Red Walls of Bida – Part Two

ETSU of Nupe Emir His Royal Highness (Bahagadochi) Alhaji Yahaya Abubaker

ETSU of Nupe
Emir His Royal Highness (Bahagadochi) Alhaji Yahaya Abubaker

Continued from: Red Walls of Bida – Introduction

Alhaji Galadima waits for us and soon we head to the palace of the Emir, Etsu of Nupe. One does not conduct business without first greeting the Emir His Royal Highness (Bahagadochi) Alhaji Yahaya Abubaker.

Yacubu drives under the royal archway that leads to the guards at the gate.  We are heralded onward through an entry hall decorated with ornamental design in mud relief with imported china plates that are embedded into the exterior surface. We continue into an interior courtyard and cool reception hall then escorted into the throne room where the His Royal Highness sits on a throne surrounded by his subjects who remain on their knees. We tell HRH Alhaji Abubaker the reason for our visit and present the traditional gift of kola nuts.

Guards of Etsu of Nupe

Guards of Etsu of Nupe

(to read captions, slide cursor over photo.)

Our author, W.H.L., arrived in Bida during the reign of Etsu Ndayako, 9th in succession from the first of the genealogical tree of Fulani emirs of Nupe. He explains,

“ Mallam Dendo was a Fulani from Kebbi and first appeared in Nupe late in the eighteenth century. He was a preacher, diviner, and seller of charms. Collecting a group of followers, he soon became strong enough to engage in conflict with the existing emirs for leadership in Nupe. These exploits were successful and before long, Manko (Great Mallam) as he was known, had established himself in Rabá as head of the Nupe. Mallam Dendo is the root of the genealogical tree of Fulani emirs of Nupe, and while himself not assuming the title of Etsu, his son, Usman Zaki, was crowned first Fulani Etsu of Nupe in 1836.” (Nigeria Magazine #30, 1949).

The present Etsu HRH Alhaji Yahaya Abubaker is thirteenth in succession. HRH was born into the family of the Etsu Ndayako and hails from the one of the ruling houses of Bida Emirate, Usman Zaki.

My first responsibility is to visit the family of Alhaji Essa. On the way we stop at several of the ruling families’ palaces to pay our respects.

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After lunch/dinner of river fish, Egusi stew, and semolina, dusk descends with the call to Maghrib prayer; the muezzin’s melodic voice recites evening prayers without a microphone. I want to record it on my iPhone but mesmerized by the simplicity and purity, I sit in place without motion. In this little rest-house, I am comfortable. I am promised electrical power from a generator so as to enjoy air-conditioning until 1 am. After a day in the 42Celcius heat, I am most grateful.

Over the next few days, we visit the Bida glassmakers’ quarter where glassmakers sit for hours on the ground in mud huts vented by characteristic round portholes, who, in front of hot furnaces, make seamless glass bracelets and beads from old medicine and beer bottles. I find the same working scene repeated at the Bida brass workshop and the local blacksmith.

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Glassmaker’s at the bellows operator, 2015

1949 Glassmaker's Bellows Boy

1949 Glassmaker’s Bellows Boy

Read about and watch video:

Bida Beads and Bangles

Read about Bida Brass and Metal works here

DSC_2081Read about Bida Blacksmiths, here.

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In the midst of visits to sweltering workshops of glassmakers, brass-works, and the local blacksmith, we stop to watch cloth pressed by traditional ironers who use various sizes of mallets to beat the cloth by which reveals the natural sheen of traditional cloth.

1949 Nig. Mag. #30

1949 Nig. Mag. #30

On a busy ironing day, up to 8 people can iron clothes on this one long, hard tree trunk.

On a busy ironing day, up to 8 people can iron clothes on this one long, hard tree trunk.

beautiful traditional cloth ironed by traditional ironers

beautiful traditional cloth ironed by traditional ironers

mallots for ironing

mallots for ironing

We watch a local carpenter carve stools that will sell for a high price in Lagos but not at the local workshop.

DSC_2466Bida straw hats are renown. The hat maker offers to sew strips of red leather on the hat I purchase that is similar to a traditional hat that a Fulani cattle herder might wear.

