Nupe people

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The Nupe, traditionally called the Tapa by the neighbouring Yoruba, are an ethnic group located primarily in the Middle Belt and northern Nigeria, and are the dominant group in Niger State, an important minority in Kwara State and present in Kogi State as well.


The Nupe trace their origin to Tsoede who fled the court of Idah and established a loose confederation of towns along the Niger in the 15th century. The proximity of Nupe to the Yoruba Igbomina people in the south and to the Yoruba Oyo people in the southwest led to cross-fertilization of cultural influences through trade and conflicts over the centuries.

Many Nupe were converted to Islam at the end of the eighteenth century by Mallam Dendo, a wandering preacher, and were incorporated into the Fulani Empire established by the Jihad led by Usman dan Fodio after 1806.

However, the traditions of Nupe were retained, hence the ruler of Nupe is the Etsu Nupe rather than being called Emir. The city of Bida fell to the colonialist British forces in 1897, the Etsu Abubakar was deposed and replaced by the more pliable Muhammadu (Vandeleur 1898). During the reign of Muhammadu, a Prince named Jimada moved to Patigi, northeast of Bida (not to be confused with near-identically spelt Pategi, southwest of Bida, on the southern and opposite bank of the Niger River) protesting against being ruled by a Fulani (Vandeleur 1898). Now Jimada’s descendants are fighting for the post of Etsu Nupe claiming to be the only existing pure Nupe ruling family.[citation needed] The present Etsu Nupe is Yahaya Abubakar.[1]

More detail on the history of the Nupe kingdoms can be found in Burdon (1909), Nadel (1942), Hogben & Kirk-Greene (1966:261-282) and Mason (1981).

Population and demography[edit]

There are probably about 3.5 million Nupes, principally in Niger State, although a small but growing diaspora of Nupe can be found in Knowle in the West Midlands of England. The Nupe language is also spoken in Kwara and Kogi States. They are primarily Muslims, with a few Christians and followers of African Traditional Religion. The Nupe people have several local, traditional rulers. The Etsu Nupe (Bida) is not Nupe and is actually part of the Fula tribe but they came to rule the Bida in the 1806. They have no present capital, although they were originally based at Rabah and only moved to Bida in the nineteenth century.

Historical links to other tribes[edit]

The Nupe people have been recognized for their tremendous achievements in the history of the black race, according to valuable information from the work of the renowned anthropologist, Professor S.F. Nadel, the author of the Black Byzantine, who spent over 20 years in Nupe Land and spoke Nupe fluently in those hectic years of anthropological research. His adopted Nupe name was Ndakotsu Nasara (Etsu’s grandfather, the white man).

The Nupe people have historical links with the Hausas of Katsina, Kano and Borno people. This is evident with few examples. Both the towns of Abaji and Eggan have traditions which confirm that they were founded by men from Katsina. Bokane was first settled by a man from Kano (Hausa: Bakano i.e. a Kano man) while Kutigi and Enagi became the homes of settlers from Borno whose origin gave the whole region its name, Benu. They are said to be specifically from Kukawa.

Despite the ever-increasing connection in social and commercial relationships which gradually spread over Nupeland from the north, we must not lose sight of the fact that the Nupe culture, especially prior to the nineteenth century, was firmly linked to that of its neighbours across the River Niger. Due to overwhelming data on Yoruba history over that of other Nupe neigbouring tribes such as Igala, Gwari and Borgu we can see through documentation and interactions of the long-term connection between Yoruba and Nupe. There is reason to accept the evidence, in this connection, of major shifts in population as well as the emigration of individuals and small groups. For instance western Nupe had once been settled by Yoruba-speaking people who, it was gathered, as a result of integration moved to the south of the River Niger.

It has been interesting to note that historically, it is established that Oranmiyan, a descendant of Oduduwa, the founder of the Yoruba race, married Elempe, the daughter of the Nupe King. Their son was the powerful thundering Sango; thus he was half-Nupe, half-Yoruba. He later became the Alaafin (King) of Oyo Empire. After Sango’s brother invaded the Nupe people during his reign as the king of Oyo, the Etsu-Nupe, known then to the Yoruba as Lajomo, fought back strongly and the evidence of that historical event could be traced to Ede and Ilesha and the conquest of Oyo Empire. However, events of the following years showed that the relationship between the Nupe people and, the Yoruba became to be cordial. This explains the introduction of Egugu into Yoruba land by the Nupe. Subsequently, with the introduction of Islam into Nupe Land, it equally spread fast to the neighbouring Yoruba towns like Offa and Ibolo communities.

Also, during the 1980s and 1990s, the wind of unity blew across the entire Nupe speaking communities in Niger, Kwara and Kogi states. For instance, this period witnessed a clamour for Ndaduma State, a dream that is still dear to the hearts of Nupes in Niger, Kwara and Kogi states. The recent approval and construction of a major road and bridge across River Niger through Nupeko the historic headquarters of the Nupes to Pategi is a development

Traditions, art and culture[edit]

The Nupe people have various traditions. Much of their culture was diluted by the Usman Dan Fodio jihad of the 19th century, but they still hold on to some of their culture which is very similar to that of ancient Egypt. Many Nupe people often have tribal scars on their faces (similar to an old Yoruba tradition), some to identify their prestige and the family of which they belong as well as for protection, as well as jewelry adornment. But these traditions are dying out in certain areas. Their art is often abstract. They are well known for their wooden stools with patterns carved onto the surface.

The Nupe were described in detail by the ethnographer Siegfried Nadel, whose book, Black Byzantium, remains an anthropological classic.


  • Blench, R.M. (1984) "Islam among the Nupe." Muslim peoples. (ed. 2) Westview Press, Boulder, Colorado.
  • Forde, D. (1955) The Nupe. pp. 17–52 in Peoples of the Niger-Benue Confluence. IAI, London.
  • Ibrahim, Saidu 1992. The Nupe and their neighbours from the 14th century. Ibadan: Heinemann Educational books.
  • Madugu, I.G. [as George I.] (1971) The a construction in Nupe: Perfective, Stative, Causative or Instrumental. In Kim C-W. & Stahlke H. Papers in African Linguistics, I' pp. 81–100. Linguistic Research Institute, Champaign.
  • Perani, J.M. (1977) Nupe crafts; the dynamics of change in nineteenth and twentieth century weaving and brassworking. Ph.D. Fine Arts, Indiana University.
  • Stevens, P. (1966) Nupe woodcarving. Nigeria, 88:21-35.
  • The Nupe People of Nigeria by Mohammed Kuta Yahaya. Nigeria, 95:1-2


  1. ^ Kasim Sule (September 12, 2003). "Yahaya Abubakar Kusodu becomes 13th Etsu Nupe". Daily Trust. Retrieved 2010-09-04.