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Appreciating Nigeria’s gift of cultural diversity


Eid–al-Adha Durbar festival

Eid–al-Adha Durbar festival

I didn’t know the Shehu of Borno had traditional shoes! Beautiful cream mules with intricate circular patterns embroidered in shiny silver threads. The toes of the shoe curling up slightly, while a tongue of fabric decorated in what resembles yellow pompom flowers shoot out over the lower half of his foot and lick at the base of his ankles. Like any self-respecting woman I love a fancy shoe and dress up clothes. I got my fill and much more as over the Sallah weekend I spent some time shifting back and forth between Borno and Kano. It began with the royal palace in Maiduguri.

At various moments of the day, I’d sit transfixed in my chair looking at the royal guards in their bright red clothes, comparing them to the palace aids whom, I learned, have to wear mismatched clothes out of respect for the royal leader, the Shehu. I followed the traditional Eid ceremonies taking place as musicians and dancers, food distributors and young boys and old men all waited and prepared for the arrival of the Shehu himself. I learned about traditional titles and picked up a few random words of Kanuri. Then I’d move to Kano only to be caught up in all the majestic pomp and circumstance and the stunning brilliant colors that are part of the Hawan Daushe ceremonies and traditions of the Eid–al-Adha Durbar festival.

First, the ancient men with sun beat weathered skins and mustard colored teeth dancing around the Emir’s courtyard, white robes and tails of turbans flowing amidst the sounds of drums and trumpets. Then later, the bejeweled horses of the district heads and warriors, and the Emir’s tasseled tapestried covered camel. It was a delight to see and even more interesting to later do my own online research as I continue to learn more about the culture and traditions of Nigerians living in this part of the country where I currently live, the North.

The funny thing about the whole Sallah weekend though was that I never left Abuja. I would have loved to have actually been present at these events taking place further north in Kano and Borno, to learn some more first hand about the cultural diversity of my country, especially during such an important and celebratory period for my Muslim brothers and sisters. But that wasn’t an option. So instead, I observed what I could from a few Instagram pages I follow, most specifically this past Sallah, the photojournalist page of Fati Abubakar called @bitsofBorno and the official page of His Highness Alhaji Muhammadu Sanusi II, @sanusilamidosanusi.

Every additional year I spend in this country is opening my eyes to things I feel I should have been taught long ago about the vast cultural diversity this country offers. And yet, with each year I also become aware of how little we encourage one another to learn of people and traditions outside our own particular ethnic tribes or religious communities. I can’t help but believe that is to our great disadvantage as Nigerians collectively. Throughout global history, so much of human prejudices and misconceptions about different people and customs often stem from ignorance and an unwillingness to acknowledge the beauty and richness of difference.

It remains the same today all over the world, Nigeria included. When I think about the age-old ethnic tensions within this country, I realize the reasons are complex and deeply rooted, and will require continued dialogue and action to sort through. But any attempt at seeing ourselves as one nation and relearning to perceive one another with less distrust will require more genuine interest in understanding one another, and appreciating, even reveling in some of our differences, the attributes of our cultures and traditions that make us such a rich country full of untapped collaborative potential and uncommon human capital.

This is a topic dear to me because I understand how hard it is to let go of the things we have been taught about one another from different ethnic and religious groups. I understand the challenge of trying to see and live beyond what some people have experienced at the hands of others from different ethnic and religious communities.

I know that even in “blended” families, where people have managed to successfully marry across tribes and religions, there are still latent even unspoken stereotypes and negative conceptions of one another’s “people.” To live with difference is no easy task, whether on a social, political or personal level. Yet isn’t it harder to strive for unity, peace and prosperity if we don’t continually strive to not only live with difference but to embrace it. But then again, as I’ve been told before, perhaps I am just young and naïve.

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