Culture of Niger - history, people, clothing, traditions, women, beliefs, food, customs, family
Nigeria's population is made up of many ethnic groups, the largest Each group has its own wedding traditions, but in general Nigerian weddings are big, festive affairs regardless of whether they follow African or more westernized customs. hurdles for Igbo couples to get over before their wedding date. People of the Niger culture, as with other African wedding customs, have their own invest a lot of time and effort courtship and perfecting the art of seduction. A few years back, I was privy to a traditional wedding ceremony where In many parts of Africa, the bride price confirms the validity of a traditional marriage and In Niger, there is an official maximum rate for a bride price of 50, CFA of these rituals here in the states as I was dating a man from Nigeria.
Niger is essentially a flat country. Rainfall is rare north and east of the Air Massif but generally adequate in the west. The capital city is Niamey, with a population of approximately , located on the Niger River, which has a multiethnic population.
The population was approximately 9. The Hausa are numerically the predominant group, constituting approximately 53 percent of the population, followed by the Zarma-Songhai, 21 percent; the Fulani Peul10 percent; the Tuareg, 10 percent; the Kanuri Beri-Beri or Manga4.
In the precolonial era, Niger included regions of several "traditional" African kingdoms, empires, and states with varying degrees of stratification and centralization. There are five main ethnolinguistic groups, corresponding to the five national languages, in addition to French, the official language: French is used primarily in official written governmental and international correspondence; the local vernacular languages are more often used in daily social interaction, markets, and trading.
Much imagery comes from Islam, the major official religion. Most groups have retained elements of pre-Islamic cultural, symbolic, ritual, and political life, such as spirit possession, bilateral descent patterns, and spirit pantheons in local cosmological systems. Elements from nature also figure prominently in national symbolism.
Nigerian Wedding Customs
Millet stalks, for example, are popular motifs in embroidery on women's traditional blouses and appear on the emblem of a political party. The national flag's colors of green, orange, and yellow represent the different climate zones.
In the increasingly important tourist industry, certain symbols and motifs have been adapted from local art forms, such as the Agadez Cross. History and Ethnic Relations Emergence of the Nation. Several precolonial empires had an impact on Niger, including the Songhai to the west and the Bornu Empire to the east as well as the Fulani Empire of Sokoto.
In the nineteenth century, the first European explorers came to the area, searching for the mouth of the Niger River. Although French efforts at subjugation began beforedissident ethnic groups, especially the Tuareg, were not conquered until the early twentieth century. The new colony was considered lacking in resources, and no paved roads or railroads were built between and No efforts were made to encourage river transportation, and the literacy rate remained among the lowest in Africa.
Higher education opportunities were limited. The French constitution of permitted Niger to elect a representative to the French National Assembly and provided for decentralization Niger of power and limited participation in political life for local advisory assemblies. The law of 23 June gave Niger's politicians more of a voice in the management of their country by establishing a government council presided over by the governor.
In addition to removing voting inequalities, these laws provided for the creation of governmental organs, giving individual territories a high degree of self-government.
After the establishment of the Fifth French Republic inNiger became an autonomous state. Two years later, a new constitution adopted by referendum permitted the creation of a republic 18 December Independence was proclaimed on 3 August The population is affected by cultural elements from North Africa as well as Africa south of the Sahara. In general the ethnic groups tend to be distributed according to region. Many of these tensions are rooted in uneven development of the different regions.
Ethnicity is an important factor in disunity and conflict in contemporary Niger. Political tensions exist between sedentary peoples and nomads.
However, apart from military antagonism between the Zarma-Songhai and the Tuareg in the nineteenth century, the people have little historical basis for exclusively ethnically rooted hostility and conflict. Contemporary ethnic conflict stems largely from deliberate decisions of the nation's Tuareg camel-riders, Tamazlak. The Tuareg form 10 percent of the population.
After independence, the new regime was dominated by educated Zarma, who were concerned with the demographic and economic imbalance between their group and the more numerous and commercially minded Haussa. In the first fifteen years after independence, the policies of the new regime intensified ethnic consciousness.
Although the military government that took power in attempted to suppress that consciousness, ethnic identity has continued to mold political and economic demands. Subdivisions within each ethnolinguistic and cultural group also exist and occasionally are more salient than differences between ethnic groups. Precolonial societies often distinguished nobles and Islamic scholars from commoners and slaves; merchants from farmers herders, and fishers; and warriors from producers.
Urbanism, Architecture, and the Use of Space Despite growing migration to the towns and the recent growth of the capital city, Niger remains overwhelmingly rural. Outside the capital city, architecture and the use of space reflect traditional regional and sedentarized-nomadic differences. In both rural and urban areas, architecture also reflects social stratification.
