NIGERIA Contemporary Material Culture in Niger State: An Ethnoarchaeological Study



Kolawole Aiyedun

Centre for Nigerian Cultural Studies

Ahmadu Bello University

Zaria, Nigeria


The Niger State Archaeological Research Project, conceived in 1988, was designed as an ethoarchaeological investigation of the whole of Niger State, and is intended to serve as the beginning of a study of the culture history of the various traditional rural societies in Niger State (Aiyedun 1989a). The project, sponsored by Niger State government in collaboration with the state’s Council for Arts and Culture, could not commence until 1989 because of logistical problems. Members of the team include the present writer as the principal investigator, with the assistance of one cultural officer in each Local Government Area, as well as a photographer, Mr. Peter lnmin, from the Centre for Nigerian Cultural Studies.


Apart from an initial period of four weeks, during which library and archival materials were collected, the research team spent over eight weeks on the project in 1989 (May 17-July 27), during which oral interviews were conducted in about fifty towns and villages in eight of the state’s ten Local Government Areas. Information obtained from the eight Local Government Areas, which include Lavum, Gbako, Mariga, Magama, Rafi, Shirro, Agaie and Suleja, covers topics such as subsistence adaptation and economy, i.e., farming, stock raising, hunting and fishing; the manufacture, use and discard of objects made from materials such as wood (carvings), day (pottery), stone (beads and other domestic utensils made of stone), glass (beads), and metal (smelting and smithing); settlement architecture; active nutritional and medicinal ingredients obtained from plant resources; and the people’s funerary practises. Detailed information on each area of study, including its location, size, population, climate, vegetation, fauna, geology, and geomorphology is provided elsewhere (Aiyedun 1989c).


This ethnoarchaeological research of­fered an opportunity for studying pottery and smelting/smithing among diverse rural societies such as the Nupe, Gwari, Koro, Kambari, Dukkawa, Hausa and Ura. Data concerning pottery includes various aspects of its preparation and use in rural societies. For example, questions were asked concerning the procurement of raw material, pot manufacture, decoration and firing; pot types, names and functions; life expectancy and discard; relationships between family size and sizes of the pots, especially those used for cooking and the linguistic affinities of the people from whom pots were imported. Special pots, used for smelting local ore, and the large pots, used for brewing beer, cooking shea butter, groundnut, and palm oil and for burial purposes in a number of places, were studied. An effort was also made to collect replicas of tools used for pot decoration and to determine local names of such implements.


The study also enabled us to gain some insight into smelting, a craft which has virtually disappeared from Niger State, and smithing, which is still practised among the Nupe, Kambari, and Hausa. Information on smelting deals with the procurement of local ore and wood for charcoal, construction of furnace, forging methods, marketing and distribution of the wrought iron, fashioning of the wrought iron into finished products, life expectancy of the products, and tools used in the smelting process. Our study of smithing concentrated on various types of materials, including iron and wrought iron (yan tama); a comparative study of the strength and durability (life expectancy) of different types of raw material and how these relate to choice of material; the procurement of wood, out of which wooden handles are made; and the marketing and distribution of finished products. Other information obtained on smithing relates to the construction of workshops, furnaces, tuyeres, and bellows and other tools, as well as data on the numbers of smiths in a workshop.


In the area of subsistence practises, the present research has greatly increased our knowledge of fishing, hunting, and farming in Niger State, and has shed light on the role of local methods and techniques in subsistence adaptation, confirming the existence of an old, intertwined relationship between human culture and the environ­ment. Among various communities in Lavum, Gbako, Agaie, Rafi, and Magama Local Government Areas of Niger State, fishing stands out as a major subsistence adaptation. Information obtained on fishing include the enculturation process whereby methods and techniques are transmitted from parents to children; tools and their mode of production, as well as techniques used for fishing; number of such tools owned by a fisherman and the number of people involved in the use of each form of tool/technique; species of fish caught, preference among species, and local names of species; treatment and processing of fish prior to marketing, as well as sharing and distribution. The rivers Niger and Kaduna are also a source of transportation heavily used in the olden days, but of diminished importance today. The use of such transportation led not only to groups of specialists involved in the construction of the canoes and paddles in different parts of the state, but also to the exploitation of local raw material in the form of wood, such as wuchi, den chi, iroko bachi, and minjinichi.


