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  • Judith Perani


Kwa-speaking people, numbering some 400,000, living in Niger State, Nigeria, along the banks of the Niger River, and forming part of the Middle Belt. They are well known for their textiles, brasswork and wood-carving, though Nupe craftsmen and women have also worked in glass, pottery and a variety of other materials. Many museums with African holdings have examples of Nupe art. The Museums für Völkerkunde in Berlin, Hamburg and Leipzig have good collections of Nupe brasswork.

Nupe oral history credits the cultural hero Tsoede with the unification of the Nupe kingdom during the 15th century. Tsoede became the first Nupe sovereign, establishing a dynasty of Nupe kings, which reigned until 1850 when the Nupe were conquered by the Fulani and incorporated into the Sokoto Caliphate. The Caliphate’s need for commercial and prestige goods provided a major impetus to art production. With Fulani patronage, traditional Nupe art products were further elaborated, some, such as embroidered gowns, coming to symbolize Caliphate authority. As Caliphate representatives, Fulani emirs and members of the political and military élite also commissioned art products. The Fulani emirs are still considered the custodians of cultural tradition, this being made manifest in the royal regalia displayed at Sallah festivals (...

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