Throughout much of the rural south, west, and east, there are adobe mud houses and a few concrete tin-roofed houses of functionaries and teachers. In much of the rural north, there are semi-sedentarized nomadic camps with tents of various materials grass, animal hides interspersed with adobe mud houses.
Tents have portable walls, which are removed and transported for nomadic migration with herds. The greater degree of sedentarization in a community, the more common the adobe mud houses. In semi-nomadic Tuareg communities, women build and own the tent and men build and own the adobe house. In the tent, there is gender-based symbolism: As houses become more common as a result of sedentarization, there are corresponding changes in property relations between the sexes.
In many communities, mosques are surrounded by the homes of traditionally aristocratic, chiefly, and Islamic scholar families. Homes of families of traditionally lower or ambiguous status are located farther from the mosque and its surrounding neighborhood. Another important feature in the countryside is the widespread opposition between the settled community village or camp and the wild.
There is the idea of the settled community as a human habitation and center of civilization, as opposed to the unsettled, wild areas surrounding it that are believed to be inhabited by spirits. People are believed to be vulnerable to the influence of the spirits of the wild on certain specified occasions, such as during life transitions or during travel.
The spirits of the "wild" spaces must be controlled before people engage in activities that alter their domain.
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In Niamey, most families' houses also tend to be of the standard adobe mud type, usually rented, although there is variation according to nationality and socioeconomic class. Many Europeans in Niamey inhabit buildings locally called "villas," that are made of concrete and often have running water, electricity, and air-conditioning.
In Niamey there have been increasing gaps between the standard of living, income, and comfort of most Nigeriens and that of many foreign residents. Europeans and a few well-to-do Africans tend to reside in neighborhoods high on a hill, called the Plateau, and near the river in European-colonial concrete villas and Western-style apartments.
Also on the Plateau are government offices, ministries, the presidential palace, and the presidential guard as well as the offices of many international aid agencies and embassies. Food and Economy Food in Daily Life. Millet, sorghum, and beans are the major food crops, and peanuts and cotton are the major cash crops. Rice is grown along the banks of the Niger River. Millet is the basic daily staple for most rural people in all regions, followed in importance by corn, sorghum, rice, macaroni, beans, cowpeas, cassava, and wheat dishes such as couscous.
Rice is a "status" food that is served at rites of passage, holidays, and other special occasions. Millet dishes vary in style but usually are prepared as a "paste" or stiff cooked porridge dough and covered with a vegetable sauce that occasionally contains small pieces of meat. However, most meat is served apart from sauces, grilled and eaten on the side on special occasions. In the northern Air region, millet often is also served with goat's or camel's milk.
Also popular in the north is cheese made from goat's milk.
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Food taboos include a nationwide avoidance of pork and specific taboos observed by different groups. Food Customs at Ceremonial Occasions. Important ceremonial occasions at which special meals Despite growing migration to towns, Niger remains overwhelmingly rural. Ritual animal sacrifice and slaughter and communal consumption of meat are important at those holidays.
Extended families, often residing in a few nearby household clusters in rural areas, normally consume the meat together after it is slaughtered by an Islamic scholar or the male household head. Men, women, and children usually eat apart. Other dishes include "high-status" foods such as rice, macaroni, and couscous with richer sauces.
There are also liquid grain beverages resembling beers. Among the Tuareg, a special beverage called eghajira or eghale consists of pounded millet, goat cheese, and crushed dates blended with water and served from elaborately carved decorated wooden ladles.
The northern zone is devoted primarily to pastoral nomadism involving camels, cattle, sheep, and goats. In the Air Massif there are pockets of oasis gardens that require constant irrigation. The southern Sahelian zone is devoted to agropastoralism, which at the fringe of the Sudanian zone becomes essentially agriculture. Despite efforts by the government to increase agricultural production and the development of uranium mining, the gross national product has declined sharply.
Niger has been plagued by ecological disaster, economic crises, and political uncertainty. After the drought of —, the government attempted to make the country self-sufficient in food production. This was achieved inbut another drought in caused food shortages. Austerity measures imposed by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund further weakened the economy, bringing shortages and unemployment. In more arid regions, livestock production dominates with the raising of cattle, camels, sheep, and goats.
There is fishing on the Niger River and Lake Chad, with dried fish sold widely. There are permanent markets in the major towns and market days in rural communities. Much commerce is conducted by truck and traditional camel caravan trade between Niger and Nigeria. Goods in local markets include fresh produce such as fruits and vegetables, dried river fish, canned goods from Algeria, household supplies and tools and cloth from as far away as China, spices, perfumes, and traditional medicines from Algeria, Nigeria, and Mecca.
