May 2005
Connecting Nigerians Abroad and in the UK
Volume 2, Issue 2

Ethnic Grouping

‘Ethnic Grouping' defines a group of people having a common, national or cultural tradition and language. Nigeria today is inhabited by several hundred ethnic groups ranging in size from a few thousand to many millions, speaking several hundred languages and dialects; but the three largest ethnic groups are the Hausa, Yoruba and Igbo.

The Hausa

The Hausa people as they are called, can be found in the Northern part of Nigeria around Kano, Jigawa,Katsina, Kaduna, Sokoto and Zamfara. The language they speak is also called ‘Hausa,' although this is in addition to ‘Arabic' because the majority are Muslim. They are tall and slender with thin lips and pointed noses. They are usually dark in complexion with tribal marks on their cheeks and hands called “Zanni.” Generally they are softly-spoken, polite, respectful, obedient, easy going and law abiding. Although the majority practise Islam, some practise African traditional religion and an increasing number are Christian.

Hausa men wear long flowing gowns called “babarigas” or ‘kaftans' with tall decorated hats to match. Turbans are worn on ceremonial occasions. The females wear “wrappers” which are pieces of cloth tied around their waists, with tops made from special materials. They plait their hair in intricate patterns and cover their heads in accordance with the Muslim faith. They use a lot of camwood powder to decorate their skin, and under their feet.

The main occupation of the Hausa people is farming. They grow food crops like groundnuts, millet, maize, rice and onions. They are also famous for their tanning and leather works, carving and textiles.

A popular dish at meal times is “Tuwo” a dish made from “Masara” (maize), “Dawa” (guinea corn), “Shinkafa” (rice), “Jero” (millet), or “Acha”. This is served with pepper soup, “Taushe” (vegetables) and beef. The Hausa are particularly famous for chewing Kola nut, a bitter tasting fruit.

The Igbo

The Igbo people can be found mostly in the south Eastern part of Nigeria around Abia, Enugu, Imo, and Anambra. The Language spoken is Ibo.

Generally they are of medium height, fair skinned with broad noses, thick lips and sturdy physiques. They are an ambitious people, hard working, businesslike, frank, friendly and warm. They are mainly Christian; however some of them practise African traditional religion as well.

Western mode of dress is quite common amongst the men and the women. Men wear traditional wrappers around their waists, together with hats and walking sticks as accessories. The women often wear white frilly blouses or shirts over traditional wrappers together with brightly coloured scarves or head ties.

Like their Hausa counterparts, the Igbo, are also farmers in addition to being traders, hunters and fishermen. They are particularly excellent in business affairs.

Among the Igbo, “Eba” made from “gari” (cassava) is very popular and so is pounded yam, which is often mixed with eba. Both dishes are eaten with “Ogbono” soup which is “Ila” (Ladies finger) cooked together with a peppery sauce and meat or fish as opposed to separately- see the Yoruba below. “Akpu” or “fufu”, which is another cassava based food, is also popular and eaten with ogbono or “Ugu” a vegetable (spinach type leaf). These meals are served with bush meat, beef,or stock-fish.

The Yoruba

The Yoruba people can be found in the Western part of Nigeria, particularly around Oyo, Ondo, Kwara, Ogun, Ekiti and Lagos.

‘Yoruba' is the major language spoken but there are many different dialects e.g. Ibadan, Ekiti, Ijebu, Egba, and Ijesha to name a few.

Generally the Yoruba are not very tall. They have broad noses, wide mouths and thick lips. In the past it was common for many ethnic groups to have tribal marks cut on the arms, wrists or cheeks of infants for a variety of reasons i.e. tribal, spiritual or family. Among the Yoruba where the practice was widespread it was usual for marks to be cut on the cheeks. Today the practice is almost extinct.

The Yoruba people are generally polite and respectful with a high regard for elders and those in authority. They are very cheerful and have a great sense of humour! There are two major religions, Christianity and Islam, but there is also a strong commitment to traditional religion.

The Yoruba are very fashionable and have a wide variety of traditional fabrics such as ‘Asoke', ‘Guinea brocade', ‘Lace', ‘Adire' to name a few which are used to make different outfits such as ‘Iro' (wrapper tied snugly around the waist) and ‘Buba' ( loose blouse with low neck and wide sleeves)for the women . There is a male version of the buba and ‘Sokoto' (trousers) for the men. For outings an ‘Agbada' long flowing garment may be worn over the buba and sokoto. There is also an equivalent agbada for women too. The famous Yoruba head tie is called a ‘Gele' which comes in a wide variety of colours and is worn in many different styles according to the fashion at the time. No Yoruba woman's outfit is complete without her gele or the matching jewellery bag and shoes.

Traditionally the Yoruba are also very good farmers, traders, cloth weavers and carpenters. Today all the groups have corporate entities and a lot of the traditional occupations have been left behind for the more lucrative city jobs such as banking, law, architecture, medicine , teaching etc.

A popular Yoruba dish is “Iyan” or Pounded yam which is eaten with “efo riro” (vegetable and melon seed) with an assortment of large pieces of meat or fish. “Lafun” and “Amala” which are also popular are made from yam flour and eaten with a variety of stews, efo mentioned above “ewedu”, “okro” (ladies finger) or “gbegiri” which is made from beans. All these soups are accompanied by a peppery meat or fish stew. For babies “ogi” or “pap” made from corn or millet is a common alternative to milk or custard.

As mentioned above these are only the 3 largest groups.

Other Large Ethnic Groups:

The Fulani people can be found side by side with the Hausas in the northern part of the country. The Urhobo and Tsekiri people are located in the Delta around the river Niger and the Nupe peopleare close by. The Edo people are located around Benin in central Nigeria while the Ibibio are predominantly in Akwa and Ibom. The Kanuri are also located in the north and the Tiv can be found in and around Jos.

This article was written by Mrs Buki Ogunyemi, Headmistress of Ebire Creche Nursery and Primary School Fele, Ibadan established by her late mother Mrs Cynthia Falode in 1968. Plans are underway to establish a Secondary school called ‘Emerald Laurel Comprehensive College'.

For further enquiries please contact the school on telephone number (Int code) + 02 + 2317798

If you would like to find out more about ethnic groups or Nigeria in general there are many websites that you can visit, the link below is an excellent start.