Meet the Gbagyi’s of Abuja


As documented by: Comrade Agba Chukwudiebere Greg and presented by Andrew ijogi.

The visual art of Gbagyi requires a vivid way of delineating their forms and function in order to give a total knowledge of its uniqueness. Gbagyi as a unit of Nok culture, in the past have their works of art that is unique to them lumped with other group that make up Nok civilization. It is important to note that, there is no way one can give a full account of its unit without over generalizing issues and thereby neglecting the total knowledge that makes Gbagyi visual arts unique to the people.

GBAGYI is derived from the word OGBA and GYI. Depending on the intonation, OGBA means wisdom, knowledge, cleverness, cunningness, and to worship or to venerate. GYI on the other hand means to eat, to digest, to internalize, to win, to triumph. Historical analysis on Gwari language concedes that Gbagyi means “enter of wisdom”.  The socially and accepted tradition which makes the Gbagyi people to carry loads on their shoulders is embodied in a Gbagyi myth; their ancestor believed that the head in addition of being sacred already carries too much load like intelligence, problems, solution etc. This tradition of carrying loads on the shoulder is advanced to be for two reasons: To enable them to carry heavy load and, to enable them change position of the load once in a while. Gbagyi woman believe that this system affords them the opportunity of carrying more load for a longer distance than they would have ordinarily done if it is carried on their heads. Gbagyi live in both large and small settlements depending on the geographic characteristics of their occupation. In areas with rich soil suitable for Agriculture, they live smaller settlements as farmers.

Gbagyi people imbibed the notion that ‘Art is man’, nature being so kind provided materials which through practice, religion, occupation, belief and culture propelled the visual arts of Gbagyi people to include: Traditional architecture, Sculpture, Traditional iron smelting, Pottery, Indigenous textile and General domestic crafts.


Architecture is one of the aspects of cultural history that aptly gives definition to man’s interaction with his environment. In this sphere, we encounter a proper understanding and articulation of man’s activities as they relate to his built environment.

The Gbagyi traditional architecture owes a lot to nature; their compounds were surrounded by mud walls or fences of coarse plated mats, and had one or more entrance huts, which served as reception room for friends and visitors. The houses were circular, built with clay, mostly with a roof of clay and thatch with grass.


The oldest manifestations of Nigerian artistic excellence are to be seen in a remarkable artistic corpus of Terracotta sculpture discovered in central Nigeria over half century (500 B.C-200A.D).

These ancient pottery figures have come to light almost entirely as the result of the tin mining. Gbagyi people as a unit of Nok civilization recorded this findings in a great number. Some came from road side gravel quarries; one was uncovered during the leveling of a school playing field.

 Gbagyi sculpture represents human head, figures and zoomorphic figures such as monkey, reptiles. Its sculptural invention falls in the middle range between naturalism and abstractionism. Though there is evidence of wood sculptures which produced objects of social value, as the wooden figures that were believed to be fertility gods was discovered.

One of the famous Gbagyi sculpture is the Bwari kneeling figure. Found in tribute mining in the banks of the Makobolo River, near Bwari twenty miles from Abuja. This virtually complete little figure depicts a kneeling man, and is most delicately modeled in solid clay. The void shape of the head, the slanting eyes, the position and shape of the nose have a treatment closely similar to shere Koro head. The hair is dressed into six buns on the crown and tresses hang down at the back. There is a moustache in form of tufts on each side of the mouth, and bread on the legs is liberally clothes with bracelets, anklets and a heavy girdle is tied round the waist. There are elaborate strings of beads and pendant ornaments around the neck, front and back of the figure. Two spaces, one between the right forearm and back of the head, the other between the left elbow and the waist, suggest that this object may have been design as a pendant.

Another is the terracotta head found at shere Koro; the shape of this head is similar to the Bwari figure. The ears can be seen between the hair tresses which is hang on each side of the head, under the hat, or hat-shaped hair style.

