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Travel Guide: Exploring the NOK culture

Sep 11 2018

On arriving Kaduna by train via Rigasa, I took a cab to town to meet up with a friend.
After a while we set about looking for a hotel for my stay. I can hear you asking why I didn’t book a hotel online before leaving Lagos.
As part of my safety plans I prefer a local telling me the safest part of town to stay, that is where I will book a room. I am not familiar with Kaduna, so it’s better to rely on the expertise of a resident.

We went to about two hotels, mind you I was on a budget, but I did not like any of the place. Then my friend remembered that the Air Force has a guest house. So we went there to check it out. So there is a hack when you stay in the Command or Air Force Guest House. If your friend or relative is an officer with proof of identity, you get a discount. The place is secure, right in the middle of town, with okay amenities (I am still on a budget here).

That settled, I got down to organising a guide and ride for my trips. As usual I do have a list which i showed to my friend. Arrangements was made for the following morning.

Arch with NOK town signage

My ride came around the following morning and there was an issue. My driver do not speak a word of English, and his colleague was able to pass but not enough to have a conversation.

My trips were in Northern Kaduna, Southern Kaduna and Kaduna town itself.
So we started off with Southern Kaduna which is the Nok Museum and the Matsirga waterfall.

It was about two hours and thirty minutes drive to Nok junction, we asked for direction to the museum. It started raining heavily as we got to the museum and luckily for us we met Mr John Fom, the assistant chief protection officer. His duties includes protecting and preservation of the cultural artifacts that are left, ensuring the safety of museum visitors and preserve the buildings. We got talking and he told me about the history of the museum and the Nok culture after which he then took us into the gallery to see the pictures depicting the story of the Terracotta.

This building was built in anticipation of receiving the original terracottas from Germany.


NOK is the name of a town in Jabba Local Government Area, Kaduna State. Nok became famous because of the discovery of the terracotta head. Nok culture provides earliest ancient civilization of Nigeria. It is common practice to name an archaeological group or culture after the location of the first discovery.

Nok culture is named after a city (NOK Town). The first find of artifacts were excavated by archaeologists in 1929. The first terracotta head discovery was the head of a monkey, the second discovery was the head of a man. The terracotta were accidentally discovered during a tin mining process.
Terracotta means it was made of clay and heavily fired which makes it to stand the test of time. This was the earliest evidence of iron metallurgy in sub-Saharan Africa.

The Nok culture is said to have belonged to a homogeneous group of people who had a well ordered economy and a good system of governing.

One of the earliest finds JEMA Head 500BC-200AD
One of the earliest finds JEMA Head 500BC-200AD

The Nok sculptures are among the oldest in sub-Saharan Africa and represents the origin of the West African tradition of portraying people and animals. Its artful burnt clay(terracotta) sculpture make it one of Africa’s best known ancient cultures. The expressive styles of the terracotta were amazing. They have triangular eyes, pierced nostrils, adorned necks with beads and necklaces.

By 1977 about 153 Nok terracotta pieces had been accidentally found during mining operation. There are three discovery sites, the Nok village, Taruga and Katsina-Ala.
It should however be noted that the Nok culture did not originate from Nok Village, it’s where the terracota were first found. The National Museum in Nok is administered by the National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM).


Heritage sites in Nigeria signifies that people have existed in that region with their culture still preserved. There are about seven heritage sites in Nok. They are Bernard Fagg house, which is the residence of the archaeologist  who discovered the Nok Terracotta. The house was built in 1944 and he lived there, his daughter, Angela, also stayed in the same house when she came to Nigeria. Bernard Fagg was referred to as the Father of the Nok culture. He was the first person to make the scientific discovery of the terracotta. He took them to Germany for scientific research and was able to determine how long the terracotta has been buried. It was discovered to be about 500 BC to 200 AD.

Picture shows one of the first site where the NOK figurines were discovered and the archaeological team.

There is the hidden cave, which serves as a sanctuary for the very vulnerable (Old, children and sick people) during the warfare. It was also used for grain preservation during warfare. The cave is about 250 metres long.

The third heritage site is a shrine where the Nok village cultural/spiritual activities is performed till date. It serves as initiation ground of young males into adulthood in the village. It is also used as a court to settle disputes involving fights, stealing, land and marriage disputes.

The fourth is the first settlement. This is the place where the people of NOK first settled up in the rocks before coming down to where they are now.

The fifth is the welfare cave which served as a hospital and maternity where women give birth. There are visible signs of dots on the rock which depicst the number of death, the number of birth and number of survivals from illnesses.

The sixth is the Barn cave for the preservation of grains. This is where the chief priests used to stay and he does everything there.

The seventh site is the tree of life. According to history, this tree is said to radiate lights in the night. It is a spiritual tree where people sought out healing from it. Accordingto myth, no bird is said to perched on the tree, no monkeys or animal climbs the tree and there is no trace of leaves shedding from the tree.

But due to civilization and people not keeping to culture birds are said to perch on it.

All of these heritage sites cannot be accessed especially during the rainy season due to lack off care thus there is no passage way to access them and most are in deplorable state.

In the gallery of the NOK museum you will find the pictorial representation of the NOK heads. They were take to Germany but have been returned to the National Museum, Kaduna and are part of a new exhibition presently showing at the museum after staying in Germany for a very long time.

The Museum needs a facelift and needs proper renovation for it to attend to tourists. There is need for signposts to direct people right from the major roads to the museum.

Allowing our heritage sites to be in deplorable stages is not the best way to take care of our history and culture.

We need to be woke about who we are and our history.

Do follow me on instagram @funmiAjalaTravels to check out my trip to Kaduna, Kano and Katsina. Do check the FANorthernDiary highlight.

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