Hunting is a major subsistence adaptation among the Nupe, Gwari, Koro, Kambari, and Bassa in Niger State. The research on hunting provided data on aspects such as the status and role of the hunters; techniques and methods of hunting, including associated rituals; equipments and tools used, number and sizes of such tools owned by individuals and number of people involved; species of animals, birds, and snakes hunted and their sizes; butchering techniques and sharing; distribution and marketing; as well as the use, disposal, and discard of by-products of the meat animals (Aiyedun, 1989b). This research forms the beginning of a database concerning the domestic utilization of hides and skins. It also marks the beginning of multi­disciplinary research between archaeologists and specialists in linguistics, biological sciences, leather work industry, food sciences, pharmacology, and pharma­ceutical chemistry.


Farming forms the last major subsistence adaptation of the people of. Niger State to their environment. In this connection, it is interesting to note that, probably because of the differing types of agricultural systems embraced by different communities, the most important tool used in farming, the hoe, has evolved into a complex typology with several variations in form, size, and shape for various farming practises and crop types. Thus the hoe used by the Kambari of Rijau in Magama Local Government for upland farming differs from the one used by the Nupe at Edozhigi of Gbako Local Government for marshland farming. While the hoe used for upland farming at Agaie and Lapai, who are Nupe and are next door neighbors, differ, those of Rijau and Salka, who are both Kambari in Magama Local Government, but live far away from each other, also differ even though they both practise upland farming. The Gwari hoe, used for upland yam cultivation, differs from the Nupe hoe used for the same farming system and crop. This probably shows the technical ingenuity of the people of Niger State, who were willing to adapt and introduce more advantageous techniques suitable to local environments (Nadel 1969: 205).


Data related to farming include not only agricultural systems, tools, and crops, but also the role of men and women in farming, labour input, modes of harvesting and processing, storage, crop yield and uses of the crops, as well as their marketing and distribution.


The present research also covered various aspects of settlement architecture. Information obtained on settlement architecture included the types and numbers of houses built by different ethnic groups and the materials used for their construction; organisation of the compound on the basis of sex, age, and activity patterning; permanent and nonpermanent structures and the ownership of such features as well as their life expectancy and abandonment. Information was also obtained concerning the roles of women as custodians of domestic equipment, some made by men, others by women, but all used by the women in the home. In addition, the women’s role in construction was found to include the preparation of flooring and interior and exterior decoration of walls of living rooms and yards of compounds.


Detailed analysis of all the data collected from the field has commenced, from which a monograph is to be prepared for publication.



The present writer wishes to acknowledge with gratitude the funding of the research project by Niger State Government, for which he is personally indebted to the State Governor, Col. Lawan Gwadabe.



Aiyedun, K D.

1989a          Contemporary material culture in Niger State, with special reference to Gbako and Lavum Local Government Area:    an ethnoarchaeological study. Paper presented at the 8th Annual Conference of the Archaeological Association of Nigeria, Minna, Niger State, June 25-July 2, 1989.


1989b. Domestic utilization of animal skins in Niger State: an ethnoarchaeological approach. Paper presented at the First National Seminar/Workshop on the Economic Impact of Hides and Skins Production, Improvement, and Utilization, organized by the National Research Institute for Chemical Technology, Zaria and the Federal Department of Livestock and Pest Control Services at Daula, Kano, on August 15-16, 1989.


1989c          Niger State in Perspective, Pp. 2-9. In Science, Technology and the Environment: Some Reflections on the Nigerian Situation. Paper presented by Dr. Yakubu Nasidi to mark U.N.E.S.C.O. Day in Niger State, October 3, 1989.


Nadel, S. F.

1969            A Black Byzantium: the Kingdom of Nupe in Nigeria. Oxford: Oxford University Press.





Utilization of Meat Animal

By-Products in Niger State:

An Ethnoarchaeological



Kolawole Aiyedun

Centre for Nigerian Cultural Studies

Ahmadu Bello University

Zaria, Nigeria



The utilization of hides and skins falls into the study of what archaeologists term the use, disposal, and discard of by-products of meat animals and what researchers in the leather industry and biological and animal scientists term the processing and utilization of meat animal inedible by-products (Aganga and Belino 1983: 9). Such studies contribute in no small measure to our knowledge of subsistence adaptation and economy, providing information relating to aspects such as animal husbandry and hunting. Ethnographic data obtained from the use, disposal, and discard of hides and skins throws light on material culture, since such materials are generally too perishable to have survived in the archaeological record.


