By Godwin Tsa, Abuja
Located on a land area of about 1,206 square kilometres, Kwali is one of the six area councils of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, with a population of about 85,837, based on the 2006 census. The council was created from Gwagwalada Area Council on October 1, 1996, by the military administration of General Sani Abacha.
Famous for pottery, Kwali is the hometown of the legendary woman potter, Dr. Ladi Kwali,whose image adorns the N20 bill. The inhabitants are also into cloth making, hunting and trading.
Strategically overlooking the Lokoja- Abuja expressway, the agrarian community, with massive arable land, is suitable for farming activities.
Kwali Area Council plays host to a number of important monuments, including Federal Government College, National Mathematical Centre, Sheda Kwali, Sheda Science and Technology Complex, Nigeria Education Research and Development Centre, National Fire Academy, Sheda, Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation pump station, Awawa, and more.
On this particular day, our reporter’s mission to Kwali was not about the fanciful institutions that adorned the council, but to witness a marriage ceremony at Ashara village, where he was told dogs are used as part of the wedding dowry.
The village was in the news months back when some of its hunters tracked and killed a hippopotamus by the banks of River Gurara.
Usman Mohammed, a resident and hunter, who the reporter approached for guidance, said, before now, the hippopotamus had been terrorising residents and destroying crops, and even preventing fishermen from fishing in the river for many years.
He volunteered to ride with the reporter on his motorcycle as he meandered through the road that snaked through the bush leading to Ashara village.
Not long after we took off, the rains started threatening, with trees curling and bowing in the direction of the billowing wind.
Mohammed asked me not to worry about the impending rain as we could take refuge in a nearby settlement before the downpour.
He was right, a few metres away was a little settlement of four hunts and a local rest hall. We dashed into the rest hall in time to avoid the pounding rain that descended heavily on the red soil.
The angry rain fell ceaselessly for hours such that people started complaining about ruined business and farming activities as a result of the rain.
From the place where I took refuge, I counted 12 people in the hall. I used the opportunity of the rain to engage my guide on the purpose of my visit.
I asked whether it was true that his people used dogs as part of wedding dowry, since I was there to witness a ceremony where a dog was going to be presented as a dowry for the bride.
The question attracted the attention of other people in the hall in utmost bewilderment.
I introduced myself as a journalist and told them about my mission to their village.
They chuckled with laughter as they dismissed my story on the grounds that I was still living in the past.
First to react was a lanky old man with a cracky face whose name I learnt was Yusuf Ashafa, the head and owner of the compound.
Ashafa, who was in his late sixties, admitted that such a practice existed with their ancestors, particularly the Paiko people who are now settled in Niger State, but it has since been abandoned.
He disclosed that though the people of Ashara village eat dog meat, it has never been part of a dowry, but it could be used as a gift to show love and is not compulsory.
He took the reporter down memory lane to the days when the princes in Gbagyi-speaking areas had the right to marry any maiden of their choice.
This, he said, was not a contemporary practice.
He explained that, if a member of the royal family identified a woman of his choice on a market day in the community, he would dash to the palace to mobilise the royal guard to go and fetch the lady for marriage.
“Many years ago, before western civilisation took precedence on our culture, if a young prince developed interest in a lady he just saw at the market square, all he had to do was to quickly run to the palace to alert the guards to carry bring her home for marriage. He would inform the guards, who were trained for the purpose, to run off with the girl from the spot and take her straight to the palace. The only thing they did while she was being taken to the palace would be to find her parents and perform the normal marital rights of paying her dowry,” he said.
He further explained that the reason why market days were the most suitable for royal men to scout for wives was due to the fact that it was on such days that ladies came out in their best looks and wears.
In Gbyagi culture, according to him, market days were not only for the purpose of buying and selling, but also an avenue for young people to socialise and target their life partners.
He added that it was a disservice to prevent unmarried people from going to the market in those days.
How did family members whose maidens were taken away on market days accept this tradition?
Another occupant in the hall, Yaro, an accomplished hunter with reputable skills, explained that rather than take offence at the ‘kidnapping’ of their daughters, the ladies’ families considered it a kind of honour that their own was considered worthy to be married to the royal family.
He stated that the attention of the community would be turned to the family, as the marriage would not only make them prominent but protected. They considered the prospects of being associated with the royal family, which was a great privilege.
“When a lady was taken by a member of the royal family, the whole village would declare a seven-day feast where communities were mandated to come with food, musicians and gifts to mark the wedding celebrations. Within that period, the people were expected to dine and wine with the royal family, as musicians, magicians and acrobats displayed their talent from morning till the early hours of the next morning for seven days.
The middle-aged hunter, however, pointed out that the tradition has since waned as a result of western education, and the powers of the royals have diminished as a result of human rights campaigns on the prerogative of the girl-child to make her choice of husband.
Despite the fact that they are all the same in most of their cultural heritage, our reporter was told that Gbagyi people have some differences in language and norms.
Explaining the differences among Gbagyi people across the Middle Belt states of Niger, Nassarawa, Kaduna, Kogi and Kwara states.
Mohammed pointed out that Gbagyi is the language they speak generally, though there are several other dialects peculiar to groups in the different states. There are dialects like Gbagyi Yama, the Gbagyi Nkwa, which is spoken in Paiko, Gbagyi Nche, Gbagyi Matai and Gbagyi Ngbagun.
“The language Gbagyi refers to the central language we speak, as we are divided into different groups, cutting across the various places.
By the time the rained stopped, it was evening and most of the day’s activities were disrupted and the reporter hurried back to town.