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'Our culture is our treasure'

The arts both the ancient and contemporary, are making waves across the globe.

Published on 11 April 2012

Author(s): The Nation/Victoria Okoloagu

Type:  Feature

The Nigerian society is a reflection of its rich cultural heritage, which dates back to more than 2,000 years

At a time Nigerians are fully aware of the need to identify with the different aspects of their rich cultural heritage,seeking its preservation and promotion would not be out of place. In recent past, many Nigerians almost lost hope on the revival of the nation’s cultural values following the threat posed by western culture. Nigeria is a multicultural society with over 250 languages.

The Nigerian society is a reflection of its rich cultural heritage, which dates back to more than 2,000 years. From the Nok, Ife, Esie, Benin, Igbo Ukwu, Tada and Owo to the present day arts of Ben Enwonwu, Bruce Onobrakpaya, Yusuf Grillo, Uche Okeke, the Nigerian art has come of age. Through these arts, especially the early ones, the philosophies, conventions and aesthetic values of the diverse ethnic groups and culture in Nigeria are portrayed.

Interesting to note that these arts both the ancient and contemporary, are making waves across the globe. You hardly enter any major art gallery or museum in the world without finding arts and objects from Nigeria. And this spread and appreciation are due to the awareness created by modern Nigerian society.

Increasingly too, more art exhibitions are being organised both in Nigeria and abroad. Also, many art schools and groups of artists are emerging, thus creating different dimensions, movements and styles of arts.

The consequence of this is that the Nigerian society is now becoming more aware of the beauty in arts. Unlike in the past when parents disowned their children because they wanted to be artists, today, artists are among leading Nigerian ambassadors who have brought honour to the nation through their individual creative efforts.

Literary art is another aspect of our culture that is very rich and has remained a thing of joy to modern Nigeria society. Among this group of artistes (novelists, playwrights), that have brought honour to the country are Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka, Ola Rotimi, Elechi Amadi.

The literary works of these notable writers reflect the various aspects of the nation’s heritage for the world to appreciate.

Unlike before, many Nigerians have shifted their craze for western fashion to embracing traditional fashion designs. For most in the Diaspora, Nigerians punctuate the all-white crowd of fashion with their dress culture.

We have to encourage ourselves to use as much of our fashion as possible when we are abroad. It creates identity, it makes you stand out in the crowd. Most of you who do that must agree with me that each time you wear your Nigeria fabric, beads and accessories to any function abroad, you steal the show.

Whenever Nigeria Fashion Show (NFS) goes abroad, there is always a crowd gathered to appreciate Nigeria fashion.

Music and dance are inseparable from our cultural heritage. Every Nigerian society and cultures have their own traditional music and dance, which are central to the way Nigerians remember their past and celebrate their present, Songs are played on flutes, trumpets, stringed, instruments, xylophones, thumb pianos, which are linked to specific places and events such as harvest, burials, marriages, and coronation.

One is happy to see that on various occasions even during white weddings, traditional music and dance dominate the occasion. Even some Christian songs are accompanied by traditional music instruments. Most modern Nigeria musicians emerge from the school of traditional music.

Theatre and Drama

The contemporary theatre and drama in modern Nigeria society pioneered by Ogunde and grew out of a long tradition of Masquerades, festival and storytellers. Masquerade which emphasize custom and dance rather than dialogue were key instruments of social culture and political commentary Nigeria has grown so popular in the film industry that we are related third largest market after Hollywood and Bollywood. This should be improve upon and encouraged to boost our identity both within and without the country.


I deliberately put this aspect of our culture last because it is the one that is suffering most. Language is the most important element in any culture. It is the unifying factor in any society. It is unfortunate that we have not been able to formulate a common language for the Nigeria society. And the most unfortunate is that our individual languages are going into extinct. Parents no longer teach their children indigenous languages.

To ensure that we uphold our cultural heritage, we must take pride in national culture and maintain cultural continuity from generation to generation and between one social class and another.

The modern society like any other society in the world is inseparable from its cultural heritage, for its history is recorded and embedded in its culture.

The clarion call is, let’s speak culture, wear culture, preach culture, preserve culture and above all appreciate our God given culture.

* Okoloagu is of the National Museum, Lagos.

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