Area of Study

The research on which this paper is based forms part of an ongoing ethnoarchaeological research project in Niger State (see preceding article). Niger State is located in northern Nigeria, where livestock and animal husbandry constitutes a major subsistence focus of the people. Interviews conducted in about fifty villages and towns in the state reveal that the animal proteins obtained from livestock are supplemented largely with wild animal products obtained in large quantities during the dry season in most places but throughout the year in a few places. Most of the villages and towns visited keep livestock, especially chickens, guinea fowl, ducks, sheep, goats, cats, and dogs. Several keep cattle, horses, and donkeys, while a few keep mules, rabbits, and the Gambian oribi. The largest concentrations of cattle, sheep, and goats were observed at Magama and Mariga Local Government Areas and along Kwara/Niger Border around Jebba, while the smallest concentrations were observed in the eastern part of the state (Agaie, Changchaga, Shiroro, Lapai, and Suleja). A census of livestock for Bida Division between 1933 and 1936 is listed in Nadel (1969: 204).


Hunting is a major subsistence adaptation among the Nupe, Gwari, Koro, Kambari, and Bassa of Niger State. Hunting was studied by the present writer in detail in places like Kutigi in Lavum Local Government; Kanibari in Gbako Local Government; Kontagora, Miriga, Sahun rami, Ibi-Zurgama, and Kabogi in Mariga Local Government; Yakila in Rafi Local Government Area; Masamagu, Rijau, and Auna in Magama Local Government; Essangi in Agaie Local Government; Kuta in Shiroro Local Government; and Shako in Suleja Local Government Area. Hunters in some of these places are full-time specialists, while in other places hunting is done on a part-time basis.


According to Aganga and Belino (1983:10), hides and skins are technically divided into hides, kips, and skins, based on the weight of the clean hide. Hides come from large and mature animals, kips are skins of immature animals, while skins are from small animals such as sheep and goats. Table I shows major usages of the inedible by-products of meat animals in the leather industry (Aganga and Belino 1983:10). The skins of cattle, sheep, and goats are also used for a wide variety of purposes among traditional rural societies in Niger State, as are other by-products of meat animals, including fat, bone, and excreta.


By-products of cattle used among traditional rural societies in Niger State include the hides (skins), fat, bone and excreta. The skin is eaten as ganda, used as shoe material (takalmi), as cover for farming drums (ganga numa), and for making large bag containers (salka) for storing farm crops. The fat (mai shanu) is used as oil for cooking and for curing rheumatism by rubbing on the affected part and for colds by rubbing on the chest. The bone is pounded into powder to make chalk (ale) used in spinning cotton thread and also as material for decorating the interior walls of living rooms. The excreta from the intestine are rubbed on children suffering from swollen stomach. The excreta are also mixed with grasses (rauno) and mud (kasa) used as building material or added to water and scrubbed on the floor of living rooms for decoration and beautification. Finally, excreta form a major source of manure for farming. The hides of mules are used as cotitainers (salka) for carrying loads.


By-products of sheep and goat used include the skins and the excreta. The skin is eaten as ganda, used as sitting mats, as praying mats in the case of sheep, as bellows (zuga) for tuyeres, as cover for drums, as loin-cloth (warki) for farming, as criss-aoss for shoes (suapa), as hand purses (burugami), and as cover for charms to be worn on the waist (guru), neck (rataya), or arm (kanbu), as well as for sword sheaths in the case of sheep skin. The skin also serves as a platform for spinning thread and by potters for shaping the necks and rims of pottery. The excreta serve as a source of manure.








Table 1. Inedible By-Products

Obtained from Meat

Animals and Their

Major Usages.


Raw By-






Hide (cattle

and calves)









Pork skins


Pelts (sheep

and goat






Fats (cattle










































Inedible tallow





Dry bone





Bone meal



Blood albumen




Blood meal







leather goods


Paper boxes,







Leather goods









Industrial oils,


soap glycerin





Steel, refining



Animal feed,





Textile sizing


Animal feed








It is apparent that the by-products of meat animals, both wild and domestic, are extensively used among traditional rural societies in Niger State. Such materials play a role in diverse areas such as entertainment (drum covers), the production of metal implements, the manufacture of pottery, the spinning of cotton thread, and the manu­facture of the bow.



This paper was originally presented at the First National Seminar/Workshop, on “The Economic Impact of Hides and Skins Production,” organized by the National Research Institute for Chemical Technology, Zaria, and the Federal Government of Livestock and Pest Control Services at Daula, Kano on August 15-16, 1989. This writer is grateful to the organizers of the workshop, especially Dr. A. S. Mshelbwala Director of N.A.R.I.C.T., for inviting him to the seminar.



Aganga, A. D., and Belino, E. D.

1983  Slaughter of pregnant animals and its effect on the leather industry. Journal of Leather Research 1 (1): 9-14.


Nadel, S. F.

1969  A Black Byzantium: the Kingdom of Nupe in Nigeria. Oxford: Oxford University Press.