Finally, a head and figure used as objects of veneration on a shrine at shere koro. The stake planted at the foundation of the shrine, in the village of shere Koro, during the lifetime of the finder. It had been found broken and repaired with day. An X-ray photography taken in Jos National museum shows the repairs clearly. It is adorned with waist bands, and seems to be wearing a hood, or has the hair shaped so to appear. The right leg is genuflecting. The convention used in modeling the legs is precisely the same as in leg fragments which have found in the Nok valley itself.


Technology, however crude forms an integral aspect of human culture. For it is the means through which man seek to master his environment safety and satisfy his basic need as well as to ensure his survival.


The earliest evidence of iron working in the Nigeria region is in Taruga (4th-5th B.C) which falls within Nok culture complex. However, there appears to be some differences between the furnace type found in Abuja and other site within Gbagyi region. While the former were mainly pit bowl furnace, those later where mainly shaft furnace. One is also to argue that in relation to the most supplicated types found in Taruga could suggest a form of evolution from a less complicated iron smelting techniques to a more advance type. But such argument appears speculative since they are yet to be purposeful archeological excavation works done on the Abuja iron smelting sites. Such scientific archaeological works could therefore provide dates to make the picture clearer.

Iron technology as practiced by the Gbagyi communities that now constitute the new federal capital territory Abuja. The various stages involved the prospecting of iron, processing iron ore, as well as the techniques employed in the smelting processors etc. The Gbagyi traditional iron working involved three very important stages: Iron ore prospecting and mining stage, Smelting stage, the forging stage.


Across sub-Saharan Africa, there are three main traditional methods of constructing pottery vessels, excluding the potter’s wheel, a recent innovation which sees extremely limited use except at universities and few specially organized government projects.

The technique used by the Gbagyi people includes the following;

Coil technique, Pinch technique, Mould technique, throwing technique, Dindinge technique.


The pots produced by the Gbagyi people include the Giri pots; one of the famous of the Gbagyi pottery. This is a slim necked pot usually with double handle running from the brim to the upper part of the body (also in other shapes). It is used for storage of grains, flower vases, decoration purposes. The Bridal pot: this pot is in set. It is usually given to a new bride by her family immediately after her marriage. The Piggy banks: the traditional Gbagyi potters produce a saving bank in the shape of a pig with clay (also in other shapes). This piggy bank is giving to newly wedded couple by the elders in order to remind them to save for the task ahead. The Ceremonial pot: Gbagyi people attach social value in their pots during ritual ceremonies and festival. They also have Tulu, Kasko, Randa pots. The most widely used design Motif in Gbagyi traditional pottery is band of small impressions going round the pot, achieved by use of a roulette this designs includes both geometric and zoomorphic shapes.


Textile in the federal capital territory is an age long traditional industry mainly the women, they thread use for the production of the fabrics were grown on the farm by men. The cotton passes through various production stages of ginning, spinning, spindling, bobbing, skinning and dyeing. It is then finally used for weaving. They are woven on a vertical loom. Weavers produce spherical cloth with images of bird, animals, domestic and personal effect as well as geometric drawings, abstract etc. these motifs and design make the fabric beautiful and more expensive. Abaji and Dara-gara are major centers of textile production in the federal capital territory. Jesenda is the most famous fabric in Gbagyi history.


The vocational training is an aspect of handiwork which the Gbagyi were trained to manipulate things by their hand. It is the psychomotor activities learn by individual child to enable grow as self-reliant and independent.

Crafts such as weaving, basket making are essential job which play more important role in Gbagyi. These exercise occurred especially as one gets old or when a family has a large number of people doing farming work, whereby the elders would devote themselves in mats and basket making.

In this aspect of job orientation, people produce different crafts from wood, mortar, musical instruments. Also some women devote themselves in making pots which they use in cooking. The overwhelming majority of Gbagyi interviewed, agreed that blacksmithing and hunting was exclusively practiced by men just as there are certain occupations that are exclusively for women.

%d bloggers like this: