23 December 2016
Nasarawa State has the greatest tendency of being in the international scene with its well preserved cultural heritage – and this has been the dream.
Its realization is being vigorously pursued by the people’s determination, and the target is very much near.
This is because in recent years Nasarawa has held strongly the cultural flag for Nigeria since the Festival of Art and Culture (FESTAC 77), by bagging awards and laurels on cultural rebirth in the state.
For four years, first place has become its exclusive preserve in major cultural competitions as the state went to four National Festivals of Arts and Culture (NAFEST), and emerged first.
NAFEST is one programme initiated to foster understanding among Nigeria’s diverse ethnic groups.
Through this initiative, national unity is enhanced when Nigerians of diverse cultural backgrounds come together to exhibit and appreciate each others’ cultures.
Crafts, weaving, traditional dances, children’s creative designs and music performance, food fair and traditional wrestling, among others are entered for competition.
It is in these areas that Nasarawa has been emerging as over-all winner with golden gong awards.
The annual Abuja Carnival, which commenced soon after NAFEST, is another area where Nasarawa showcased its rich heritage. The state yet again emerged No. 1 at the Carnival for the third time, breaking all known records in carnival competitions in Nigeria.
The story of Nasarawa’s success can be traced to it many ethnic groups. The state’s cultural richness is not in detachment to its diverse ethnical background.
Nasarawa’s 24 ethnic groups are Alago, Arum, Agatu, Afo, Bassa, Buh, Eggon, Egbura, Fulani, Gade, Gbagyi, Gwandara, Hausa, Jukun, Kantana, Kanuri, Koro, Kulere, Mada, Migli, Nyamkpa, Ninzam, Rindre and Tiv.
These ethnic groups spread across the 13 local government areas of Akwanga, Awe, Doma, Karu, Keana, Keffi, Kokona, Lafia, Nasarawa, Nasarawa-Eggon, Obi, Toto and Wamba.
The state shares boundaries with five other states, and Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), all within the North-Central and North-East zones of the country.
These are: FCT in the North-West, Plateau in the North-East, Kaduna in the North, Benue in the South, Kogi in the South-West, and Taraba in the South-East.
The multi-ethnic nature of the state, coupled with its common borders with other states, makes it a melting point of Nigeria’s cultures.
The various ethnic groups share similar history and rich social and cultural ideologies, just as there is a similarity between cultures and those of the ethnic groups of the bordering states.
Fabric design, traditional dishes, food, language, beliefs and the general values among the people of Nasarawa on one hand, and those of the neighbouring states on the other look almost the same. Inter-marriage has crowned this, making Nasarawa one large family of about 3.1 million people.
During his tenure, Former Governor Aliyu Akwe Doma, he broke such great records. He has sat firm as Nigeria’s Ambassador of Culture because of his international recognition in that area. He directed FESTAC 77.
In Nigeria’s Culture and Tourism industry, he is the Chief Guardian. In his own right, he is an artist and performer.
Exactly 30 years later – in 2007, serving as governor of Nasarawa, Doma was to sit as father of young and upcoming artists, dancers, wood carvers, cooks of various traditional dishes, weavers of traditional fabrics, men, women and children of various cultural troupes while they performed in Makurdi, Benue State at that year’s NAFEST.
The state contingent went to that competition with a national anthem called “Nasarawa Na Baba.” The state emerged the overall winner of that competition.
The performance in Uyo  was superlative. The state contingent put up its pavilion with a content that was an embodiment of its culture.
The contingent’s artistic director, Professor Victor Dugga simply described it as “the blend of old and new, nature and nurture, the traditional and orthodox.”
Named “Blue Pavilion”, a name given because of its color which drew inspiration from one of Nasarawa’s precious stone deposits – Aquamarine.
The stand had at its entrance two colorful animal horns, representing the rich wildlife, flora and fauna in the state. It offered an atmosphere of fresh breath with a rich collection of arts and crafts: pottery, weaving, paintings, carving, beading and knitting.
The physical performances and documentaries that came out of this Pavilion to thrill the crowd in Uyo were excellent.
First were the traditional wrestlers, both in the intermediate and senior categories. With only loin cloths to cover their nakedness, the wrestlers – strong young men, all of ebony complexion, typifying the Nasarawa indigene, stormed the arena with bare feet.
Their chests heavy with the breast regions standing out like blocks, and the muscles on their arms like slabs.
They wrestled over 15 states because they were the defending champions. They had a stiff competition, one that was fairly judged. They lost the golden gong, but picked silver.
The traditional dance and music group retained the golden gong. The state cultural troupe is made up of about 36 performers including dancers and drummers.
During all the performances, the drummers gathered at the arena, adjusting their musical instruments. Chief Drummer, Bawa Abare is highly respected by his men.
He would simply snap a finger in the air, and the drums will roar and vibrate. At this time, Troupe Leader, Elizabeth Akombo would have lined up her dancers, ready to enter the arena and unwind.
In Uyo, the troupe had a unique way of coming out; the dancers mixed with spectators at different locations. At the scream of some traditional song from Elizabeth, the dancers would appear from different directions and run in a single file, unwinding.
The men on the dance team are young and good. But the ladies; also young and good, are the main attraction. They are beautiful, slim built, and have athletic statures. In their uniformed make-ups, they are a faint resemblance of Aphrodite, the Greek sensual goddess of love and beauty.
Their costume is mainly a strap of animal skin with cowries holding tight to it. The leather hangs loosely on their waist to expose large girdles of colourful beads. When they danced, Uyo was electrified. They returned with the golden gong.
Traditional arts and crafts also returned the golden gong. Ahmadu Albarka is famed for carving. His display and exhibition at Uyo was excellent.
Although, in 2014 Ebonyi emerged tops at the 28th edition of the festival by winning six events– Arts and craft, documentary, traditional cuisine, essay writing, traditional storytelling and traditional wrestling.
Bayelsa won the 2013 and the 2016 NAFEC which is the 29th edition of NAFEST held in Uyo. The festival which started on 2 October had the theme, “Exploring the Goldmine Inherent in Nigeria’s Creative Industries.” However, Nasarawa remains the highest award winner of the NAFEC Contest.
It is also refreshing to note that, recently, the Security Watch Africa awarded the state on Security potency. Further more, Gov. Umaru Tanko Almakura received best Governor of the Year on Security Matters, in recondition of the outstanding performance and improvement on security. Also, the Nasarawa Police Command also received an award for being the most proactive police command in the country for their efforts.