The coming of colonialism to Nigeria at the beginning of the 20th century marked a change and therefore a point of departure from many aspects of religious and ceremonial practices of the indigenous population.
It will be recalled that these practices served as motivation tor the production of what we now regard as Nigeria's great artistic achievements. Under colonialism, the various art forms suffered a sharp decline in production and output mainly because the British colonial administrators and the early missionaries not only discouraged the development of the arts, but also despised the indigenous arts and traditional religion which inspired their creation. In consequence, art objects which were made for religious purposes were either suppressed or in some cases, destroyed because the art objects were considered part of the 'heathen' culture which the missionaries and their collaborators had come to destroy in order that Christian evangelism might not be hindered. In the northern part of the country, Islam had a similar attitude to indigenous art particularly those in the form of representational art. However, crafts which were pure ly used as necessitates of everyday life of the people were spared destruction because their creation was not associated with Idol-worship'.
Nigerian traditional crafts have not been accorded as much recognition and exposure as the sculptures. Nevertheless Nigerian craftsmen have demonstrated a high level of craftsmanship in such crafts as pottery, weaving, carving, leather work, embroidery, brasswork and textile art. Although some of these crafts are carried out in almost every Nigerian community others are restricted to locations where raw materials are easily available. It is known, for example, that the Northern States of Nigeria which have an abundant supply of leather, and where cattle rearing and horsemanship are very much in evidence, the Hausa, Fulani and Kanuri people are engaged in the production of leather goods. Some of the best leather-works that can be found anywhere in Africa are located in the Northern States of Nigeria with Sokoto, Kano, Bauchi and Borno States providing the bulk of the leather goods. From leather, bags, shoes, sandals, cushions, satchels, pouffs and other sundry items are made.
In the southern part of Nigeria, wood carving of all kinds is predominant because of the availability of wood in the forest region. The Yoruba, Edo, lgbo and Ibibio/Annang are among the great producers of wood items that are found in most parts of Nigeria.
The other factor which affects the distribution and making of crafts is religion. It is believed that decorative work arid embroidery are popular in the Northern parts of Nigeria because the predominant religion, Islam, forbids representational arts such as is found in sculpture. This has given rise to excellent embroidery work and decorations which have been applied to the Hausa cap, skull cap, leather goods and calabashes.