27 January 2013

Nigeria: Uhola - in Zuru, Boys Labour for Seven Years to Marry

Dabai and Zuru — At the mention of Zuru in Kebbi State, so many things come to mind, especially the numerous military generals produced from the area. Aamong them are the present Emir of Zuru, General Sani Sami who was a military governor of the old Bauchi state, now Bauchi and Gombe States; the famous brother-Generals Musa and Ishaya Bamaiyis, General Muhammadu Magoro, General Tanko Ayuba and Col. Dauda Komo just to mention but a few.

Zuru is also known as a major centre for agricultural production with rich cultural events, famous among them are the Golmo and Uhola festivals celebrated by the worshippers of traditional religion in the area, but jointly attended by the large Muslim and Christian communities in the area. The Golmo and Uhola festivals have succeeded in uniting the people further where Muslims, Christians and the traditional religious worshippers do so many things in common.

Golmo is a process where seven-year-old male youths are initiated into the process of marriage by their parents who choose a girl for them to marry. When the boy is seven years old, he is initiated into Golmo and sent to the house of the parents of the girl chosen for him to labour in their farms for seven years as dowry to qualify the boy to marry the girl.

Briefing Sunday Trust about the process of Golmo, Elder Baltu Jomo said the moment the parents of the boy contact the parents of the girl that their son is coming to labour for the girl in their farm, and the girl's parents give their consent and even show him their farms, it means the girl's parents have accepted to give their daughter to the boy, subject to the fulfilment of all other requirements.

"First and foremost, the boy must be able to clear their farms continuously for seven years. These farms are usually very large. Some could be up to 10 hectares or even more. The normal practice is for the boy to team up with his other colleagues in Golmo to go and clear his in-law's farms, thereafter they go to the in-laws of another member. They will keep going round communally until they till all the farms at least thrice a year.

"Throughout the period a boy is in Golmo, he must not smoke, he must not take alcohol, he must not sleep with women and will be restricted to a camp built by the community. That means those in Golmo do not sleep in their parents houses but in those camps built with mud and thatch at an area detached from the community.

"The essence of the Golmo is not only to enhance agricultural production but to also instil bravery, perseverance, entrench cultural and traditional norms and teach the child the ability to be able to mobilize others for group work. Golmo also teaches the children self discipline and how to endure hardship. Throughout the seven years the boy will labour for the in-laws, he may not even see the girl he wants to marry because he is always in the farm or in the camp," he said.

Jomo, who said he also married his wife through Golmo 37 years ago, said at the end of the successful completion of the seven-year Golmo, the child will graduate at an annual Uhola festival where Muslims, Christians and worshippers of traditional religion will all attend, adding, "Here in Zuru emirate, we do not have religious misunderstanding. Uhola is a traditional festival and is the biggest festival in Zuru emirate. People from the three religions will come together and celebrate it mainly in Zuru and Dabai," he said.

One of the shrine attendants in Zuru emirate who gave his name as Shalta said Uhola festival is not only meant to mark the graduation of K'ieba, the youths who successfully complet their Golmo, but, "Uhola is mainly our way of marking a bountiful harvest. It is our own way of thanks giving combined with the graduation of K'ieba and the formal union of K'ieba boys and girls at the age of 17.

"K'ieba starts at the age of 7 and end after 7 years when the child is 14. But most parents will require extra 3 years to make necessary arrangements before the girl could move to the boy's house. Majority of the K'iebas are united at the age of 17 even though they are qualified from the age of 14. So, you will discover some K'iebas graduating during Uhola at the age of 14 while others that graduated 3 years ago and are now 17 years old are getting married and uniting with their partners.

"Golmo is observed by all the pagan communities in Zuru emirate while Uhola is now becoming more universal with Zuru and Dabai becoming more pronounced. There are no specific dates for Golmo and Uhola. The dates are decided by the Chief Priests of Zuru and Dabai respectively after consultations at the shrines. However, Golmo usually starts before the rainy season while Uhola is usually after harvest but there must be pronouncement by the chief Priest," he said.

