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Essay: Culture areas of Nigeria and their characteristics

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  • Published: 21 September 2015*
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Every society has its own way of life, ways of dressing and cooking; eating and toileting, sacrificing and playing, showing hospitality and reverence, and of expressing political opinions. To study the diversity of these ways is to study culture, for culture is a way of life.
Ralph Linton (1936) states that ‘The Culture of a Society is the way of life of its members; the collection of ideas and habits which they learn, share and transmit from generation to generation’. In other words, culture is the totality of the way of life evolved by people in their attempts to meet the challenges of living in their environment. In this definition, culture gives order and meaning to the social, political, economic, aesthetic, religious norms, values of people, and thus distinguishes them from other people. It comprises material, institutional, philosophical and creative aspects. The material aspect has to do with artifacts in their various forms, namely tools, clothing, food, medicine, utensils, housing, etc. The institutional aspect deals with the political, social, legal and economic objectives, while the philosophical aspect is concerned with ideas, beliefs and values. The creative aspect concerns a people’s innovativeness in literature (oral or written), their visual and performing arts, and their scientific and technological endeavours. Culture is also related to the values of a society in terms of the society’s conception of what is right or wrong (moral values), what is ugly or beautiful (aesthetic values).
Culture is not merely a return to the past. It embodies the attitude of a people to the future of their traditional values when faced by the demands of modern technology which is an essential factor of development and progress. When we talk therefore of self-reliance, self-sufficiency and a national development objective, we are referring to our culture as the fountain of the underlining spirit behind all the policies on education, social, political and economic matters. The strategies for national development would thus depend on the understanding of culture, the adaptation of its elements for political, educational, economic development as well as the utilization of its strengths for social integration and development.
A culture area can be defined as a geographical area occupied by people whose cultures exhibit a significant degree of similarity with each other as well as a significant degree of dissimilarity with the cultures of others. The concept of a culture area is like the concept of geographical regions because it is based on the premise that culture reflects geographical conditions. This does not mean that culture area coincide in every detail with geographical regions, for man to a large extent, has control over his environment.
A culture area is also a description of the way of life of thousands of people in a country. In Nigeria, there are about 350 ethnic groups, each having its own culture, but these have been broadly divided into six culture areas, namely Hausa-Fulani, Tiv, Yoruba, Igbo, Bini and Efik-Ibibio.
Culture areas are delineated by categorising cultures according to standard classifications such as language, political organisation, physical environment, and religion. Those cultures that arc similar and closely related belong to one culture area and can be plotted on an ethnographic map.
(i) Language Factor
Language is a powerful factor in categorizing culture areas. People living within the Igbo culture area speak the same language and so constitute what linguists call a ‘Speech Community’. Within this speech community, there may be sources of ‘regional dialect’ eg. Amongst the West Niger Igbo, there are three dialect clusters: Ika, Enuani and Ukwuani. In the East Niger Igbo, there are many dialect clusters: Onitsha, Orlu, Owerri, Etche, Ikwere, Nsukka, Ohuhu, etc.
The dialects in the Igbo culture area, in spite of differences in pronunciation, share a common structure. This makes communication between the different dialects possible.
(ii) Political Organisation
In pre-colonial Nigeria, there were two main types of government; monarchy and a democratic form of gerontocracy. The former featured in kingdoms ruled by Obas, Emirs, Obongs, Obis and powerful tribal chieftains who wielded power in styles ranging from absolute dictatorship to near democracy. Democratic gerontocracy was found typically amongst the Igbo and their neighbours. The political organisation of the various culture areas differ from one ‘mother. East of the Igbo are Efik and Ibibio. Each of their towns and communities are ruled by a king known as Obong.
(iii) Physical Environment/Economic System
This factor has to do with the geographical boundaries and the nature of the economic system in the culture area. Economic has to do with the production, distribution and consumption of goods and services, but we must bear in mind that these activities take place within the context which may vary from society to society. Within a given social system, the constituent elements of this context are subsumed under the same factors of production comprising land (including bodies of water from which livelihood is derived), labour and capital. In more recent times, the organizational aspects of man – the managerial or entrepreneurial expertise – has been added to these factors. The forms of these factors and the way they are combined and activated for meaningful production are not uniform in all societies. They are, however, identifiable in their divers forms and constitute an environment which societies modify and adjust in the quest for sustenance.
iv. Religion
Religion refers to how man in a culture area relates to the supernatural (Universe). People living in a culture area, by and large, share identical conception of the cosmos. Man is deplorably ignorant and the universe is largely a mystery to him. He does not understand the nature of space and time; he does not know what matter is made of if indeed it is made of anything. Above all, he does not understand himself.
Some of these puzzles are, by their very nature, impossible to unravel and this is one of the main reasons why man resorts to religion. In his essay entitled ‘Why I am not a Christian, Bartrand Russell (1971) explains religion in terms of fear.
Religion is based, I think, primarily upon Fear It is partly the terror of the unknown and partly as I have said, the wish to feel that you have a kind of elder brother who will Stand by you in all your troubles and disputes.
This is a half-truth. A strong desire to explain the mysteries of the universe appears to be partly responsible for the evolution of religion. For the believer, the notion of God seems to bring an end to otherwise endless stream of questions. But it is also true that for the cynic, God provides no relief, for he wants to know who made God. If we believe that God has no beginning or end, why can we not believe the same of matter?
Man’s life has attained that awesome level of consciousness which we normally attribute to God. If, then we attribute the creative power to matter, then we have no choice. If we discard God, it means that every bit of matter has the capacity of conscious existence when it is arranged by natural forces, in a certain manner, as, for instant, protein molecules. Thus, the creative power is all-pervading (that is omnipresent) and omniscience, since all knowledge depends on intelligence, intelligence, on life and life on matter.
Believers in God also describe, him as omnipresent and omniscience. Thus, God and the creative power in matter are undistinguishable. That is, God and the universe form one mysterious package, and it is futile to try to isolate one from the other. All the questions we ask about matter and the universe could be asked about God. Since most men do not doubt the existence of the universe (some philosophers, like Berkeley, do), they have to believe in an all power or creative force or God. What all these boil down to is that a man is one society relates to his God differently from another man from a different society it other words, the way the Yoruba’s relate to their Oluwa differ significantly from that of Hausa/Fulani’s.

Nigeria is a home of diverse cultures. Culture is the lifestyle of a society. It covers every aspect of our life-style including economic, political, sociological, and ideological aspects. Nigeria has over 250 languages/dialects groups. These groupings are done politically in accordance with differences observed from our cultural setting. Inspite of, our pluralistic nature in terms of language, tribe, occupation, architectural design, were bound together by several unifying factors from which a nation culture can be evolved. Most states in Nigeria embrace variance of cultures. These typical variances in tradition maintain social order, strong sense, of justice, respect and high regard for law. The major Nigerian culture and their characteristic

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