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Ethnic Groups In Nigeria: The Awak People


Introduction / History

The Awak people are located in the southeast corner of Bauchi State in Nigeria. This district is well-watered, and the terrain varies from high plateaus to rich plains. The Awak are a small ethnic group, speaking Awak, an Adamawa language. They use Hausa as a secondary or trade language.

Awak history tells us its people migrated from Yemen centuries ago. Over the years, the Awak resisted powerful forces, fighting and conquering various peoples. For many years, they could not be overpowered. Finally, during European colonization, the Awak were overthrown.

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The Awak are closely related to the Tangale people who live west of them and with whom they share similarities in marriage customs, religious practices, music, and dances. The Awak also speak the same language and hold many of the same traditions as those of the Cham and Waja ethnic groups.

Socio-Economic Characteristics of the Awak People

Most Awak are farmers. Their principal crops are millet, maize, groundnuts, and guinea corn. Awak also engages in hunting, fishing, and trading. Men’s responsibilities include hunting, tending to livestock, and doing most of the fishing; women are responsible for helping the men with farming, caring for the children, and performing domestic duties.

When compared to many other peoples in the region, the Awak are somewhat modernized. They desire an education for their children; however, due to the need for help on family farms, only some children attend schools, and those enrolled cannot always be present regularly. Primary schools are located in Awak and other villages, but there is no secondary school in the area.

Traditional Structure and Customs

The Awak are divided into clans and live in compact villages surrounded by walls or hedges. Huts are usually round with cone-shaped thatched roofs and mud walls.

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Arranged marriages are typical in other African groups of this region, but the Awak allow a man to choose a wife for himself. He must pay the girl’s family a “bride-price” which usually includes goats, a number of fowls, a necklace, and pieces of metal. He must also do farm work for the girl’s father in order to “earn” his bride. On the wedding day, the bride takes her household utensils with her to the groom’s house where the groom awaits to offer her the food he has prepared. The village then gathers for two days of festivities to finalize the marriage.

Seven days after the birth of a child, the child’s father prepares food and takes it as an offering to the Lole who is the personification of occult power. The priest or the parents of the child then name the infant. When a boy reaches the age of ten, he is taken to the priest to be blessed. After the blessing, the boy’s relatives gather together to celebrate by holding a great feast.

The Awak have distinct tribal markings which are considered beautiful and which distinguish one ethnic group from another. Both men and women have lines cut into their skin that run down the front of both arms. Women also have a deep line from the centre of the forehead to the end of the nose and more lines from the top of the head to the jaw-bone.

Religious Beliefs

A majority of all Awak still follow their traditional religion. In this religion, each clan sets up a circular shrine in a cave. The clan then places buffalo horns all around. The people make sacrifices at the shrine and sprinkle blood on the buffalo horns to atone for their wrong-doings.

The priest (only an inherited title) prays to Yambah, “the supreme deity.” The Awak believe evil-doers will be punished and those who have lived good lives will live in heaven with Yambah and his son.


Joshua Project

Featured image source: Joshua Project

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Jeremiah Aluwong

Jeremiah is a scholar and a poet. He has a keen eye for studying the world and is passionate about people. He tweets at @jeremiahaluwong.

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