The Nupe tribe is known for its rich cultural heritage, strong sense of community, and unique traditions. The Nupe people are believed to have descended from the Tsoede dynasty, and they have a long and rich history that dates back several centuries.
The Nupe (traditionally called the Nupawa by the Hausas and Tapa by the neighbouring Yoruba) are an ethnic group native to the Middle Belt of Nigeria and are the dominant ethnicity in Niger State, an important minority in Kwara State. The Nupe are also present in Kogi State, as well as in the Federal Capital Territory.
The Nupe people have several local, traditional rulers. The Etsu Nupe (Bida) is not pure Nupe, His great Grandfather from his father’s side is Fulani while the family of his mother was completely Nupe. His Great grandfather from his father’s side came to rule the Bida in 1806. They have no present capital, although they were originally based in Rabah and only moved to Bida in the nineteenth century.
Population and demography:
There are probably about 4.5 million Nupes, principally in Niger State (Nothern Nigeria). They are primarily Muslims, with a few Christians and followers of African Traditional Religion.
Traditions, art, and culture:
The Nupe people have various traditions. Many practices have changed as a result of the movements started by Usman Dan Fodio’s jihad of the 19th century, but they still hold on to some of their cultures. Many Nupe people often have scarification 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 jewellry 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.
They speak the language of the Nupoid group in the Benue-Congo branch of the Niger-Congo language family. Other languages in the group are Igbira (Ebira), Gbagyi (Gbari), Gade, and Kakanda. Nupe is related most closely to Gbari and Kakanda in structure and vocabulary. There are at least two markedly different dialects: Nupe Central and Nupe Tako
Nupe Kingship Structure:
The traditional inhabitants of the ancient city (Banin Bida) were known as Beni. These were very powerful people with mystical powers (now overtaken by Islam). The original house of Etsu-Yisa was the palace of the leadership where the Etsu came from before the conquest of Nupe land by the Fulani rulers (Goyizhi) in 1804, who displaced the Bida Nupe leadership structure in the early 19th century.
The Fulani leader Mallam Dendo (Manko) who became the new leader of this empire started it all. His son, Usman Zaki, became the first Etsu Nupe in 1832.
There are three houses in Bida where Etsu Nupe rotates. These are:
- Usman Zaki House
- Masaba House
- Umaru Majigi House
The Nupe live in large villages or towns called ezi. Small settlements are called tunga or kangi, words that signify a “daughter-settlement” of a village or town. The local arrangement of Nupe settlements is consistent, with clusters of compounds consisting of a number of walled compounds, or “houses,” forming a ward, or efu. The wards are separated by stretches of open land and farms. A Nupe settlement with its scattered wards used to be encircled by a large town wall, whose remains can still be found in many places.
Nupe land is made up of an agrarian population, where the economy and social life revolve around agriculture. The people are active farmers. Major crops grown are rice, sorghum, sugar cane, millet, melon, vegetables, yam, homestead livestock management, and fishing. Cassava, maize, and sweet potatoes (grown inland) are of secondary importance. Those around the riverside areas are predominantly fishermen and their wives are actively engaged in processing and selling fish.
A major staple food that is common to many households in Nupe land is rice. This is prepared either as jollof rice or in the form of “eje boci” (mashed) rice. The reason for this development is due to the fact that the majority of the farmers both within and around fadama lands (Low land marshy areas) which allow for the cultivation of rice, in communities like Jima, Doko, Edozhigi, Bacita, Katcha, Gbara etc have rice production as a major and profitable venture. Hence, the explanation of why rice is a common feature in households’ diets in Nupeland.
Another delicacy that goes with rice is fish; both smoked and fresh fish are in abundance, especially from adjoining tributaries around Rivers Niger and Kaduna. All villages and towns around the bank of these rivers and other smaller rivers engage in fishing activities all year round.
Marriage in Nupe Culture:
Among the Nupes, marriage is a sacred institution that is contracted between a man and a woman. The two people involved are referred to as “eba yawo and yawo” meaning husband and wife.
In the earlier Nupe tradition, young boys and girls did not own their choice of who to marry. This arrangement was left for the two families to decide on behalf of their children. However, this has changed significantly over the last three decades. Young boys and girls now meet and agree with one another before they involve their parents. However, one thing is very clear, the practice follows mutual understanding, consent, and approval of both parents.
Death and Afterlife:
Death is accompanied by ceremonial observance. This is consistent with the Nupe religion, which emphasizes ends rather than beginnings.
While Islam has reduced the incidence of extravagant burials, ritual elaboration at the death of old people continues, since “they have seen the world” and there is no cause for grief. Drumming, singing, dancing, and feasting accompany their death. This festive aspect is absent in the case of younger people, whose death makes “the heartache.” The funeral includes the burial, called mba, and funeral rites performed after 8 days, 40 days, and 120 days in some cases.
The number and scale of funeral rites vary with the age, sex, and status of the deceased. Old men and family heads and old women are buried in their sleeping rooms, beneath the floor; everyone else is buried in the space between the houses or by the compound wall. Sometimes graves are built from concrete cement blocks to make them more permanent and keep the memory of the deceased alive.
The Nupe people place a high value on family and community.
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