History of Nigerian Traditional Arts and Crafts

The history of Nigerian Traditional Arts And Crafts is an artistic tradition that dates back thousands of years, years before the Nigerian man conceptualized such creations as art. While much of the country’s early art had a religious or spiritual significance, many of the traditional arts and crafts evolved over time to include practical and decorative items. Although, the recorded history of traditional Nigerian art can only properly be traced to less than two hundred years of documentation.

History of Nigerian Traditional Arts and Crafts



Many of the local arts and crafts are regional, but most large markets in the major cities sell items from all over the country. There is an endless list of traditional artworks and their origins. Only our ancestors can fully explain how it all started.

Art itself is an expression of the author/artist/artiste’s imaginative activities. Art can be visual, audio and performed. There is art in every life form. Art is the most unexplainable concept as its meaning varies among individuals. Art is a medium of expression, art is whatever the creator says it is. With different styles and techniques, Nigerian art has evolved from ancient yet remained same at the same time. Nigerian art has always been daring and crafty, with deep cultural meaning just like Nigerian art of today. The only difference is in the stories they tell. Below is a list of Nigerian Traditional Art from time.


Archaeologists in Nigeria have found a tradition of sculpture that dates to at least 500 B.C. Statues and figurines made of ceramic, bronze, terra cotta and brass have been found in Nigeria. Bronze casting is a traditional art found mostly in the southwestern area of the country. Nigerian bronze-work often is used to depict striking lifelike statues and masks. Example of such Nigerian traditional art is called the Nok Art.

Nok Art originates from an early culture which existed among the Iron age population called the Nok culture. This culture was named after a Ham village called Nok. Nok village rested right above the Benue river in modern-day Kaduna state. The Nok culture appeared in northern Nigeria around 1000 BC and vanished under unknown circumstances around 500 AD, thus having lasted approximately 1,500 years. Iron use forging and melting are unique to Nok culture. Terracotta sculptures are the most popular Nok art. Though the art pieces are assumed to have been made between 500BC and 200 AD, they were first discovered in 1928.


Large wooden masks are part of the animist faith of the Yoruba people, which pre-dates Christianity in the country. The masks often are painted, and believers wear them at funerals and other ceremonies to appease the spirits. The Yoruba festival of Gelede, in the southwest of Nigeria, which celebrates female elders, uses large, elaborately carved masks that depict lifelike women’s faces and fighting animals.



The Yoruba use a shrub to create indigo-colored batik-dyed cloth. In Ife, Osogbo, Abeokuta and Ibadan, women traditionally do the dying, while in the north, the craft is practiced almost exclusively by men. Weavers throughout the country produce brightly colored cloth with patterned designs. Oyo state is known for its fine loom cloths, while cloth from Abia state uses a broadloom technique.


Pottery has a long tradition in Nigeria. Pottery from 100 B.C. was found at the archaeological site Iwo Eleru, and terra cotta artifacts dating from A.D. 800 were found at Ile Ife. Today Suleja, Abuja and Ilorin are considered important centers of traditional pottery, although the craft is practiced throughout the country. Many of the pieces are large vessels with intricate carvings. Potters in Nigeria are often female, and it is common practice for the techniques to be handed down through families.


Carved ivory is used for jewelry and small decorative items, as well as for figures placed at altars in honor of ancestors. Woodcarvers create decorative practical implements, such as household utensils, but also figurines, shrines and decorative panels and doors for the home. The most famous woodcarving comes from Oyo, Benin, Awka and Osogbo. Woven grass is used to make baskets, fans, hats and small tables, while cane weaving creates larger household furniture such as tables and chairs. Glass and coral beads are created by craftsmen who usually inherit the profession; the beads often are applied to small charms, such as the ibej doll, a symbol of good luck.

We hope you enjoyed reading our post on the History of Nigerian Traditional Arts and Crafts. You can shop online or at our studio store for several carefully selected range of art & crafts products such as portrait painting, sculptures, terracotta, African masks, and more for you as we house an array of Nigerian arts and crafts ready to fill your spaces. Click this button below to shop online from the comfort of your phone and enjoy nationwide doorstep delivery at lowest rates.



Leave a Comment