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DSC_2415All too soon Friday is upon us and so much left to see and revisit. We begin with a visit to the Emir’s Islamic technology school and to the oldest mosque in Bida (1854) currently under restoration. After Friday prayers, we motor to a small village, Kutigi, situated near the Kaduna River about 30 kilometers north of Bida.

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Kaduna River March 2015

1949, crossing Kaduna River on pontoon. Look closely to see the car at the right, on the pontoon.

1949, crossing Kaduna River on pontoon. Look closely to see the car at the right, on the pontoon.

Along the way, we cross a long, wide bridge that spans the Kaduna River.   Our author, W.H.L., also has something to say about his crossing of Kaduna River:

“Ten miles from Bida, we come to the Kaduna River, which has to be crossed by pontoon. This is a procedure which turns out to be easier and less ominous of certain death by drowning than one would at first suppose. While the pontoon was being moored in readiness to take our car, I had time to look at some very large dug-out canoes which lay near the landing place. Some of them were forty feet long, of square section, and must have entailed a prodigious amount of man labour to reduce from a growing tree to a shapely hull.” (Nigeria Magazine#30, 1949).

At Kutigi we pursue the colored raffia mats. Our first stop is at a school yard where we find a group of men sitting under umbrella-like Flame trees weaving raffia to make large African fans. Men discuss and weave while the children run and play.  It is peaceful; a good way to spend a Friday afternoon.

School yard, the stones mark the lines for children to queue

School yard, the stones mark the lines for children to queue

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DSC_2551 DSC_2556Our group of six has grown into a long line of interested bystanders and we parade through the dusty roads of the village. The road becomes an alleyway and then a narrow dirt path shared by sheep, goats and hens interrupted by a stream of waste water. The village is a collection of round huts. Granaries (called dobwi) that store guinea corn are set in the wall. A typical room consists of a circular mud wall with one door. The wall is continued up to form a complete domed mud roof, over which the framework a thatched or corrugated roofing is attached.

dobwi to store guinea corn

dobwi to store guinea corn

Nigeria Heritage 1994

Nigeria Heritage 1993

Walking through the Kutigi, there are still decorated houses in red mud.

Walking through the Kutigi, there are still decorated houses of red mud.

As the crowd grows in curiosity, I wonder where we are being led but finally we enter a large room with sunlight streaming through two doors and four elderly men sit on the floor weaving carpets of plain and colored fibers. Hues of purple and green reflect across the room. I purchase all available carpets!

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We find the women weavers in darker surroundings, no light except for that which enters through the doorway or by a torch. The colors of the cloth are traditional Nupe and I buy this too!DSC_2597

Bida cloth in 1949

Bida cloth in 1949

On returning to the small oasis rest-house, I think about the Nupe heritage crafts that have been intertwined with the culture for several centuries. Can these skills and traditions survive ten more years? To produce an object, it takes a group to produce one bead or one bracelet, one spoon or one hoe. The ground is the surface to sit and work. Each person has a particular skill whether it is to stoke a fire, work the bellows, solder, shape, weave, carve, or design that turns simple raw material into jewelry, furniture, clothing, or tools. For example, to craft a necklace of 40 glass beads, four men spend 15–20 minutes to make one bead. The necklace is sold for 500 Naira (less than $3) in the Bida market.

The elderly men who work the bellows and plait the straw today are probably the same who learnt from their fathers sixty-five years ago. When asked, the men said, simply, these crafts do not support the lifestyle and demands of today; youth want a better life.

Yet, this journey cannot end on a sad note for the days were filled with hospitality, generosity, and fascinating. I give our author, W.H.L. the last word:

“That evening we sat on the lawn in front of the house on the hill and watched the sun go down in a sky of glory. It was our last evening in Bida. Several of the smaller boys from the mission school came up and sat around us on the grass. There in the quietness we talked of all things under the sun; the African sun.”

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Excerpts and 1949 photographs are from Nigeria Magazine Quarterly, edited by E. H. Duckworth, Government of Nigeria, No. 30, 1949. p 270-315.IMG_2044

***Nigeria is often in the news — often the news is not good, however this article centers the spotlight on Nigerians, the culture and their good work to keep traditional crafts alive. Throughout the developing world, heritage crafts need support, if not, the ancient techniques will vanish only to be read about in a dusty old book. Please support heritage crafts wherever and whenever possible. By doing so you help preserve ancient techniques, encourage skills and apprenticeships, and support the local economy.***


All rights reserved by Lesley Lababidi. To copy or re-produce photography and/or writings, written permission from Lesley Lababidi is required.

14 thoughts on “Red Walls of Bida – Part Two

  1. You have really opened up the country to me – I have seen how much I missed while living there, but I enjoy having it brought home to me through your eyes – you are very gifted – Thank you!
    Joyce Mostard

    • Dear Joyce, As you lived a long time in Nigeria before the 1990s , you have a perspective of Nigeria where today’s visitor can never imagine. Thank you for your thoughts, I am grateful.
      L.

  2. I am stunned into silence! Part 2 is beyond amazing. You are amazing! This is an extraordinary , eye-opening, almost mystical journey into a time and place so far removed from my own understanding that it feels like a transference into another dimension, yet you keep your reporting so methodically proper and respectful and humble. It just makes me hungry to understand more, like when you purchased all they had, how did you ask the price ? and what was their reaction when you purchased all available ? Plus, every picture told a million stories – I could not take my eyes off the pictures of the young guards in bright orange-ish, and the picture of you with the emir on the throne is both jarring and wondrous – like a tremendous fairy tale, real yet surreal. The faces of these people call out to the soul, for you have captured an essence of ancientness, each picture more a peek into eternity. I am stunned into silence.

  3. Part 6 – I am revisiting this page again, because it is so filled with rich treasures, and indeed I missed something the first time….there is so much!
    Lesley, the VIDEO of the TRADITIONAL IRONERS !!!!! Look at that guy spit out a spray of water over the cloth!!!!!! This is the most fascinating and endearing of all ….. and then pounding the cloth …. to soften the fibers, I presume? It is something so ancient that I cant even comprehend this still being done by any human, and yet here you have found them. I am just amazed. Thank you , Lesley, this is a visual (and hissing audio) that I will never forget!!

    • Yes, the traditional ironers are still in northern nigeria and even in Kano. The pounding brings out the sheen of the fibers. To wear a cloth that has been pounded is a completely different experience than by iron…and oddly, the material does not wrinkle easily. Also there is one man in Cairo that still does traditional ironing…you remind me that I need to go to him and take a photo…if he is still alive…as he was very old the last time I went to his shop. I will send you a few photos of the traditional ironers from Kano on the email. Love L.

  4. I am so glad to b identified with dis history. I ws born and brought up in dis ancient city. Though my parents are frm edo state, i can boldly say i am a part of dis peaceful and loving pple. Its so sad dat our grt walls are falling…. No plan wotsoeva to preserve dis historic sight dat dates bak to d precolonial era. I wish somthing could b done to praserve d walls. I liv jst ryt behind dem and jst a forthnyt ago a hevy storm brought dwn a huge part of d wall. Tnk u for comin up wit dis piece. Long Live Bida, Long Niger State, and long live D Fedral Republic of Nigeria. God bles u

    • What a wonderful message! I am just thrilled that you enjoyed my post. It was a very special trip to a fabulously interesting part of Nigeria. It is distressing that little is done to preserve the heritage in Bida. Once handicrafts, traditions, and culture are not ignored, they are soon forgotten and lost. There is much opportunity in Bida for employment in tourism that would promote the handicrafts and great culture, I certainly hope that people will take the opportunity to promote this area of Nigeria so the world can know more about this great place. Thank you so much for your comment and well wishes, Sincerely, Lesley Lababidi

    • Dear Muhammed,
      Thank you for your comment! I am honored that you have taken the time to look through the Bida series. There is so much to study, research, and document in the NUPE region. It is a rich culture and I hope more people will take time to appreciate what they have before it is too late and the heritage is lost. Thanks again, L. L.

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