24 June 2009

Nigeria: How Giant Crocodiles Guided Jukun to Kwararafa


Jalingo — According to oral tradition, the Jukun people who are predominantly found in the Southern part of Taraba state came from Yemen . History has it that about 350 AD, the Jukun left Yemen together with the Kanuri and Yoruba and settled at Ngazargamu.

At Ngazargamu, they were said to have stayed for about 210 years and later went back to Yemen. Thereafter they, once again, returned to Africa together with the Yoruba and Kanuri people.

On getting to Nigeria , the Yoruba were said to have headed towards the west, while the Jukun and the Kanuri travelled northward and settled at Ngazargamu.

It was from Ngazargamu that the Jukun parted ways with the Kanuri and went to establish the famous Kwararafa Kingdom around 596 AD. For more than 1000 years the Jukun people remained at Kwararafa, now called Dan Anacha, a town in the present Gassol local government area of Taraba state.

It was from Kwararafa that the Jukun were said to have undertaken wars and expeditions to places as far as Kano, Katsina and Zaria .

They remained there until 1596 when they left further to Wukari, the headquarters of Wukari local government area of Taraba state. Wukari has since become the traditional headquarters of the Jukun people where the palace of Aku Uka is located.

Much has been said and written by historians about the origin of the Jukun people. But only little is known about the means through which the migrating Jukun travelled from Yemen to found the Kwararafa Kingdom .

A recent visit by this reporter to the palace of the Aku Uka of Wukari, however, revealed that a collection of mysterious Crocodiles, did not only provide direction, but also served as a means of transportation for the migrating Jukun.

Little wonder that the Crocodiles are still being preserved at the popular Marmara Pond in Wukari, the traditional headquarters of the Jukun people.

The story of the mysterious Crocodiles, as told by the Aku Uka, the paramount ruler of the Jukun people, sounds like a fairy tale.

"When we left Yemen and journeyed to Africa, we rode on the backs of the giant sized Crocodiles, which also served as guides through our migration", Dr. Shekara Angyu, the Aku Uka, told Daily Trust.

The royal father who took our reporter through the history of the Kwarararfa Kingdom further said: "Whenever we got to big rivers and hills, the Crocodiles enabled us to cross through."

Perhaps it was in view of the historical significance attached to these mysterious Crocodiles, that a secular tabernacle has since been created for them at Wukari, the traditional headquarters of the Jukun people.

The Marmara pond at Wukari which houses the Crocodiles is said to have been in place for as long as the establishment of the Kwararafa Kingdom .

Indeed it has become a tourist site for historians and other visitors to the Wukari emirate.

If the story of how the Crocodiles led the Jukun race from Yemen to the Kwararafa Kingdom sounds like a fairy tale, that of how they used to come out of the pond to pay homage on a weekly basis to the Aku Uka is a simply amazing.

The Aku Uka told Daily Trust that the crocodiles used to trek for a distance of about one and a half kilometres, from the pond to the Aku Uka's palace every Friday to pay homage.

A member of the Wukari traditional council serves as custodian of the Pond ,who also conducts tourists round during visits. Inside it is a variety of fishes that serve as food for the mysterious Crocodiles. Nobody hunts the crocodiles or the fishes inside the Marmara Pond.

If for any reason the fishes are caught from the pond, they never get cooked, because if you put them on the fire for a whole year, they will never get boiled, the Aku Uka explained.

The Aku Uka also told another interesting story about the Crocodiles. One morning, he said, after a heavy downpour some merchants who were travelling to the southern part of the country through Wukari, saw one of the Crocodiles by the roadside and stopped.

Believing that it was a normal Crocodile that could be hunted for meat, the traders were said to have hit the reptile and took it along in their vehicle. Somewhere in the course of their journey, they had a terrible accident. It was then that someone advised them to take the Crocodile back to Wukari, an advice they complied with.

The Aku Uka also spoke on the significance of the Crocodiles. According to him the Crocodiles were used in keeping records on the number of years spent by each Aku Uka on the throne.

"Whenever an Aku Uka clocked one year in office, one of the Crocodiles would vomit a stone during their weekly homage, signifying that he was one year on the throne", he explained.

This he said went on yearly while the vomited stones were collected and kept as a source of record on the tenure of the successive custodians of the Jukun traditional heritage.

But today the mysterious Crocodiles that accompanied the Jukun to found the Kwararafa Kingdom are going extinct. Apart from the fact that they no longer undertake the weekly homage on the Aku Uka, Daily Trust learnt that their number has drastically reduced.

But why is it so? The Aku Uka attributes this to what he considers to be the erosion of traditional cultural values as a result of clash with civilization. He said: "The Crocodiles in Marmara Pond are going into extinction because modernity and religion have eroded our cultural values ,and the traditional norms of the Crocodile pond are no longer observed in Jukun land.

For instance, the Aku Uka said, women are prohibited from going to the Pond during their monthly menstrual period, but this has been violated over the years. Also by the demands of tradition, black pots and designed calabashes are not allowed to be taken within the vicinity of the pond ,but this has also not been adhered to, the Aku Uka said.

It is for this reason that the Wukari traditional council has resorted to the offering of sacrifice on a yearly basis at the pond to appease the gods. During each sacrifice, a black cow is said to be slaughtered and cooked for eating.

It is a taboo for anybody to take the cow meat from the venue of the sacrifice home. This is because, as the Aku Uka explains: "Calamity will befall the land."

Curiously, the mysterious Crocodiles inside the Marmara Pond at Wukari never appear on camera; whether this be still or video. Journalists or tourists that made attempts to have them taken, are said to have had their cameras destroyed on the spot.

"You can go and try if you want", was the response of the Aku Uka when this reporter sought his permission to obtain photographs of the reptiles at the Pond.

He told me that some people, including a reporter from NTA, who failed to heed to advice against taking such photographs in the past, had their cameras destroyed on the spot.

With this warning from the royal father himself, my hope of getting photographs of the Crocodiles was diminished. However, a guide was detailed to take me to the pond where I made an attempt.

On getting to the pond which is found at the base of a massive rock formation, one of the crocodiles appeared. I adjusted my digital camera and viewed the reptile through the view finder.

Although I thought of making an attempt even if it meant losing the camera, I restrained from doing this because I was yet to transfer other photographs previously taken from the camera to my laptop.

As if conscious of my futile attempt, the crocodile slowly recoiled inside the pond and disappeared under the rocks. Convinced that the safety of my camera was now guaranteed, I pressed the shutter and snapped the Pond, albeit without the Crocodiles!

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