The Nupe, traditionally called the Tapa by the neighbouring Yoruba, are an ethnic group located primarily in the Middle Belt and northern Nigeria, and are the dominant group in Niger State, an important minority in Kwara State and present in Kogi State as well.
The Nupe trace their origin to Tsoede who fled the court of Idah and established a loose confederation of towns along the Niger in the 15th century. The proximity of Nupe to the Yoruba Igbomina people in the south and to the Yoruba Oyo people in the southwest led to cross-fertilization of cultural influences through trade and conflicts over the centuries. It is said that the famous Yoruba oba or king, Shango (also known as Jakuta) who was once an Alaafin of Oyo before being deified following his death, was the son of a Nupe (Tapa) woman.
Many Nupe were converted to Islam at the end of the eighteenth century by Mallam Dendo, a wandering preacher, and were incorporated into the Fulani Empire established by the Jihad led by Usman dan Fodio after 1806.
However, the traditions of Nupe were retained, hence the ruler of Nupe is the Etsu Nupe rather than being called Emir. The city of Bida fell to the colonialist British forces in 1897, the Etsu Abubakar was deposed and replaced by the more pliable Muhammadu (Vandeleur 1898). During the reign of Muhammadu, a Prince named Jimada moved to Patigi, northeast of Bida (not to be confused with near-identically spelt Pategi, southwest of Bida, on the southern and opposite bank of the Niger River) protesting against being ruled by a Fulani (Vandeleur 1898). Now Jimada’s descendants are fighting for the post of Etsu Nupe claiming to be the only existing pure Nupe ruling family. The present Etsu Nupe is Yahaya Abubakar.
More detail on the history of the Nupe kingdoms can be found in Burdon (1909), Nadel (1942), Hogben & Kirk-Greene (1966:261-282) and Mason (1981).
Population and demography
There are probably about 3.5 million Nupes, principally in Niger State, although a small but growing diaspora of Nupe can be found in Knowle in the West Midlands of England. The Nupe language is also spoken in Kwara and Kogi States. They are primarily Muslims, with a few Christians and followers of African Traditional Religion. The Nupe people have several local, traditional rulers. The Etsu Nupe (Bida) is not Nupe and is actually part of the Fula tribe but they came to rule the Bida in the 1806. They have no present capital, although they were originally based at Rabah and only moved to Bida in the nineteenth century.
Traditions, art and culture
The Nupe people have various traditions. Much of their culture was diluted by the Usman Dan Fodio jihad of the 19th century, but they still hold on to some of their culture which is very similar to that of ancient Egypt. Many Nupe people often have tribal scars on their faces (similar to an old Yoruba tradition), some to identify their prestige and the family of which they belong as well as for protection, as well as jewelry adornment. But these traditions are dying out in certain areas. Their art is often abstract. They are well known for their wooden stools with patterns carved onto the surface.
The Nupe were described in detail by the ethnographer Siegfried Nadel, whose book, Black Byzantium, remains an anthropological classic.
Oval stool with incised carving; from Northern Nigeria; wood; height: 40.64 cm (16 in.); Los Angeles County Museum of Art (USA)
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- Forde, D. (1955) The Nupe. pp. 17–52 in Peoples of the Niger-Benue Confluence. IAI, London.
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