Shalta who led this reporter to some of the shrines at Dabai housing the god of rain, god of snakes and many others, explained that these gods are appeased before the date for Uhola is announced. He said the god of rain who is regarded to be more important is the first to be appeased and an appeal is made to it to cease rain so that crops can yield. This ritual is usually done in October.

"This ritual is usually done here at Kabun-Menke which is the shrine of the god of rain also called the hall of rain. The chief priest who is also called the chief rain maker or Gonvan Menke presides over the rituals here. The rituals of the god of rain is done at a communal worship attended by many believers. Shortly after appeasing the god of rain, two other important gods that we earlier visited, Govuk Dada and Govuna Isa are also visited and worshipped.

"They are the ones that will give permission for the appeasement of the smaller gods before the date of Uhola festival is announced. These rituals are aimed at cleansing the communities before the Uhola. They are also to thank the gods for in ensuring good harvest and a peaceful year.

"After those rituals then come the one for the announcement of the date of Uhola festival called Dwa M'dhutu meaning burning of the bush. While the bush is being burnt by other worshippers, the Chief Priest weeds around a small thatched hut said to be the shrine of the god of snakes. At the end of that ritual, the day for the Uhola festival which is usually not less than 30 days away is announced.

"After all these, then families and clans will now go back to family and clan shrines and appease their small gods. They will then start preparing for Uhola. Few days to the day of the Uhola, people will be cooking large quantities of food and feeding neighbours and guests till the festival is over. That is a way of saying 'thank you, to the gods.' If there is any community that witnessed any major disaster in the year like outbreak of disease, that community will not take part in Uhola that year. Instead, they will be busy appeasing the angry gods," he said.

Shalta said sacrifices by such communities are kept at road junctions and at family shrines asking the gods to restore normalcy and forgive them. At the time of the Uhola, children between the age of 5 and 15 are placed on a rich local diet of mixed guinea corn and meat called C'Ruku Dame.

At Passo in Rafin Zuru District of Zuru which is housing the largest pagan community in the area, three attempts made to see the chief priest of Zuru otherwise known as Sarkin Zaure or Sarkin Passo, Samai Aize Gomo were not successful as he was said to be performing some rituals outside his house. Tracing him to one of the shrines could not also help matters as no one dared obstruct ongoing rituals.

However, an heir apparent to the throne, Dantani Dambu Gomo who conducted this reporter round important places around the community, said chief priests of Zuru who are also regarded as the traditional rulers of Passo are buried within the community when they die. He said so far, about 30 such priests have been buried in piece of land not bigger than 10 by 10 feet.

"This small hut you are seeing is the seat of power of the chief priest. All major decisions including the fixing of the date of Uhola in Zuru are taken here. The chief priest presides over all the meetings here. That is how it has been since the time of our fore fathers. You can see that most of the houses look alike and we live here like brothers and sisters.

"The silos you are seeing over there are used to preserve grains for the K'iebas. You know the male K'iebas do not live together with their female suitors until they are formally married. All the female K'iebas are virgins so also the males. It is a serious abomination for any K'ieba to have sex with the partner or any other person.

"That stream you passed through before coming here is called Dambu Gomo and is the main source of water for our people in Passo. There was a well dug near the stream by our ancestors from where they were getting water. The well was the first to be named Dambu Gomo. People are no more using the well. We are now getting our water from the stream. It is believed that whoever, including visitors that drinks from that stream cannot leave the area alive," he said.

At Passo, this reporter met Rose, one of the female K'iebas that attained the age of 15 and was to unite with her 17 year old groom during the December 2012, Uhola. When this reporter visited Rose's family house, across the stream in Zuru, Rose and some of her female friends visiting from adjoining villages were seen rehearsing how to dance at the Uhola festival coming up the next day.

Efforts to speak with Rose were not successful as she was to talk but could be seen learning different dance steps that really meant so much to her. However, her grandmother simply called Mama described the eve of that Uhola festival which was also the last day for Rose to live in her parents' house as very important to the girl.

