Just like almost every other Nigerian tribe, the Nupe tribe is scattered over different states in Nigeria. However, they are predominantly found in Niger State, whereas a few numbers of them are found in Kogi, Kwa, and the Federal Capital Territory. The main towns where they are found are Bida, Minna, Agaie, Lapai, Mokwa, Jebba, Lafiagi, and Pategi. In Oyo State, as well as among many other Yoruba tribes, the Nupe are known as Tapa.
Originally, the Nupe referred to themselves as ‘Nupeci’ while only their language was referred to as ‘Nupe’. They are flanked by the Hausas, Yoruba, and Birnin-Gwari, who refer to them as Nufawa or Banufe, Tapa, and Anupeyi respectively.
The Nupe tribe is divided into subgroups; Ebe, Batau, Eghagi, Kyedye, Benu, Kusopa, Basa, Kede, Kupa, Dibo, Beni, Zam, Bataci, Gana-Gana, and Cekpan. However, the Beni, Kyedye, Zam, and Bataci are the most prominent groups.
The origin of the Nupe can be traced to Tsoede who was born to a Nupe mother and Igala father but was raised at the Igala court in Idah. He later left the court at Idah in the fifteenth century and established the Nupe kingdom, using the magical and symbolic regalia given to him by his father, the Igala king.
In the early nineteenth century, after the death of Tsoede, the city of Bida fell under the forces of the Fulani and the ruling king (Etsu) was deposed and replaced by another. Towards the end of that century, in 1898, one Prince Jimada moved to Patigi, the northeast of Bida, protesting against being ruled by a Fulani. Today, the descendants of Jimada claim to be the only existing pure Nupe ruling family and so deserve the post of Etsu Nupe.
Historical records have it that the Nupe used to have its capital at Raba before it was moved to Bida.
It is interesting to know that the Yoruba deity, who was once king, by the name of Sango, was also a descendant of Nupe (Tapa), although it was his mother who was from that tribe.
Although Islam was introduced to the Nupe by Mallam Dendo sometime around the end of the eighteenth century, they did not give up their traditions. Hence, their supreme ruler is still referred to as ‘Etsu Nupe’ as against the ‘Emir’ title which is recognized among the Fulanis. Nevertheless, much of their culture has been largely influenced by the Jihad.
Similar to the old Yoruba tradition, many Nupe people have tribal marks on their faces. This is believed to aid easy identification of pedigree, clan, or the family which they belong. They also do it for protection.
Also, the nearness of the Nupe to the Igbominas and Oyos has brought about a cross-breed of cultural influences and practices.
Kingship among the Nupe
After the conquest of the Nupeland by the Fulani rulers, Usman Zaki, the son of Mallam Dendo, who brought in Islam to Nupe, became the first Etsu Nupe in 1832. Since then, there have been thirteen Etsu Nupes.
There are three ruling houses in Bida; Usman Zaki, Masaba, and Umaru Majigi. The kingship of the Nupe kingdom rotates among these three ruling houses.
The commonest food among the Nupe is rice. It is prepared either as jollof rice or mashed rice (ejeboci). This is so because they are mainly into the cultivation of rice, which is a factor caused by the structure of their lands – lowland marshy areas.
They eat their rice with both smoked and fresh fish, which is readily available owing to the surrounding rivers. Those living close to these river banks engage in fishing as a means of livelihood. Hence, it would not be strange if a visitor is welcomed with rice and fish soup.
Other foods available to the Nupe are beans, potatoes, yam, and garri. Their snacks consist of kuli kuli, dankuwa, mashe, masa, and akara.
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