Nigeria Unit Study: Week 2

This week we will continue learning about The Benin Kingdom, their rich history, artful skills and remarkable advancements in technology and engineering. We will be introduced to two different chapter books and learn about the unique landscapes found in Nigeria. Through our lessons, we will discuss the sad history of the slave trade and how this affected millions of people in Nigeria for centuries. We will learn and enjoy the music, art, and dance of Nigeria and, finally, we end the week with yams! Start by downloading and printing off your skills tracker. Now, let’s begin!

What you need:

Books (find at your local library or order below on Amazon):

Chapter books:

Supplies (use what you have, but here are links to shop if you need anything):

Note: We break down our supply list so you can choose what you need based on which lessons you plan to do with your child.

Pottery activity:

“Wooden” paper bowl activity:

Hut design:

Minecraft, or air-dry modeling clay, or by drawing it on paper.

Shekere craft:

Thumb piano:

Quicksand activity:

Rock exploration activity:

Sprouting yams activity:

Garlic mashed yams recipe:

Nigerian meat pie recipe:

What to do:

We recommend doing the below lessons in this order to build on each skill your child will develop, but don’t feel that you *need* to do them in this order. Do what works for you and your child. If they love an activity, feel free to repeat! Not a winner? Skip and try the next thing. Have fun!

Lesson 1:

Note to parents: This week will discuss some sad and difficult parts of history. We have published the article Why Historical Truth is Essential to help you navigate some of these difficult topics. 

Activity 1: Read the book Arhuan the Giant. This magical, historical fiction picture book shares more details about the ancient Benin Kingdom. The first few pages of the book mention the character Okoro Osawe learning to speak, read, and write in Portuguese. What connection was there between the European nation of Portugal and the Kingdom of Benin? Read + Discuss this article to learn about their trading relationship. Discuss the topic together, focusing on what was traded between Benin and Portugal and the nature of their relationship.

West Africans had traded with Europeans through merchants in North Africa for centuries. The first traders to sail down the West African coast were the Portuguese in the 15th century. The Dutch, British, French, and Scandinavians followed. They were interested in precious items such as gold, ivory, and spices, particularly pepper. But, as you probably know, it didn’t end there. Traders soon became human traffickers. That means they treated people like property that could be traded, stolen, and sold.

Activity 2: Affonso d’Aveiro (as pictured in the statue below) was one of first Portuguese tradesmen to deal with the Benin Kingdom.

(Image of Aveiro’s statue in Portugal – source)

When Aveiro reached Benin in 1486, what he found was a large and advanced country with a city comparable to those in Europe. The people of the kingdom—the Edo people—lived in a city and towns run by a centralized and sophisticated bureaucracy. The roads were wide, long, and straight, with huge metal lamps hanging many feet high to provide light at night. The people lived in large houses with courtyards and dressed in beautiful cloth made in the kingdom.

Aveiro was astounded by the high level of organization and wealth of the country and described it as the “great city of Benin.” He quickly established a diplomatic and trade relationship between Portugal and Benin and stayed behind as Portugal’s emissary in the kingdom. The King of Benin also sent several emissaries from Benin to Portugal at different times. This relationship between the Portuguese and Edo people in the region shaped the pidgin spoken in the Niger Delta region today and also—what may be a surprise to many—Portuguese creole. (source)

Read The Genius of the Benin Kingdom, pages 18 and 19, to read about trade in the Benin Kingdom. For hundreds of years, most of the West African coast was purged of their natural resources. African exports consisted primarily of gold, ivory, and pepper. Unfortunately, it also included people. (source) An estimated 3. 5 million people were enslaved and taken to Europe and the Americas from Nigeria. (source)

The Portuguese and other Europeans encouraged African kings and merchants, who captured huge numbers of enslaved people during their own wars, to become the main suppliers of the slave market. The Kingdom of Benin banned slavery by the mid-16th century. (source) Nevertheless, the Portuguese continued to trade people by kidnapping Africans to sell as slaves. By the 16th century, the Portuguese and the Spanish took people from all over West Africa to work on plantations in South and Central America. (source: Oyo, Benin, Ashanti: The Guinea Coast) The English later took enslaved people to England and North America. Because the people that were taken took along their language and culture, influences from West Africa can be seen all over Europe and North and South America. Literature, art, music, cooking, and language are just some of the areas that have been significantly influenced by people of African descent. (source)

Let’s do a critical thinking exercise! Discuss together the statue of Averio. This monument, dedicated to Joao Afonso, was funded by the Ministry of Public Works. The Portuguese sculptor Cunha Vaz unveiled it on July 5, 1959. It represents one of the men who made a large contribution to the history of Portugal, having participated in the expedition to the Minas (1481) and the discovery of the Rivers Zaire and Congo. (source) Averio also participated in the slave trade. Should society continue to honor people in their history who also participated in crimes? What are the potential risks of this? Who is benefited? Who is harmed?

