Activities for Kids About Important Nigerian Traditions

By Molly Thompson
Decorated masks play an important role in Nigerian culture.
Decorated masks play an important role in Nigerian culture.

Nigeria is a vast, ethnically diverse country in west-central Africa on the Gulf of Guinea. Despite the modernization and commercialization of major cities, centuries-old cultural traditions continue. The major ethnic groups all have ceremonies that combine music, dancing and Nigerian cuisine, often surrounding important life transitions such as the birth of a child or a wedding. Masks are often an essential part of such ceremonies, representing different characters and spirits. Help kids display their knowledge about Nigeria with activities such as making a mask or drum, telling traditional stories or cooking up a spicy Nigerian stew.

Making Masks

Masks are used for ceremonial and decorative purposes in Nigeria. Typically carved from wood or molded from clay and then painted using natural dyes, masks are used at traditional weddings, dances and other important ceremonies. Show the kids some pictures of traditional Nigerian masks and then give them materials to make their own version of a ceremonial mask. Depending on their ages, kids can use construction paper, paper mache or clay to craft their masks. Even the youngest kids can get in on the act by using a paper plate with eye holes cut out. Give them yarn, glue and crayons to create a friendly lion mask.

Storytelling Magic

As in much of Africa, storytelling in Nigeria is both an art form and a way to share important cultural, historical and familial traditions. Many stories are based on the various spirits Nigerians believe inhabit trees, rivers, mountains and other natural items. The stories bring these spirits to life and teach listeners how to respect and care for nature's bounty. Invite a traditional storyteller to entertain the children or read a few traditional Nigerian stories to them. Ask the kids to make up and share their own stories about some of the characters. Another alternative is to let the children draw illustrations to go with the stories.

Music and Dance

Stringed instruments and a variety of drums are the pre-eminent sounds common to Nigerian music, used to accompany songs and dances. Children can make their own stringed instruments from small shoeboxes, threading a long stick through the box lengthwise through the center to serve as the handle and neck. Strings can be created from twine, fishing line or rubber bands. Drum-making is a simple activity for kids of all ages. Use coffee or oatmeal cans as the base. Help the kids stretch a thin piece of cheesecloth taut across the open top of the container, held in place by cords or elastic bands. Kids can decorate the outside of the drum with wild animal prints or drawings of jungle trees and animals.

Naming Ceremonies

The two largest ethnic groups among the 250 represented in Nigeria's diverse population are the Ibo and the Yoruba. Both groups maintain elaborate naming rituals for newly arrived babies. Help the kids research some traditional Nigerian names, then gather them in a large circle, sitting on the floor. Place a chair at the center for the grandfather or village elder. Let the kids play the various roles in the ceremony, including servers of the important food and drink, the baby's mother, grandmother and grandfather and the other relatives present to assist in choosing the baby's name. Have each child offer a suggested name, followed by the selection of several names by the elders.

About the Author

As a national security analyst for the U.S. government, Molly Thompson wrote extensively for classified USG publications. Thompson established and runs a strategic analysis company, is a professional genealogist and participates in numerous community organizations.Thompson holds degrees from Wellesley and Georgetown in psychology, political science and international relations.