Tribal Series: Nupe Tribe in Northern Nigeria

Guards of Etsu of
Guards of Etsu of

Nigeria located in West Africa is said to be the most populated black nation globally. The country has over 250 tribes but the major tribes are the Hausa tribe found mostly in the north, Yoruba in the southwest and Igbo in the southeast. will be featuring other lesser known tribes within the country in its Tribal Series. This month we take a look at the Nupe people and their culture.

The Nupe people are found in the northern part of Nigeria and are divided into different subgroups, including Batau, Kyedye, Eghagi, Ebe, and Benu, along with several others that speak related languages.

Although the Nupe are scattered over several states in west-central and northern Nigeria, the majority of the tribe resides in Niger State in the north, while a sizable population lives in Kwara and Kogi states as well as in the Federal Capital Territory Abuja.

The main towns of Nupe are Bida, Minna, Agaie, Lapai, Mokwa, Jebba, Lafiagi and Pategi. The Nupe occupy a lowland of about 6,950 square miles (18,000 square kilometers) in the Niger Basin, mostly north of the river between the Kontagora and Guara confluents, from Kainji to below Baro. The 1991 census placed the population of Nupe at 1,062,000! The majority of Nupe are Muslims, but one can still find few Christians and those who practice traditional faith among them.

The first Nupe king to become a Muslim reigned in about 1770. The Bida Emirate was governed as part of the British colony of Nigeria until 1960, when Nigeria gained independence.

During the creation of states by subsequent Nigerian governments, Minna was made the capital of Niger State, although Bida remains the largest predominantly Nupe town. Most Nupe are farmers, and the staple crops are millet, Guinea corn, yams, rice, and groundnuts. Cassava, maize, and sweet potatoes (grown inland) are of secondary importance.

local Nupe women .photo
local Nupe women .photo

Traditionally, marriage could be contracted in one of two ways: the would-be bridegroom asks for the consent of the women he wants to marry (sometimes the woman suggests to her father whom she wants to marry), or the marriage is arranged by the heads of the families.

Nupe girls…photo

Marriage involves the payment of a bride-price by the groom, and postmarital residence is patrilocal. Marriage has no real meaning without procreation. The unique thing about Nupe people is that divorce rarely occurs among couples because their men want to avoid publicity and ridicule of divorce proceedings in courts. Most marriages are terminated only by the death of a spouse. Widows must remain in the compound for five months before they can remarry.