(+) Read The Kidnapped Prince: The Life of Olaudah Equiano by Ann Cameron together. This story is about a boy who was kidnapped at the age of 11 from his home in Benin, Africa. Olaudah Equiano spent the next 11 years as a slave in England, the U.S., and the West Indies, until he was able to buy his freedom. His autobiography, published in 1789, was a bestseller in its own time. Author Ann Cameron has modernized and shortened it while remaining true to the spirit of the original. It’s a gripping story of adventure, betrayal, cruelty, and courage. In searing scenes, Equiano describes the savagery of his capture, the appalling conditions on the slave ship, the auction, and the forced labor. We encourage reading this book together (or reading it in tandem with your child) so you can have extended conversations about the content.

Activity 3: After Portugal, England had a stronghold on the Edo people. They were trade “partners” who wanted more and more control over the people. Read more about the relationship between England and the Edo people in book Osasu and the Great Wall of the Benin Empire, chapters 5-10. This story is about the first encounter between the English and the Edo people, their conflict over trade and the destruction of the Great Wall. 

The great Benin City is lost to history after its decline began in the 15th century. This decline was sparked by internal conflicts linked to the increasing European intrusion and slavery trade at the borders of the Benin empire. It was then completely ruined in the British Punitive expedition in the 1890s, when the city was looted, blown up and razed to the ground by British troops.(source)

Add details about this portion of Nigerian history to your lapbook.

Lesson 2:

Today, there are about 250 ethnic groups in Nigeria. Each has its own customs and language. The four largest groups are the Hausa, the Yoruba, the Igbo, and the Fulani. These groups have a long history in Nigeria that began when the people were ruled by kings and chiefs.

If you’re ready for another chapter book, introduce Children of the Quicksands to read the story of a thirteen-year-old Simi who lives in a remote village in Nigeria and be introduced to the Yoruba myths and legends while showcasing the wealth of traditions found in Nigeria.

Activity 1: Discover the Yoruba. The Yoruba are one of the largest African ethnic groups south of the Sahara Desert. They are, in fact, not a single group, but rather a collection of diverse people bound together by a common language, history, and culture. Within Nigeria, the Yoruba dominate the western part of the country. Yoruba mythology holds that all Yoruba people descended from a hero called Odua or Oduduwa. Today, there are over fifty individuals who claim kingship as descendants of Odua. (source)

Watch this video to learn more about the Yoruba people, the land they called home, and history of the people. (This video is about 25 minutes long, but it touches on so much of the history we will learn this week. Watch it in parts if your child can’t maintain attention for the entire video.)

Pottery is one of the crafts of ancient Nigeria that is still being practiced in most parts of the country today. Pottery is the combination of pots, dishes, and receptacles that are hand-built with clay and fired in a kiln or open fire to make them functional, durable, and permanent.

Read Nigeria Enchantment of the World, pages 43-45, and focus on the picture on page 45 in the book that highlights terracotta pottery. 

Let’s make our own Yoruba-inspired pottery. Much like the pottery of Nigeria, create a piece of pottery that serves a purpose, such as holding water. Decorate the pot to make it beautiful. Ancient pottery was fired in a kiln. Although homemade pottery can’t be “cooked” as it was in ancient times, let’s make pottery in the oven using this oven-baked modeling clay. Follow manufacturer directions to bake pottery. Once it is complete, paint and decorate it.

Field trip idea: Alternatively, plan a field trip to a pottery studio in your area. Look for a class for children that will allow them to mold pottery on a wheel and sent to fire in a kiln. Sometimes a second visit is required to glaze the pottery.