"She is rehearsing the dance steps she will display at the festival tomorrow before the Emir of Zuru and other dignitaries. We all danced with her and her friends and other relations are also dancing with her so that she can learn so many dance steps to use at the ceremony. The dancing starts by 10 p.m. this night and will continue till during the Uhola festival tomorrow.

"Boys and girls are expected to dance throughout the night till the following day. The arrival of the Emir of Zuru, other traditional rulers, dignitaries and the chief priest the following day marks the beginning of the Uhola. You can see we are cooking for visitors like you. No visitor is expected to buy food even if just passing through Zuru. We killed as many as three dogs for the ceremony," she said.

So many families whose children or wards are either graduating K'iebas or grooms uniting with their brides were seen preparing vigorously for the festival. Other none Zuru communities like the Hausa, Yoruba, Igbos, hunters and many other associations whose memberships cut across different religions were seen preparing for the festival.

At the night dance, several songs were heard from different groups mainly in Dakarci (Zuru language) which most of which are said to be coded messages relaying anger and forgiveness. A young Zuru man told this reporter that group and individuals offended by others usually bare their minds through songs and the other parties may wish to tender apology through songs as well.

On the Uhola day, youths from all the three religions including Igbo and Yoruba whose parents reside in Zuru were seen dressed in new or clean clothes just like on Sallah or Christmas days. Days before the festival, graduating K'iebas accompanied by other youths and members of the community were seen carrying cleaning everywhere in the town.

Married women and the elderly who normally indoors were all seen trooping to the venue of the Uhola hours before the commencement of the festival. Top government officials, captains of industries and successful businessmen and women from Zuru emirate residing outside the state and those living within the state were seen dressed in their traditional attires trooping to the venue of the event.

The arrival of the Emir of Zuru, Alhaji Muhammad Sani Sami after other traditional rulers had already taken their seats, marked the beginning of the festival. The emir who arrived the venue in a long convoy of cars surrounded by the palace guards and other well wishers, drummers and dancers, was seen being hailed by people who lined up from the palace to the venue.

At the venue, there was a march parade by different communities in the emirate and different dance groups to make the festival colourful. Traditional wrestling competition and display and exchange of cultures were also seen among the youths.

Prizes were also given to competitors who distinguished themselves in various ways during the festival like the queen among the female K'iebas, the best wrestler and so on. The queen and others also made royal presentation of gifts to the emir through palace guards as a mark of respect and love to the traditional institution.

One of the Muslim members of the Zuru indigenous community and publisher of a local magazine, Royal Voice Magazine, Mr Ahmed Zuru said Zuru is one of the most peaceful places where people of different ethnic and religious beliefs lived together and do many of communal activities together irrespective of their differences.

"We live in peace here because we respect each other. Nobody looks down on the other. When a Muslim member of any community is having a naming ceremony in his house, you will see Christians and pagan neighbours attending and celebrating with him. When it is Christmas, you see Muslims and pagans visiting their Christian friends to celebrate with them. So, when it is time for Uhola, we all go to the venue of the festival to rejoice with them. That is the practice here and it has been helping us live in peace," he said.

One of the elders at Dabai who spoke to this reporter, Malam Jatau said dogs are mainly eaten by the pagans and used for sacrifices, adding, "When you have visiting Muslim friends who do not eat dogs, you can serve them food without meat or if you have the means you prepare another food for them. Because of the traditions of Golmo and Uhola, parents are happy to have either girls or boys. Both of them are sources of joy to us.

"I know of a friend who gave birth to 3 girls and a boy and is doing fine. All the three girls have since been given out in marriage through Golmo. The last one got married about 3 years ago and he is still feeding through the grains the last K'ieba produced for him. If you do not have good silos to preserve your grains, you enter into exchange.

"Exchange means you release some bags of grains to a friend who will use during the dry season at home and refund to you after harvest. So many people do that especially when they do not have big silos enough to contain their crops. Our tradition encourages friendliness and togetherness. When you go to some states you hear parents saying they do not want sons they want daughters or they do not want daughters they want sons. Here, they are all the same to us," he said.

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