National Geographic : 1956 Sep
Progress and Pageantry in Changing Nigeria Bulldozers and Penicillin, Science and Democracy Come to Grips With Colorful Age-old Customs in Britain's Largest Colony 325 BY W. ROBERT MOORE Chief, Foreign Editorial Staff, National Geographic Magazine With Illustrations from Photographs by the Author JUNGLE drums talked in excited rhythms as bizarre, raffia-shrouded juju men pranced and twirled. Scimitar-waving horsemen charged past in medieval chain mail and bulky padded trappings. The occa sion: to welcome Queen Elizabeth II on her epochal visit to Nigeria early this year. Wherever the royal party stopped on its nearly 2,000-mile tour of the colony-from the steamy capital of Lagos in the south to mud-walled Kano in the north-gay crowds massed to shout their enthusiastic greetings. Local rulers, shaded by bright ceremonial parasols, paraded in rich flowing robes, or nate turbans, pink coral crowns (page 334). At Kaduna, capital of the Northern Region, the Moslem emirs and chieftains saluted the Queen at the first durbar, or gathering of princes, to be held for a British sovereign since King George V made his triumphal tour of India in 1911 (page 337). Probably not since her coronation had Queen Elizabeth witnessed such a brilliant display of pageantry. As for the Nigerians, her visit was for most of them the big event of their lives. It was the first time that a reigning British monarch had toured the colony, and they outdid themselves welcom ing her. No Longer the "White Man's Grave" Nigeria, a keystone wedged at the curve of Africa's western bulge, is Great Britain's largest colonial territory (map, page 330). For years, thanks to its tropical diseases and enervating heat, it bore the reputation of the "white man's grave." But modern medicine, sanitation, and economic development have largely erased that somber notoriety.* Today political progress also leavens the country. Though Nigeria still retains many of its native courts, ancient customs, and tribal ways, its people, with British assist ance, are acquiring the mechanics of repre sentative self-government. During her visit the Queen had ample op- portunity to observe this rapidly changing pattern of life. She attended the federal and regional parliaments, inaugurated the new Federal Courts System, visited new industrial and power installations. She saw methods of combating the dread tsetse fly menace and inspected educational and medical projects, including the leper colony on the Oji River. In three event-crammed weeks of travel she gained a vivid impression of the colony's di verse peoples and geography. Leaf-clad Men Work Beside Machines In size alone, Nigeria is almost three times that of the British Isles, or about the com bined area of Texas and Oklahoma. Its 30 million people comprise some 250 different tribal groups. They range from the larger, more advanced Yoruba and Ibo groups in the south and Moslem Hausas of the north to primitive pagans who wear only clusters of leaves or a waist string of beads. When I visited the Jos plateau, I saw these pagans incongruously working beside snort ing bulldozers and draglines, mining tin ore. But no less strange were the experiences told me by the manager of a petroleum com pany drilling for oil in southern Nigeria. "We ran into a problem with the local peo ple," he said, "when we accidentally disturbed one of their sacred groves. We settled it by paying £10 [$28.20] and furnishing them a white cow, some yams, and palm wine for sacrifices. Another problem was to convince the oil palm growers that our borings would not drain oil from their trees. We're down now to 7,500 feet," he added with a smile, "and the palm trees are still bearing!" On the January night I arrived by plane at Kano in northern Nigeria, the air was so sharp I was glad I had a topcoat. Next day a cold, dust-laden wind, the harmattan, swept south from the Sahara like thick gray fog, * See "Nigeria: From the Bight of Benin to Africa's Desert Sands," by Helen Trybulowski Gilles, NA TIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, May, 1944.