Activity 2: Discover the Hausa. Another ethnic group in Nigeria is the Hausa. Queen Amina from Week 1 (Lesson 3, Activity 3) was from the House of Hausa. Read and learn more about the Hausa people here

The different ethnic groups in Nigeria have different artist styles. Visit this website to see examples of Hausa, Yoruba, and Igbo arts and crafts. The Hausa Fulani tribes consist of 99% Muslim people, and their art is greatly influenced by the Muslim religion, which tends to be abstract, decorative, and include floral designs. The colors and patterns are related spirituality but not directly connected. Compared to Christian art, Islamic art is more creative than restrictive and includes all artistic traditions in the Muslim culture. Their artworks transcend time, space, language, and culture. Visit this page to see an example of a 19th century Hausa bowl and read the second paragraph description.

Let’s create a “wooden bowl” of our own made out of paper and Mod Podge (or watered-down glue).

What to do:

  1. Fill a balloon with a little water to help weigh it down. Next, finish blowing up the same balloon with air and tie it. Put it in a bowl with the tie facing down. 
  2. Take strips of paper and dip them in Mod Podge (or glue and water mix). Lay the paper on the balloon to form a circle shaped bowl.

3. Allow to completely dry. 

4. Paint the bowl and allow it to dry.

5. Remove the bowl from the balloon by carefully popping the balloon (remember there is some water inside). Trim the top edges of the bowl.

6. Decorate the outside of your “wooden bowl” by drawing or painting patterns, floral designs, or abstract art inspired by Hausa art. 

7. Next, paint the inside of your bowl brown and allow to dry completely.

Activity 3: Discover the Igbo. Let’s learn more about the Igbo people. Begin by reading the book A is for Africa (or read it here on OpenLibrary). Here’s a note from the author: “This alphabet is based on my own favourite images of the Africa I know. I come from the Igbo tribe and grew up in south-eastern Nigeria. It was in Nigeria that these photographs were taken…influences from the north of my country, as well as costumes and ornaments from the south.” 

In the book, H is for Hut. Ancient homes and some modern day homes in rural areas are built out of mud. Mud in many areas of the world is considered a chief building material. Clay soil is found in abundance on this planet, providing its inhabitants with sturdy homes. The remarkable thing about mud brick structures is their durability, with some mud buildings lasting for a thousand years. The shape of a hut helps keep the home cool, allowing the warm air to rise and keep the people inside cool. A hut was initially made with local building materials, but today you will see hut structures made of a variety of materials, from the simple to the luxurious. 

While most of the people in Nigeria live in homes like you see here, you might still see huts in some places. Today, huts have become very modern, as you can see here in this marketplace. Watch the roof being built in this video. (It’s a long video, so watch as much as you are interested in seeing.) Watch the first two minutes of this video showing a luxury hotel that is modeled after the hut design–it’s quite extraordinary! 

Design and create your own hut structure using Minecraft, using air-dry modeling clay, or by drawing it on paper. Design your hut with a variety of materials, while maintaining the thatched roof design.

Lesson 3:

Activity 1: Discover Music + Culture. Read Nigeria: Enchantment of the World, pages 105-109, to learn about the music and dance found in Nigeria. Next, watch this dance performance by children and this performance by Adunni & Nefretiti before government officials at the Iowa State Capital. (For more information about the all women singers, read this article.)

Activity 2: The shekere is a percussion instrument from Western Africa. The shekere consists of a dried gourd with a woven netting of beads covering the gourd. The instrument is played by slapping the bottom of the gourd and by shaking and twisting the netting in rhythmic patterns. The adjustable netting can be tightened for a quick response or loosened for a relaxed feel. Watch this video to learn how to play this instrument.

Make your own version of a shekere with this craft.

Activity 3: One of the oldest instruments in Nigerian history is the thumb piano. You can see one example here in the Australian Museum. A thumb piano is a small musical instrument made with metal strips fastened to a wooden box. The box has holes on top and on the sides. You could cover various holes to make different sounds when plucking the metal strips. The boxes came in many sizes to produce many sounds.  You can read about the thumb piano and see a picture of one in the book The Genius of the Benin Kingdom on page 23.

Watch this video to hear it being played. Next, make your own thumb piano with this tutorial.

Lesson 4:

Activity 1: Nigeria is also a place with a variety of wildlife and interesting natural phenomena. Let’s learn about some of these in the book Lake of the Big Snake (or read it here on OpenLibrary).

Has your child ever heard of quicksand like what the boys encounter in our book? Quicksand can look dry, like sand on a beach. But it is a mixture of clay, either sand or silt, and water—mostly water. Together, the ingredients form a jellylike mass with sand mixed throughout. When someone steps onto the quicksand, the mixture is jiggled. Then it flows like a liquid, and the sand starts sinking to the bottom. The more the person struggles, the more watery the quicksand becomes. A person won’t sink under, at most about halfway. Still, quicksand is dangerous because the thick sand below may trap a person far away from help. (source

Let’s bring it to life by making our own quicksand!

