People & Culture
Niger boasts some historic mosques, such as the Great Mosque in Agadez – see Tourism & Communication. This building is just one example of the amazing mud-architecture mosques of the Sahel. Another can be found at Djenné in Mali.
The vast majority of Niger’s population (over 90%) are Sunni Muslim.
Nationwide celebrations centre around Islamic festivals such as Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha – see Festivals.
The country also has small groups of Christians and people who follow traditional animist beliefs. Ancient rituals from these beliefs, such as those used to contact the spirits of ancestors, remain in practice.
Peoples of Niger
The Hausa are the largest group in Niger, making up around half the population. Other major groups include the Zarma-Songhai (comprising around one fifth of the population) and the Kanuri.
Nomadic groups often come together for special festivals or celebrations. One of the most famous is the Cure Salée – see Festivals.
Nomadic or semi-nomadic groups include the Fulani and Tuareg peoples. These groups herd animals across the country, following ancient grazing routes. However, this traditional way of life is threatened by the recurrence of severe droughts in the region – see Climate & Agriculture.
The Tuaregs of Niger are part of a wider nomadic Tuareg community, which consists of groups living mainly across southern Algeria, eastern Mali and western Niger - see Tuaregs.
Dancing for a partner
A male beauty pageant
At Gerewol, young men of the Wodaabe (a nomadic Fulani group) paint their faces in dramatic fashion, creating black lips and eyes, and adorn themselves with shells and feathers to court the favours of young Wodaabe girls. Once the men have performed their dance, which they accompany with eye-rolling and grinning expressions, it’s the girls who get to choose which man they like best.
Traditional costumes and dance form an integral part of the celebrations at many festivals.
Local dances include the Ruume (where dancers sing and clap in a circle) and the Gerewol, a ritual dance which also gives its name to a festival.
French is the official language of government. However, most Nigeriens speak one of a number of local languages as their mother tongue. The West Chadic language of Hausa is the most common.
The five main local languages spoken in Niger are – Hausa, Songhai, Fula/Fulbe (spoken by the Fulani), Tamasheq/Tamajaq (spoken by the Tuareg) and Kanuri/Beri-Beri.
Local forms of Arabic are spoken in certain regions, particularly in the northwest, around Agadez – see Map – which is home to one of the oldest Arabic schools in Africa.