The West African landlocked nation of Niger has a rich heritage and culture that reflects the cultures of the various ethnic groups that populate the nation.
Ethnicity, Language, and Religion in Niger
Niger has a population of 19,866,231 people. The Hausa is the largest ethnic group in the nation and comprises around 53.1% of the population. Other ethnic groups with a significant presence in the country include the Songhai, Tuareg, Fulani, Kanuri, Gurma, and others. French is Niger’s official language. Hausa, Djerma, etc., are some of the most spoken indigenous languages. Almost the entire population of Niger (99.3%) is affiliated with Islam.
The Cuisine of Niger
The cuisine of Niger includes grilled meat, salads, various sauces, and vegetables as the common food items. A significant amount of spices are also used to prepare the dishes. Rice, millets, sorghum, cassava, maize, beans, etc., are the staples of the diet. A typical meal comprises of a carbohydrate dish like rice or millet served with a stew or sauce. Wheat dumplings, beignets, and porridge are some popular snacks. Couscous is served on special occasions.
Literature, Art, and Craft in Niger
Like most African countries, Niger has a rich tradition of oral literature in the form of folk tales and legends, heroic epics, ritualistic chants, etc. Written literature has a relatively recent history in the country due to the high levels of illiteracy prevalent there.
The various ethnic groups inhabiting the country have their distinct styles of art and craft. Niger's craftsmen produce colorful masks, baskets, wood carvings, stone paintings, textiles, etc., that are both for utilitarian and decorative purposes.
Performance Arts in Niger
Prior to independence, the distinct traditions of music and dance of the country’s diverse ethnic groups existed quite independently. However, since the 1960s, these traditions have blended to produce new styles of music that have flourished nationally but are yet to gain international attention. The Hausa people of the country use a variety of musical instruments for their Griot traditions (a griot is a West African storyteller, musician, poet, or praise singer and an important figure in the society). Some of these instruments include molo (a lute), kakaki (trumpet), algaita (a double-reed wind instrument), etc. The Tuareg people of Niger are known for their romantic spoken or sung poetry that is accompanied by tinge drums and viol.
Besides these and other music traditions, Niger also has a modern music and dance scene. Pop, rock, reggae, hip hop, etc., are popular among the youth of the country, especially in urban areas.
Sports in Niger
Football is the most popular sport throughout Niger. Traditional sports like camel racing, horse racing, sorro wrestling, etc., are also played in the country. Niger has also sent athletes to most of the Summer Olympic Games since 1964. Issake Dabore, a boxer from the nation, won the Olympic bronze medal in 1972.
Life in the Nigerien Society
Men and women are traditionally assigned gender-based roles in the society in Niger. While women are expected to manage the household chores and engage in childcare, men are regarded as the breadwinners for the family. They usually have the highest authority in the family. In rural areas, many women participate in agricultural work but they are often paid less than men. Few women in urban areas work outside the homes and even fewer hold important offices or higher ranks in their field of employment. Human rights groups are constantly battling the odds in the country to get women’s rights recognized in the country. The situation is gradually improving.
Marriages in Niger are held with the consent of families. Polygamy is not uncommon but often men with who are financially weak do not keep more than one wife. Polygamy is also less common among nomadic families. The size of households varies from nuclear (primarily in urban areas) to extended (mainly in rural locations). Often, a man lives with his multiple wives and the families of his sons within one large complex with multiple houses. Such households depend mostly on traditional farming and are common among the rural Haussa people. In the case of the Tuaregs, domestic units are usually nuclear in nature but the extended family members usually live near to each other. Patrilineal inheritance is more common in Niger.
Children are highly valued in society. The mother and female siblings usually take care of the infants. Children are taught social values by the entire community. They also start assisting their parents in their work since an early age. Different stages of life like entry into adulthood, marriage, childbirth, etc., are celebrated with clearly demarcated rites of passage. Most families in rural areas discourage education of girls beyond primary schools. Males usually outnumber females in institutions of higher learning.
The elderly are considered to be the wisest members of society. A deep sense of respect for the elders is inculcated in every child. The advice of the elders is considered to be of great importance.
About the Author
Oishimaya is an Indian native, currently residing in Kolkata. She has earned her Ph.D. degree and is presently engaged in full-time freelance writing and editing. She is an avid reader and travel enthusiast and is sensitively aware of her surroundings, both locally and globally. She loves mingling with people of eclectic cultures and also participates in activities concerning wildlife conservation.
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