Nigeria is home to many diverse groups of people and so many cultures and languages.
The amalgamation of the country, which is now known as Nigeria, brought together different ethnicities speaking different languages into one country with one governing head.
Not surprisingly, a country filled with so many rich cultural groups and heritage will be filled with each ethnic group brimming with their own unique cultural trend and values.
In this article, we will take you into some of the most popular cultural items or trends in various parts or regions of Nigeria; their history, and their cultural relevance.
The Aso oke, also known as Aso ilu oke is a cultural item that has stood the test of time and is still being worn today for both traditional, fashion, and aesthetic purposes.
The formal way of calling the Aso oke, Aso ilu oke, roughly translates to clothes from the upcountry.
Aso oke is commonly worn by the Yorubas, who are the second-largest ethnic group in Nigeria.
They are usually worn for special occasions such as a celebration of a chieftaincy title, weddings, festivals, and a host of other important events worth commemorating.
How Aso oke is made
Aso oke is a hand-woven garment that is made out of pure cotton. It is believed to have originated from Yoruba land, more specifically the Iseyin people who live in what is today known as Oyo state. Aso oke soon spread to other regions close by.
The rich and colorful fibers that are used to make this beautiful garment can either be gotten locally or from the Northern regions.
The process of making the Aso oke garment can be very tedious because it takes a lot to get it from its raw cotton state to the finished apparel.
First, the cotton has to be planted during the rainy season (which starts between June and July) and can take as long as November or even January during the harmattan season before it’s ready to be harvested.
This tasking method isn’t finished yet.
After harvesting, the cotton is spun in a piece of equipment known as orun in Yoruba. This spinning process helps to separate the cotton seeds from the actual wool that will be later used to make the Aso oke.
When the cotton has been spun to perfection, it is then separated and purified.
Only after this time-consuming process is the cotton now ready to be weaved into the intricate patterns that we associated with the Aso oke garment.
And just when you probably think the worst is over, the actual making of the garment is an even more delicate and painstaking procedure.
But even with all the troubles that go into creating this fabric, it’s a marvel to behold when you watch it being done by a master of the craft.
Watching the plain cotton being weaved and transformed into grand designs is definitely one to leave you in awe.
No wonder it has stood the test of time.
Some types of Aso oke are; Etu, Eya, popo, etc.
Almost every historical fiction based in Nigeria has a part where they reference a sport that was used to test the strength and valor of the tribal men.
Commonly referred to as traditional wrestling, this past-time activity was usually performed during festivals and celebrations as a form of entertainment.
In the northern part of Nigeria, traditional wrestling is known as kokuwa. In other parts of Nigeria, it’s also called by different names like eke, ngba, etc.
No one knows for certain when and where traditional wrestling started. The only thing we know for certain was that the champions of the game were honored and revered by his clan’s men.
These competitions were held on a sandy terrain either by day or during moonlight games.
Traditional wrestling at that time had not only cultural significance but also social significance. Like we earlier mentioned, if you were to triumph against all your opponents and declared Victor, your position and social standing would be elevated significantly. Not only that, but you could also receive titles or monetary prices.
Fairness was the order of the day, and everyone from wrestler to spectator was against foul play. And that’s why there was always a referee to avoid rules violation by fighters and on-lookers alike.
The rules of the games for the contestants were and still are quite simple;
- You win by tossing your opponent to the ground.
- You lose if you cross the boundary, which was always drawn in the shape of a circle.
- No kicking, punching, scratching, or biting was allowed. These are grounds to be disqualified.
- Players were usually categorized based on age groups. However, that wasn’t the case in some ethnic groups.
Interestingly enough, women also had their fighting chance to claim glory in some parts of Nigeria.
For example, in bayelsa, women wrestling and they are often categorized as well.
Kokuwa or traditional wrestling often had their contestants being accompanied by musicians who rendered songs of appraisal to the fighter. This was a common tradition for the well-established wrestlers or affluent contestants.
Apart from sport and entertainment during festivals and ceremonies, there were other reasons why these sporting activities were held;
- Winning the hands of women in marriage
- Testing and preparing the contestants for inter-tribal war
The Kokuwa games or traditional wrestling games still live on today and are being practiced both in traditional and modern settings.
The Aso oke fabric and the kokuwa traditional wrestling are just two of the numerous activities that really set cultures apart from each other while simultaneously bringing them together.
Regardless that they all originated from different regions, many more cultures and ethnicities adopted them. And because of this shared value, love and appreciation, they are still being practiced today, even getting gentrified or modernized in recent times.
Aso oke has made its way into runways at home and abroad, and kokuwa traditional wrestling games have become a national sport today.