In you are of Nigerian heritage and live in the United States, you want your children to know about Nigeria’s rich culture and traditions. Visit Nigeria if you can, but if you cannot go as frequently as you would like, you and your preschooler or toddler can complete activities at home that may help them learn about their motherland.
Celebrate a traditional masquerade that is held in the southern city of Lagos. It’s called the Eyo Festival, and in the local Yoruba dialect, “eyo” means a person wearing a white mask. The festival is held to commemorate the life of someone important who has died. This activity is an excellent way to help an older preschool child grieve for a pet. Tell him that in Nigeria, people dance with masks on while dressed in white flowing garments and make a parade to celebrate life. For a child who is only 2 or 3 -- or for a more sensitive preschooler -- simply make a mask and discuss how wearing it is an old Nigerian custom. Make a lion cub mask and tell your child how lions once roamed freely over the savannas in Nigeria. Use a picture to draw your lion cub, or find one online. You should cut out the picture or help with the drawing, and your child can color black lines for whiskers. With a hole punch, make two holes on each side about midway on the mask. Put string through the holes and tie it around your child’s head.
Nigeria has a long history of oral storytelling. To teach your child about this important tradition and to illustrate the story of the clever African arachnid, you can both complete an Anansi spider using a small paper cup, pipe cleaners, scissors and a felt-tip marker. To make Anansi’s body, help her turn the cup upside-down and use the marker to color a spider face and body however she wants. Using four long pipe cleaners, poke them into the side of the cup, close to the bottom, all on one side. Reaching into the cup, bend the pipe cleaners back toward the cup to hold them in place. Fold the pipe cleaners that protrude outside the cup into “leg” shapes. Repeat these steps for the other side of the cup. Now your daughter has her very own Anansi spider to use while you read one of the Anansi stories. Tell her how telling stories is a tradition from Nigerian history, and by listening to stories she is helping keep that tradition alive.
In Nigeria, dance is a part of every major celebration. To help your child understand the importance of dance in Nigerian culture, play some authentic Nigerian music on a CD or your computer. Teach your daughter how to hold herself upright and “play the drums with her feet” by stomping her feet in time to the drums in the music. Even if your daughter is just 2 or 3, she will enjoy this step. Older kids, those 4 or 5, can go further. Tell your preschooler that traditional African dance is based on watching the movements of people, animals and the elements -- wind, water, earth and fire -- in the everyday world. Incorporate more advanced movements if your child seems ready, and join in the fun yourself. Moving in time to the beat of the music, you and she can go in a circular pattern, with either your child or you periodically moving to the center to “perform.” Make sweeping movements to the floor as you step in time. You don’t have to do sophisticated dance moves; just have fun and keep it about the rhythm of the music.
Make a traditional Nigerian ekwe drum to accompany your dance. In the eastern part of Nigeria, native people make a drum from a log from the “ube” or “orji” tree and play them with a wooden stick or a rubber-tipped mallet. For your “log” drum, use a large brown paper sack, three or more juice cans, green paper, strong tape such as duct tape, a large brown grocery sack and clear tape. Mom should carefully open both ends of the cans, ensuring the ends have no sharp edges. Show your toddler or preschooler how to use the duct tape to secure the cans together to make a log shape. Open up the paper bags with scissors; again, Mom should do this step. Let your child help you carefully roll the brown paper around the log and tape it securely. With brown or black crayons or markers, draw a wood-grain pattern on the paper. Using the green paper, cut out leaf shapes and tape them under the drum. Use plain wooden sticks as your drumsticks.