Traditions Only Nigerians Can Understand

Lagos, Nigeria
Lagos, Nigeria | © Bill Kret/Shutterstock
Cynthia Okoroafor

With around 250 ethnic groups, Nigeria has an extensive and diverse list of traditions and customs that Nigerians live by. While a majority of these traditions are similar to those from other parts of the world, here are some of the unique Nigerian traditions and customs.

Did you know you can now travel with Culture Trip? Book now and join one of our premium small-group tours to discover the world like never before.

Pre-Marital Introduction Ceremonies, aka “Courtship”

No matter how long you’ve been courting your partner, the relationship remains unrecognised until the formal introduction ceremony. However, this also means the couple is ready to tie the proverbial knot. The introduction ceremony traditionally takes place in the bride-to-be’s family home. Her fiance’s people come to the house to pay their respects to her family and “state their intentions”. After the bride-to-be’s family accepts the official proposal, both families share food and drinks. These days, however, introduction ceremonies are as good as one of the three wedding ceremonies that Nigerians usually observe. That’s up next.

Three Weddings

Traditional Nigerian Wedding

Omugwo (After-Birth Care)

Extremely significant among the Igbos, but also widely practiced across other Nigerian tribes is omugwo. The Yorubas call it “Itoju omo”, Igalas call it “Iwagwala-oma”, and the Annangs, “Umaan” After a mother gives birth to her baby, her mother-in-law comes to the home to take care of the new mother and her. The nursing mother is not required to lift a finger as everything is done for her—including bathing the baby, massaging the new mother’s tummy, performing household chores, cooking special meals such as peppersoups, and so on. If a mother-in-law is unavailable for an omugwo, the woman’s own mother or a close relative can take up the mantle. Omugwos are a thing of pride and so symbolic that they have been known to cause quarrels among family members over who is most capable of caring for the nursing mother and her new baby. Omugwos last for at least three months.

Nwaboy (Servicehood/Apprenticeship)

The Nwaboy method of apprenticeship is prominent among Nigeria’s Igbo people. It is seen as way to spread wealth among kinsmen. This tradition requires that a young boy/man leaves his family home with an older, rich relative or family friend (who is usually an established businessperson) for “training”. During this training, the apprentice is entrusted with various tasks ranging from mundane errands to coordination and supervision, and they are exposed to the world of business transactions. Oftentimes, valuables are put in his care. At the end of his training, he is given his “freedom”—a tidy sum to start a business and sustain himself and his family.

“Sunday Rice”

Sunday rice is a weekly fixture in most Nigerian homes. The anticipation of the traditional dish after church services makes every Sunday complete for some. For others, just the pure joy of preparing the delicacy and sharing it with the family or neighbours does the magic. Sunday rice is usually plain-white rice and stew (made with tomatoes and pepper) with chicken, beef, or fish. However, on special occasions, it could be jollof, fried, concoction, or any other variation of cooked rice.

Jollof rice

Child Dedication Ceremony

This is separate from the important child-naming ceremony commonly practiced in parts of Africa. At the naming, the baby’s immediate and extended family gather to give it names, particularly ones that will determine how prosperous it would be in life and such. However, like child-naming ceremonies, child dedications’ prominence also cut across different religious faiths. The purpose of a dedication is essentially to thank god for the baby’s presence and present it as a loyal servant.

Spraying Money

Certain people attend ceremonies in Nigeria just to partake in this interesting practice. At grandly-organised weddings, burials, child naming or dedications, and birthdays, people—regardless of financial status—come forward while dancing to rain money on those on the dance floor. Of course, only crisp notes are encouraged. Reasons for the act (or art) of spraying money include portraying the social status of those being celebrated, showing how much they are appreciated, and a basic show of flamboyance and affluence. Spraying money is such a symbolic feature in Nigerian ceremonies that an Ijaw bride won’t smile until she’s been sprayed.

Greeting Elders

In Nigeria, social etiquette transcends common pleasantries and is actually a statement of respect and upbringing. Several things go into greeting an elder in Nigeria, including ethnic background and gender. For example, certain tribes require a female to kneel on the floor or curtsy to greet an elder, while males are expected to prostrate, squat, or bow completely to the ground. This is regardless of where or the number of times younger people have seen their elders that day. Another traditional form of greeting in Nigeria is one that’s done after meals. In some homes, the more elders that are present, the more thank yous are expected from younger guests.

Looking ‘Fresh’ on Your Wedding Day

Only Nigerian brides understand how crucial it is to fill out their clothes nicely and glow on their wedding day. The extent of happiness and well-being of the bride is practically expected to be physically viewed in how healthy and radiant she looks by the time her wedding day rolls around. In the past, this was achieved in fattening rooms. Fattening rooms originated among the Efik, and they were created to prepare girls for womanhood and marriage through several rituals and rites. One tradition involved waiting on her around the clock and doing everything possible to make her gain weight and portray affluence. These days, however, gaining weight is no longer the goal, and women just stick to ensuring they look as ‘fresh’ as possible by going to the spa, avoiding stressful or strenuous tasks, eating right, and resting.

Right Hand Only

Nigerians see it as a sign of disrespect and disgusting to greet, eat, hand over, or collect things from people with your left hand unless you’re left-handed or have no right arm. And even then, it might be difficult to be granted exemption from the rule. It’s worse when the person you extend your left hand out to is older than you are.

landscape with balloons floating in the air


Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world

Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.

Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.

Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.

Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.

We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.

Edit article