  • 1-1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1/2 cup sand
  • small plastic toys

Place cornstarch in a large bowl and add the water. Stir well. (It will be hard to stir at first, but eventually it will become smooth.) Add the sand and stir to combine. Once your mixture is done, place small plastic toys on the surface and watch them sink!

Your child might never encounter quicksand in person, but just in case, here’s a quick video that also helps explain how to escape if they ever find themselves in this sticky situation.

Activity 2: Rocks and caves of Nigeria.

(Source: Getty Images)

The large igneous rock pictured above is called Zuma Rock and is located outside the capital city, Abuja. Click this link to learn about Zuma Rock.

Next, let’s visit Olumo Rock. The name Olumo is made up of two words: “Olu,” which means (God) and “Mo,” which means (molded). The combination is translated as “what God molded.” Olumo Rock is 137 meters above sea level and is located in the Ikija area of Abeokuta, Ogun State, at the exact intersection of Ijemo-Alape Road and Ita-Bayinbo Street. The rock serves as the backdrop for Abeokuta, the capital of Ogun State, whose name means “Under the Rock.” (source) Read more about its history here. Watch this video to take a virtual tour of Olumo Rock. The guides also speak about the trees that surround the area.

Let’s take a science detour and learn more about rocks. Watch this video or (-) this video to learn about three types of rocks on earth. 

Next, download this PDF to reinforce what we’ve learned so far. Focus on pages 4-6 and 18 to discuss the three types of rocks and how rocks change over time. Do you have a rock collection or a rock kit? We have linked to one in our supply list. Use the “Rock Report” sheets on page 9 and 10 to investigate and report data on your rocks.

Lesson 5:

For our final day of lessons, let’s take a closer look at the history of a crucial crop of Nigeria, the yam.

Activity 1: Another important part of many Nigerian communities is the market place! Not only is this a place for shopping, but it is also where neighbors connect. Let’s read a fun story about many of the things you might find in a Nigerian market in the story Catch That Goat!: A Market Day in Nigeria (or read it here on OpenLibrary). 

Note: Be sure to read the end notes of the book. They provide many details about village life and the Yoruba tribe, their language, the market place, and the town of Ibadan.

Do you feel inspired by all the food seen at the marketplace? Great! Let’s grow some of our own! For our activity, we will use sweet potatoes, which are often confused with yams but are actually a very different vegetable. Follow these directions to sprout your own.

Activity 2: Markets are also a popular place to purchase a variety of foods and ingredients. One of the most important foods in Nigeria is the yam. It is so significant, the Igbo community even holds a festival every year to celebrate it! The New Yam Festival of the Igbo people is an annual cultural festival by the Igbo people that is held at the end of the rainy season in early August.  It is a celebration of life, accomplishments in the community, culture, and well-being. (source)

While the words “sweet potato” and “yam” are often used interchangeably in North America, the truth is that few people there have ever really eaten a yam. The African yam is rich and highly nutritional with rough, wrinkly, dark, and sometimes hairy skin and white to slightly yellow or cream-colored starchy flesh. (source)

If yams and sweet potatoes are different from each other, what caused their names to be used interchangeably? The answer: marketing. In the 1930s, a new sweet potato variety that was larger and sweeter, with soft orange flesh, was cultivated by Julian C. Miller at the Louisiana Sate University Agricultural Center. In order to differentiate it from the sweet potatoes that already existed (smaller, drier, and with white or yellowish flesh), sweet potato growers decided to call the new variety a yam—a word that is rooted in the West African words nyam, nyami, or enyame, which mean “to eat.” Communities of enslaved Africans were the first to refer to the sweet potato as a yam, as it reminded them of the ones they ate in Africa. (source)

One of the most common ways it is eaten in Nigerian cooking is as pounded yam, which has a doughy consistency and is often used to scoop up a stew or other food. For this reason, it is also called “swallow.”

Activity 3: Click here for an authentic mashed garlic yam recipe you can try with your child! You may also wish to make these meat pies to go along with the yams. Yum!

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Published by The Learn + Live Letter

The Learn + Live Letter is a play- and project-based homeschool curriculum for children ages 3-12.