In honor of Nigeria's Independence Day on October 1, TRADITIONAL WEDDINGS In Nigeria, if you've reached your 30th birthday and are still unhitched, the elders will harass you down the aisle, which is why barely a week goes by without someone staging a traditional wedding ceremony somewhere. Weddings are a sacred part of cultural life, but also an excuse to show off cuisine, fabulous clothing, music and dance moves in one life-affirming, chromatic bonanza. With 250-odd ethnic groups, the ceremonies come in a variety of styles, depending on your region. In the southwest, the groom and his friends might prostrate themselves at the start. However, in the southeast you'll see them dancing their way into the ceremony, wearing bowler hats and clutching walking canes. In other regions, the bride and groom's families send each other letters of proposal and acceptance before getting down to dowry negotiations. Once the serious stuff is done, it's back to music and dancing and, best of all, the tossing of banknotes in the air to make money literally rain down on the newlyweds. If you haven't experienced a traditional Nigerian wedding, you haven't experienced Nigeria. JOLLOF RICE This mouth-watering tomato-based rice dish is a party staple. There are many ways to cook it, involving endless permutations of meat, spices, chilli, onions and vegetables. While it's widely accepted that Senegal invented this dish, the concept spread to West African countries. The most notable are Ghana and Nigeria -- two nations that have vied with one another for supremacy in a never-ending battle known as the jollof wars. Nigerians are the indisputable champions, of course, serving up "advanced level" jollof that our Ghanaian rivals can only watch and admire. Oya, come chop!
EATING CHICKEN TO THE BONE While we're still on the subject of food, Nigerians are champions at eating chicken to the bone and beyond. It's not enough to simply eat the flesh. We break the bone, suck out the marrow and pulverize the remainder until there's almost nothing left. If your chicken thigh is still forensically identifiable at the end of the meal then you haven't done it right. Abeg, finish am! NOLLYWOOD FILMS Nigeria's filmmakers are famously prolific. Only Hollywood and India's Bollywood make more movies than Nigeria. Known as Nollywood, our film industry is big business -- so big it contributes 5% to national GDP. With average flicks churned out in under a two weeks, Nollywood films are famous for their poor (albeit improving) production values. But what they lack in sophistication they make up for in story lines that are an entertaining window on Nigerian moral values and byzantine social dynamics. Narratives exploring servant-master relationships, the supernatural, corruption and infidelity are delivered with lashings of shouty, eye-bulging overacting. The movies draw a big audience in the rest of Africa, where viewers from more reserved societies can revel vicariously in Nigeria's outlandishness and even pick up some of our slang. Nigerian soft power has never been greater. Related content 30 of Africa's most amazing places to visit DURBAR ROYAL HORSE PARADE Celebrated in some northern cities, Durbar marks the end of Ramadan. The annual Durbar festival is the cultural highlight of Nigeria's Islamic north. This visual extravaganza is celebrated by thousands of peoples, mainly from the Hausa-Fulani ethnic groups, in multiple cities at the end of Ramadan. Followed by a parade that takes place in the city of Kano at the Emir's Palace, it's become a longstanding tourist attraction. The Emir's sons, noblemen and regiments show their loyalty by trooping past on horses, accompanied by musicians. Each royal household has its own unique costume, made up of billowing robes and turbans that glitter in every color under the sun. Wearing black leather gloves, the princes raise a "power" fist as they bounce past the Emir. Being polygamous, the Emirs have literally dozens of sons and every one of them takes part, from the middle-aged to the toddlers. Counting them all is part of the fun. MAKING THE BEST OF 'GO SLOWS' (TRAFFIC JAMS) Nigeria is notorious for traffic congestion. Traffic jams -- known as go slows -- are a daily part of life on Nigeria's roads, but although they may delay your journey they needn't stop you from completing your day's shopping from the comfort of your vehicle. Need some socks? Street vendors can sort you out. They'll also sell handkerchiefs, belts, books, newspapers, fruit, vegetables, chocolates, electrical appliances and even oil paintings -- if that's what you're after. Simply roll down your window and call for their attention.
OPTIMISM Despite all its political and economic troubles, Nigerians are somehow still among the most optimistic and happy people on the planet. Opportunity doesn't come knocking -- we chase it, with the help of God, who we all know is on our side. The Lord may have rested on the seventh day of Earth's creation, but that's the last day off he's enjoyed ever since. Nigerians call upon Him 24/7, praying and pumping fists and demanding His favors. Evidence of our optimistic spirit lies everywhere: It's in the billboards that promise "a divine upgrade", or our hustling entrepreneurial spirit, or the crumbling roadside shacks grandly named "Victory Plaza." There's no room for despair when we see ourselves as "temporarily embarrassed millionaires" (to quote Steinbeck) on the expressway to heaven. So next time a Nigerian tells you "I will become the greatest by force!" understand that they're not bragging -- they're just speaking their dreams into existence. MASQUERADES Masquerades are a huge aspect of Nigerian culture. These masked costumed figures are considered to embody the spirits, and serve as a fundamental part of Nigerian pre-colonial religious tradition. Nowadays they double up as entertainment and appear during weddings and festivals, particularly at Christmas time. Nigeria has over 250 ethnic groups, each with its own masquerade. The masks and costumes are visually striking. They can be made from a variety of materials such as grass, animal horns and teeth, and the young men who wear them sometimes cover their limbs in black palm oil to mesmerizing and scary effect. The masquerades travel through the villages, performing dances, acrobatics and reciting incantations. Chasing terrified villagers with bows and arrows or whips is also part of the tradition, so get ready to move your feet
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