Beth’s Diary, Entry I:
Who: Afizere (Izere)
The meeting with the Agwom Kuwop was wonderful, considering the circumstances. I and the gang were still sore from the previous day’s drive. General K is with us as part of the team. Surprisingly, he offered not to charge for the use of his van, as long as we pay for his services as driver and handle the other matters of accommodation and feeding –touring Nigeria was one of his dreams. Kola, Cynthia and Ciroma are doing well to bond. I guess the three-day bonding exercise before we set out really helped.
The welcome at the palace was warm and friendly. The Agwom Kuwop had responded kindly to the letter stating our purpose and was enthused that interest in the origin and cultures of Nigeria’s people had not been forgotten. At the reception, after the chief had done justice to what he called our lean skin by stuffing us with gote, lua lade and muos sua, he treated us to a bit of history. He did seem slightly offended at our refusal to take the locally made burukutu, but insisted we take two kegs when we told him we couldn’t drink while working.
“For the off hours,” he said with a devious smile.
The Afizere people -according to him, also called the Jarawa-are mainly found in two Northern states; in Plateau at Jos East and Jos North LGAs and somewhere in Toro, Bauchi state. Their origin, he traced to the ancient people of Nok from Kaduna. They had migrated from there to Chawai, also in Kaduna before settling at one of the hills here in Jos. The original settlement was on the same hill the first museum in Nigeria is located, the National Museum, Jos. The marks of the original settlement still remain, marked by a sign as a monument in the state.
The chief stated that their preference for the hills was most likely for protection from the Fulani jihadists of Bauchi Emirate, although he later adds that years of living together have made some of the Izere Muslims. He explained that due to a separation and reunion of the people during the creation of states by the government, there is a unique system of a dual stool. Thus, the Afizere people of Jos North called the Jos Izere are under the chieftainship of another Adagwom while he presides over the Izere chiefdom in Jos North. He then goes further to say his stool is higher than his brother’s in the North.
The chief then told us about some lasting cultural practices including the Uwreng-Izere; a marriage tradition where the groom-to-be abducts the bride and takes her to his home. According to him, the parents of the two must have agreed beforehand and the young man later goes with his father and male relatives to inform the bride’s family that their daughter is safe and with them.
He began talking of another tradition but as he speaks his voice drops noticeably. Cynthia later tells me it is a topic many chiefs are concerned about. The tradition is that of the Izhak, a coming of age rite for teenage boys. The rites involve a period during which the boys are taken to the forest for a week where various rituals are performed. The boys are then circumcised before their return . Cynthia says similar tradition is dying in other places as the parents either circumcise the boys as babies or don’t see the need for that particular custom in the rite. The Adagwom gave assurance that plans to conduct the next rite are already in the pipelines.
He also touched on the New Year festival, one of the rare times he dances and their history as one of the best rearers of the Muturu, the double humped cattle. While pointing to a statue in the courtyard, he spoke of the Asharuwa dancers, the people’s pride who took the Izere community to the international stage with their local dance.
It’s definitely a place I’ll like to revisit someday. I printed some of Kola’s pictures of Jos and made cut-outs for Dera.
The Foundation informed me today that another person from the final screening would be working with me on this project. I sure wouldn’t mind an extra shoulder to carry out this task. It’s quite unexpected but I guess we’ll find a way.