Many Haussa and Zarma-Songhai women cook and sell snack foods by the side of the road. Some women manufacture knitted items and engage in leatherwork.
Mining accounts for nearly 20 percent of the gross domestic product. Uranium exports are a major source of national income. Uranium mines opened inand output reached a peak in Declining demand and falling world prices then led to a reduction in output. It is estimated that Niger has 10 percent of the world's uranium reserves.
Coal is used to generate electricity for the mining towns. Other important minerals include tin-bearing cassiterite, iron, tin, coal, phosphates, gold, and salt. Manufacturing consists mainly of food processing, textile production, and leather tanning. Tourism has become important. The traditional caravan trade, while it has diminished in importance, is still conducted by Tuareg men. The men go east to Bilma to trade millet for salt and dates and then go south to Kano and other parts of Nigeria to trade the salt and dates for household tools, luxury goods such as cloth and spices, and more millet.
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In rural communities, many work roles still correspond to traditional patterns of age, gender, and social class. The major cultural and ethnic groups are characterized by a marked degree of specialization in labor that derives from their complex precolonial hierarchical, stratified social organization. Those social orders featured hereditary, endogamous occupational groupings with traditionally performed distinct roles as well as relationships of fictive kinship and mutual dependence.
In the past, slavery was important. Age-based roles cut across this system in the form of fictive kinship and apprenticeship. Because of their joking relationships with persons of aristocratic origin, smith-artisans and oral historians griots often are referred to metaphorically as their "cousins" or "little sisters brothers.
Social strata with varying tributary and servile origins formerly served aristocratic or "noble" patrons, and even today in many rural areas, families of aristocratic origins are still attached to their inherited smiths and griots. However, prestigious descent no longer always corresponds to socio-economic prosperity, and many families of noble origin now have difficulty supporting their client families. In the towns, many of these "client-patron" relationships are breaking down.
Particularly important today are arts and crafts specialists. Among the Haussa, there are metalworkers, leatherworkers, griots, and other specialized hereditary strata.
Among the Tuareg, smith-artisans in the countryside manufacture jewelry, weapons, and household, gardening, and herding tools for nobles and serve as ritual specialists, providing music at nobles' name days, weddings, and other festivals as well as acting as go-betweens for marriage arrangements and as political intermediaries for traditional chiefs. In the towns, many Tuareg smith-artisans are active in the market trade, adapting their traditional silver, wood, and leather works for European tourist and African functionary tastes and sometimes working in gold.
Griots and smith-artisans exert much informal power through their critical social commentary. Also important among all groups are Koranic or Islamic scholars, often called maraboutswho serve as religious scholars and scribes and, in the countryside, combine legal, medical, and religious professions.
Social Stratification Classes and Castes. New classes are emerging, particularly in the towns. While marriages still tend to be endogamous in the countryside, there is increasing intermarriage in the towns and monetization has disrupted many old client—patron rights and obligations.
Functionaries may be of diverse Granaries in a Niger village. Some cultural and ethnic groups have not benefitted from economic development, although the government has attempted to narrow these gaps. After the Tuareg separatist rebellion ended, more Tuareg were integrated into the army, given functionary posts in semi-autonomous northern regions, and admitted to the university in Niamey.
Symbols of Social Stratification. Traditionally, aristocratic people were distinguished not by vast differences in wealth or standard of living but by exterior verbal and nonverbal symbols of body, dress, and ornamentation. These symbols included cultural values emphasizing reserved, dignified conduct such as controlled and indirect speech; bodily signs of ease such as soft hands and long fingers set off by ornate rings; a portly well-nourished body; layered, voluminous cloth and, for men, an elaborately wrapped headdress; and heavy and intricately worked silver and gold jewelry for women.
Certain material items were forbidden to all but the aristocracy. Griots and smith-artisans in these societies were expected to lack reserve, dress less modestly; and say what nobles could not. Throughout the country, however, there were minimal differences among the social strata: Within each group, all spoke the same language, ate similar foods, and lived in housing that, except for chiefs' residences, was not radically different.
The external class and caste symbols, however, necessitated a relatively more comfortable lifestyle conspicuous consumption for high-status person. These distinctions also included greater monopoly over resources such as land, livestock, and trade. Despite these differences, there has always been the possibility of mobility. Today many external symbols no longer correspond to social origins, and wealth does not always coincide with prestigious status. Niger is a republic, with recent alternations between military and transitional parliamentary governments.
In principle, a president is elected for a five-year term through universal suffrage. The next elections were scheduled for the years legislative and presidential. Leadership and Political Officials. The national government is headed by an appointed prime minister and the Council of Ministers. Local governmental organization is based on seven departementsor provinces, headed by prefects similar to governorsthirty-two arrondissementsand one hundred fifty communes.
