Traditional Nigerian Costumes

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The exact date when man began to clothe himself is not certain. It is most probable, however, that since the primary function of clothes is to provide protection against the inclement weather conditions, clothing must have had and early and “humble” beginning. Its earliest forms consisted of broad leaves, twigs and branches at a time man was essentially a savage. The resort to the use of skins or combinations of leaves was the outcome of the development of the most rudimentary tilling of the soil and taming of beasts for domestic use – a development which is still seen in historic perspectives as representing a remarkable advancement in the onward march to civilized living. Our modern concept of costumes is traceable to the early civilization of China, Egypt, Mesopotamia, Crete and Greece, some 5000 years B>C. – when spinning and weaving were innovated. In these civilizations costumes gradually transcended the mere necessity of providing protection against the elements and became ornamental, or a means of ornament, and of distinction in class societies. Gradually values and standards were established and in these subsequent civilizations, it became a mark decency to be well clad although what is decent – as this study makes even more evident is – varied and still varies from one society to another. The primary aim of this study is to describe the features of the major traditional costumes of the people of Nigeria and to ascertain and draw conclusions on what factors have helped to mould and shape them. Every people with a past keep some record no matter how rudimentary and, in no other sphere, is the culture of a people more impressed than in her Arts, Architecture and Costumes. Costumes mirror the structure of the society in which they are worn and are therefore very much part of its history. That no branch of the Nigerian National Museum has a record in any form of Nigerian people’s costumes in a fastly Westernizing society makes expedient studies such as this, essentially an academic exercise though they may be. Nigeria is a country of great diversity. In no other facet is this diversity reflected more than in the variety and extremes of costumes found within her borders and amongst her people. These costumes obviously reflect the differing stages of social and cultural development of the different people within Nigeria. It is relevant to record that during the time of this study, Nigeria was experiencing the gravest political crisis inn her history – culminating as it where, in a bloody civil war. This placed a lot of practical difficulties in the way of this enquiry: only limited areas of Nigeria could be visited and people showed little interest in an enquiry which was not aimed at solving a crisis that was threatening their very existence. In consequence, I have – with respect to the traditional costumes of the pagan peoples of Northern Nigeria – drawn extensively from the Ethnographic Surveys of Africa conducted by the international African Institute, London. I thank the Institute for the use made of the surveys.
A “History Thesis” study presented in part fulfillment of the requirements for the M.Sc. (Architecture) degree at the University of Science & Technology, Kumasi, Ghana, 1967