousand masqueraders from across Igboland and from other states in Nigeria dance and give acrobatic displays, wearing unique and colorful costumes. In the Igbo tradition, masquerades are thought to be reincarnated dead ancestors, with supernatural powers.[22]


  1. ^ a b c d "Festivals in Nigeria". Online Nigeria. Retrieved 2011-04-26. 
  2. ^ a b c d e Oxford Business Group. "Patchwork of Celebration". The Report: Nigeria 2010. Oxford Business Group. p. 243. ISBN 1-907065-14-8. 
  3. ^ "CIA World Factbook". CIA. Retrieved 2011-05-27.  |chapter= ignored (help)
  4. ^ a b c "Nige--~~~~ria Public Holidays 2011". Q++ Studio. Retrieved 2011-04-26. 
  5. ^ Ifeoma Onyefulu (2007). An African Christmas. frances lincoln ltd. p. 7. ISBN 1-84507-421-1. 
  6. ^ Arlene Erlbach, Herb Erlbach, Sharon Lane Holm (2002). Merry Christmas, Everywhere!. Lerner Publications. p. 38. ISBN 0-7613-1699-X. 
  7. ^ "Easter Sunday Dates". GM Arts. Retrieved 2011-04-27. 
  8. ^ "Holidays". Motherland Nigeria. Retrieved 2011-04-26. 
  9. ^ "Christmas Eve Attacks in Nigeria Kill at Least 38". Voice of America. 25 December 2010. Retrieved 2011-04-26. 
  10. ^ Ethan Cole (December 29, 2010). "Nigeria Christmas violence death toll rises to 80". Christian Post. Retrieved 2011-04-26. 
  11. ^ OPEYEMI AGBAJE (27 April 2011). "Innocent blood at Easter". BusinessDay. Retrieved 2011-04-27. 
  12. ^ "Mapping out the Global Muslim Population". The Pew Forum. October 2009. Retrieved 2011-04-27. 
  13. ^ "Muslims in Nigeria Celebrate Ed-el-Fitri". Channels TV. September 10, 2010. Retrieved 2011-04-26. 
  14. ^ Adetutu Folasade-Koyi And Chesa Chesa (14 February 2011). "Eid-El-Maulud - Jonathan, Mark, Atiku Preach Love". Daily Independent. Retrieved 2011-04-26. 
  15. ^ Abdulwahab Abdulah (February 16, 2011). "Eid-el-Maulud: Islamic clerics task politicians on peace". Vanguard. Retrieved 2011-04-26. 
  16. ^ "Happy Eid-El-Kabir". Vanguard. 17 November 2010. Retrieved 2011-04-26. 
  17. ^ "The Durbar Festival". World Reviewer. Retrieved 2011-04-26. 
  18. ^ "Gani-Durbar Festival". Borgu Kingdom. Retrieved 2011-04-26. 
  19. ^ "Calabar Carnival". Calabar Festival. Retrieved 2011-04-26. 
  20. ^ http://www.carnirivnigeria.com/carnival/index.php/about-us/carniriv-2013
  21. ^ Pelu Awofeso. "The Eyo Festival". Travel Intelligence. Retrieved 2011-04-26. 
  22. ^ a b "Festivals in Nigeria". Embassy of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in Argentina. Retrieved 2011-04-26. 
  23. ^ Marcellina Ulunma Okehie-Offoha, Matthew N. O. Sadiku (1996). Ethnic and cultural diversity in Nigeria. Africa World Press. p. 28. ISBN 0-86543-283-X. 
  24. ^ Pat Ikechukwu Ndukwe (1996). Fulani. The Rosen Publishing Group. p. 28ff. ISBN 0-8239-1982-X. 
  25. ^ "CRS Celebrates New y Festival". The Tide Online. 2008-08-15. Retrieved 2009-03-05.