Hey guys! The grad reading this week was Stoler and Cooper’s “Between Metropole and Colony.” It really focused on the colonial powers’ disregard to existing groups of people when they formed the colonies. While I was reading, I really wanted to know more about the differences in culture between the three main ethnicities of Nigeria: the Hausa-Fulani, the Yoruba, and the Igbo. Since Achebe’s Things Fall Apart deals with the Igbo culture, I wanted to see how things might have been different for other groups. I have attached some basic information about each of the three groups. I know its not the most interesting of stuff, but I find it interesting to think about how these three groups are now supposed to coexist in a unified country. Note that I use past tense because I am mainly focused on the post-colonial cultures of the groups, however some of the facts may still be true today.

The Hausa-Fulani:

the Hausa "Camel Cavalry"

traditional Hausa-Fulani clothes

This group was mostly in the north and the prominent language is Hausa. They practiced Islam, although Maguzawa, an animist religion, was also prominent in the area. They often had an emir or imam who was the main religious and political authority in the village. Because of this main authority, the British were able to rule using indirect rule. Essentially, they would have the emir rule for them. Because of this, the north had the least western influence of the three groups and even today the group is more Arab than Western in culture and traditions.

The Yoruba

the Yoruba are known for their intricate statues and bronze work

traditional Yoruba drummers

The Yoruba were found in the Western part of Nigeria and the prominent language was Yoruba, although there were several dialects. The were considered a very religious people. They believed in reincarnation, spirits, and the power of names. Each name is said to have special meaning and power over a person, and there was a very intricate naming ceremony. Like many African ethnic groups, the tribe as a community was extremely important concept in daily lives. They had a very intricate legal system called Yoruba Law, in which the family was the first level of government, then the clan or extended family, then the village chief, who was subject to the Oba. This system of government in which everyone is sort of held responsible by everyone else meant that the system of indirect rule would not have worked in Yorubaland. The British instead used direct rule, where they sent their own governors in to enforce British law.

The Igbo:

Igbo women in traditional clothing

These are the eastern peoples and the focus in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. They were very religious, and believed in spirits, multiple gods, and oracles. Reincarnation was widely accepted. Of the three groups, the Igbo were the most fragmented before colonization. The Igbo dialects were extremely different from each other from one town to the next, and political structures varied as well. They are the most village-oriented of the three groups, and were often ruled by a chief and/or council of elders. Because of the differences in language and political structure, the British really forced English and Western traditions on this group more than the others (to make it easier for themselves). This resulted in a lot of uprisings from the Igbo people, which were dealt with harshly.

Some Things to Think About:

I thought it was interesting from the pictures I was looking through that I couldn’t distinguish the people from different groups by looking at their faces. Although the Hausa-Fula are considered more “Arab,” I thought they had the exact same facial structures as the Yoruba and Igbo- just an interesting anthropological observation.

There is a lot of debate as to whether indirect rule or direct rule was “better.” I would be interested to hear all of your prospectives and opinions. Do you think the Hausa-Fulani benefitted by being “left alone,” in a way? Their culture was preserved more, but they ended up not getting the same educational advances, etc as the people in the south.


About audreyvorhees

Freshman at American University, studying International Development in sub-Saharan Africa, love travelling and African languages.

One response »

  1. penselwood says:

    I like your analysis, but disagree that there are no visible anthropological differences between the groups.

    Your pictures might not distinguish them clearly, but the Hausa-Fulani have thinner lips, and more pointed noses than the other groups. They also have larger curls in their hair as opposed to the tight, extremely small curls of the Ibos.

    The skin colour differs as well, with some having lighter skin, but this is hard to generalise since all African skin tone differs, like Caucasian eye and hair colour.

    The lighter Hausa-Fulanis have a light tan, a light-brown skin tone. The lighter Ibos have a reddish skin tone and the lighter Yorubas have a yellowish one.

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