Located on the west coast of Africa, Nigeria is the seventh most populous country in the world — and one in six Africans is Nigerian. Its megacity Lagos is the hub of commerce for the country, and it’s also knows for its epic nightlife, bustling street markets, influential music scene, and Nollywood, the second-largest film industry in the world (to the tune of 1500 movies per year).
Most countries embody contradictions, but Nigeria takes it to extremes. There’s vast wealth (thanks to its oil reserves) right next door to poverty; one-third of the population lives below the poverty line. Devout religious beliefs rub elbows with government corruption.
Despite all that, or perhaps because of it, Nigerian culture is boisterous, colorful, and exuberant, shaped by both religions and tribal tradition. The population is split almost 50/50 between Christianity and Islam. And there are more than 250 ethnic groups in the country. The three prominent are the northern, Muslim Hausa-Fulani; the southwestern (and most West-aligned) Yoruba; and the Christian Igbo in the southeast.
English is the official language — Hello, British colonization! — but more than 500 languages are spoken in Nigeria. The shared language amongst most people is Nigerian Pidgin, a creole language that combines local dialects, slang, and English words. When someone asks, ‘How far?’ they want to know how you’re doing. And you can answer, ‘I dey.’ (Fine!)
In this episode, we explore Nigeria’s past and present, including the deliciously carb-centric and spicy food. Then we discuss five books that took us there on the page, including a sci-fi-noir novel, an evocative travelogue, a darkly comic story of sisterly love, a multi-generational family saga featuring Nigerian cuisine, and the tale of a village girl on a quest for an education.
Read the full transcript of Episode 19: Nigeria.
Afrobeat vs. Afrobeats: Don’t confuse the two — it’s a faux pas! Read all about the difference between these two music labels.
Lagos Street Food Tour: The Best Ever Food Review Show hits the streets of Lagos for puff puffs, Abacha (salad), plantains, and more.
Nigerian Pidgin: Wikipedia has lots of details about Nigerian Pidgin; here’s a list of 20 useful words and phrases in Pidgin; and you can visit the BBC News website in Pidgin. This article describes how the BBC is working to document what has been, until now, only an oral language.
Song Queen: A Pidgin Opera: In 2015, the first opera written in West African Pidgin was performed in Lagos. It tells the story of Mami Wata, a mermaid-like creature from African folklore. Here’s a lovely video of one of the songs, and this piece from the BBC has more details about the show and audio clips. _’ I went to the opera wearing my ankara,’ creator Jayne Isibor explained, indicating her jewel-bright Nigerian clothes, which caused a stir among the black-tie wearing opera regulars. ‘And I thought, actually, I’m going to pidgin this entire situation up!’
This should, perhaps, never have happened. A for effort?
Tade Thompson: The author of our recommended book Rosewater talks to The Guardian about his novel and his other career as a doctor.
Francesca Ekquyasi: The author of our recommended book Butter Honey Pig Bread talks about her novel with the CBC and explains how food is the ‘punctuation between all the talking’.
Subscribe to our podcast so you never miss a must-read book or thrilling destination!
If we're not available on your favorite podcast-listening platform, send us an email!
Top image courtesy of Alucardion.
Want to keep up with our book-related adventures? Sign up for our newsletter!
Strong Sense of Place is a website and podcast dedicated to literary travel and books we love. Reading good books increases empathy. Empathy is good for all of us and the amazing world we inhabit.
If you like the work we do, you can help support us through our Patreon! That'll unlock additional content, too — like Mel's recipe for Banh Mi Bowls, and Dave's behind-the-scenes notes for the latest Two Truths and a Lie.
This is a weekly email. If you'd like a quick alert whenever we update our blog, subscribe here.
We'll share enough detail to help you decide if a book is for you, but we'll never ruin plot twists or give away the ending.
This 30-page Reading Atlas takes you around the world with dozens of excellent books and gorgeous travel photos. Get your free copy when you subscribe to our newsletter.