The first president was overthrown by a military coup because of widespread discontent with the government's failure to distribute drought relief effectively from to After the adoption of a new constitution in Decemberin early Niger conducted its first multiparty presidential and legislative elections since independence.
The constitution provided for a semi-presidential system of government in which executive power is shared by the president of the republic, who is elected by universal suffrage for a five-year term and a prime minister named by the president. The unicameral legislature has eighty-three deputies elected for a five-year term under a system of proportional representation.
After a coup inthe head of the presidential guard, Daouda Malam Wanke, was named president and head of the National Council for Reconciliation. This coalition was expected to lead Niger for a nine-month transition period. Following this period, Tandja Mamadou was sworn in as president, returning Niger to civilian rule. Social Problems and Control. Although the main security forces consist of the army, the gendarmerie rural paramilitary policeand the national police, there are alternative formal and informal mechanisms for dispute settlement and social control, particularly in rural areas.
In the towns, there is a secular court system based on French law. Civil and criminal cases that do not involve security-related acts are tried publicly.
Defendants have the right to be present, confront witnesses, examine the evidence against them, present evidence of their own, and choose a lawyer. Minors and defendants charged with crimes carrying a sentence of ten years or more are eligible to be defended at public expense. Defendants and prosecutors may appeal a verdict to the Court of Appeals and then to the Supreme Court.
The Court of Appeals reviews questions of fact and law, while the Supreme Court reviews only the application of the law. Cases involving divorce or inheritance may be heard by a traditional chief or a customary court.
Customary courts in large towns and cities are headed by a legal practitioner who is advised by an assessor who is knowledgeable about the society's traditions. The judicial actions of chiefs and customary courts are not formally regulated.
Cases that are not resolved by chiefs or customary courts can be appealed to the formal court system. Karo woman and her child Between and Karo Kara people live on the east banks of the Omo River in south Ethiopia. To enhance the beauty of the Karo bride her abdomen is tattooed with different symbols. The Karo man can have as many wives as he can afford. Usually he has two or three wives. In Sudanese Neur tribe the groom can get married if he pays for herds of cattle.
Wedding is complete when the wife gives birth to two kids. If the wife has only one child the husband can ask for divorce. He can also ask for the cattle or the baby. If the husband dies, his brother must become new widow's husband. Any children from this relationship are treated as children of the deceased. Muslim weddings in Tanzania are usually organized on Sundays during Sawwal, which is the tenth month of the lunar Islamic calendar.
Before the start of wedding every bride gets a Sumo. The Sumo is the best friend of bride's mother. Sumo accompanies the bride wherever she goes. Sumo performs the beauty treatment of bride's hair, skin and nails. Special mixture made of sugar and lime juice is used to cover bride's body. This mixture is used to remove all of her body hair except those on the head. Bride's hands and feet are decorated with "mehdi" or "henna" tattoos.
Special oils are put on bride's hair. Her make-up is applied. Perfumed oils are smeared on her body. Finally, she gets her jewelry and a weil. After the wedding ceremony, the sumo prepares a bed for the happy couple. Some aromatic petals are usually placed on such a bed. This ends the sumo's duties.
The groom pays her an agreed fee. Being a virgin is very important among Tanzanian Muslims. Stains on the bed sheet are expected to proove bride's virginity.
In the case that there are no stains she has to return all the wedding presents she got. Being a virgin until the first wedding night ensures her deep respect of the groom's family. After this test of virginity it is time for the wedding reception to start.
Such parties usually last between three and seven days. Mother-in-law of the Ndebele bride makes her a "jocolo". The Jocolo is a five-paneled, beaded goatskin apron. During ceremonies this apron is worn by all married women. The Shona people live in Zimbabwe and southern Mozambique. Dowry or "roora" is a regular part of their weddings. It is paid to the bride's family as a sign of respect.
The bride decides when she will go to her groom. She can arrive at night with her female cousins escorting her. She arrives during the day when she wants to surprise her future husband. She then wears white from head to toe. It is believed that by doing so nobody can see her. As soon as members of groom's family notice her they start dancing and ululating. The groom's family begins preparations for a party. It takes some time, so the bride is encouraged to keep walking through the village.
People are very happy as her arrival and giving birth to babies is going to enlarge their community. The procession ends when the mother-in-law escorts the bride to her new home. There the bride gets presents and is being pleaded to remove her veil. It is a sign for the party to begin. Such parties last all through the night. The Yoruba people live in Nigeria and some other parts of Western Africa.
One of the ceremonies held at the Yoruba weddings is tasting. In this ceremony the bride and groom taste for example peppercorns for bitterness, honey for happiness and dried fish for nourishment.