Enyioha Opara, Minna
One of Nigeria’s remotest communities, Birni Amina and Acer of Niger State is just 276 kilometres south of the state capital, Minna. But for all the cultural disparity, which exists between these remote communities in north-central of Nigeria and the rest of the country, one could as well conclude that they exist on an entirely different continent.
As soon as a traveller takes a turn off the main road of Rijau Local Government Area towards these communities, little evidence remains as to whether people actually live on the other end of the eroded, bumpy and rocky path.
The communities are so remote that they do not even appear on Google Maps.
But this is the home of the Kambari people of Niger State, a tribe forgotten by infrastructural development where donkeys provide the only means of transport for a largely agrarian and nomadic people.
To the outside world, these are a forgotten people but to the unclad people inhabiting Birni Amina and Acer communities, their reclusive nature gives them peace and happiness. The two communities hold tenaciously to their culture and tradition to an extent that they insist that nothing would change their ways of life.
The dome straw roof and round mud houses in which the Kambari people currently live have been their homes for decades since they started living in the area. While the rest of the country broils in the heat that sometimes characterises the desert region of the northern states, their homes provide a cool interior that is unrivalled.
For visitors who are not accustomed to the way of life of the Kambari people, the sight of young girls and women and men alike, walking around in the nude would be quite awkward. But not for people of these remote communities.
When our correspondent visited Birnin Amina and Acer, what makes these people so different became immediately obvious. What constitutes societal mores and laws are different in these communities.
It is entirely normal for a 60-year-old man to marry an eighteen-year-old girl. But that is not the strangest. In these communities, cousins marry one another while they never marry outsiders due to the fact that many of their neighbours don’t even understand their cultures.
In Birnin Amina and Acer communities, rape cases are rare because rape is “punished by the gods” with death.
“It is unacceptable and unforgivable and our people are conscious of this,” the Maiunguwa of one of the communities, Gandi Kamuna, said.
According to Maiunguwa, men and women mix freely unclad because their nudity does not elicit any sexual emotion.
“Moving around naked or half-naked is our culture and we don’t care what people say about us. We are comfortable that way because we find it normal.
“What attracts men is not nudity. Our men are attracted by how women plait their hair, good manners and the tattoos the young ladies have.”
When the Kambari people go to the market to sell their farm produce, the women cover the bottom half of their bodies with wrappers while the men do the same.
In Kambari and Acer, marriage is celebrated by slaughtering goats and cows for food while the parents of the bride cook food for the groom. Once the food is eaten, the marriage is contracted.
The Maiugunwa, a 70-year-old man, said since the Kambari people know nothing about what others may term civilised fashion and beautiful clothes hold no appeal for them.
“Western civilisation is another man’s culture. Why must we embrace it, leaving our own that was handed over to us by our forefathers?” he said.
Majority of the people of these communities cannot speak, read or write either Hausa, a language widely spoken in northern Nigeria, nor can they speak rudimentary English. The language is Kambari.
Our correspondent could only speak with the locals through an interpreter, which is necessary for one to conduct any form of business in the communities that require contact with the residents.
What sets the Kambari people apart from many other parts of the north is that the people are pagans. They worship a god called Magiro, while belief in curses, witchcraft and magic is rife among the people.
The locals explained that in the past, missionaries from all walks of life had made spirited efforts to change their belief, but have not been successful.
They maintain that it is a religion handed over to them by their forebears and have guarded it jealously ever since.
But in the midst of all these, something one cannot remove from the people of this area is their kindness. They find joy in helping one another and live in peace. In their world, there is no rancour.
The residents told Saturday PUNCH they have no need for education, primary health care, access to good roads and other social amenities. They prefer to use herbs in treating all their health issues. The only time they mix with outsiders is when they are in the market to sell their farm produce.
In Rijua local council area, Birnin Amina and Acer produce 70 per cent of the crops consumed by the entire people. The most popular crops produced are corn, millet, peanuts, beans, and rice. Nearly all of the locals keep chickens and goats for meat while the richer ones have cattle.
A resident of Rijau council area, Sulaiman Mohammed Kadukku, told Saturday PUNCH that there is no evidence of government presence in Birnin Amina and Acer at all. But the people are not worried.
According to him, since the inception of Niger State, the government had shown no interest in the communities, and has never treated them as citizens of the state.
According to him, “The two communities of the Kambaris tribe have lived here for over 50 years without knowing whether government exists or not and honestly, they are not perturbed because they have all it takes to care for themselves.
“The government only remembers them during political campaigns to seek votes and once the election is over, they are abandoned until the next rounds of election,” Kadukku said.
Kadukku also said that the Kambari people are the food producers of the local government and that without them, the people of the surrounding areas would die of hunger, adding that was why they remain in the bush for the benefit of farming and maintaining their culture and tradition as they got it from their forefathers.
He lamented that efforts of some religious groups to convince them to change their life pattern proved abortive as they cannot compromise their belief; hence they hold it firmly as ever.
“They cannot read and write and are not ready to be modernised. They don’t care what government and other people will do for them. Their tradition to them is the best thing that has happened to them and they cannot avoid it, no matter what.”
Asked whether they are conscious of their nakedness, he said it is part of their tradition. He said it was part of the things handed over to them by their forebears and would not likely change easily.
“Missionaries and other organisations have been trying their best to reform them but could not succeed. They still stick to their belief.”
Apart from Birnin Amina and Acer communities, there are other places in Rijua council that practise paganism like Aulo, Gulubaidu, Dugge, Agwanda, Buni and Arigida. Many non-governmental organisations that have tried to make contact with them and change their beliefs have met with the same disappointment.
The Kambaris are aware that the way of life outside their communities is much different but they seem to be comfortable in retaining their ancient way of life.
Another tradition that they value and cherish is the festival of their god, which is celebrated once in a year. Sacrifices are offered to the god to celebrate the bumper harvest of their crops.
Early marriage for the Kambaris is a common tradition as parents believe marrying off their children at a young age is the best gift they could give them.
In Birnin Amina and Acre, young men who have saved up through their harvests use the money to get married.
Almost every parent regularly has one or two early marriage proposals for their female children whose ages range from six to 17 years.
Kambari men traditionally marry up to four wives and always ensure that their wives are well taken care of equally.
The Maiunguwa (Kamuna), who is also known as Babangida among the locals, confirmed that government has made no attempt to provide any infrastructure in his community in the last 60 years.
Kamuna said, “We don’t need the government to live a wonderful life here. After all, we have been managing ourselves well for over 60 years. Currently, we are about 500 men and women along with about 150 children.
“We don’t actually need the government because we have all it takes to take care of ourselves and that is why we don’t bother them for anything unlike people living in the city.”
The Maiunguwa said, “We are on our own. We believe strongly in our customs and tradition and we don’t need any religion or government to come here and change us. Since the god of our land, Migaro, is protecting us and taking care of all us, we lack nothing.
“The borehole water we drink today is our personal effort. We even have a generator to charge our mobile phones. We have a rice mill and one of our people even has about 300 cows. So, you see, we lack nothing.”
Kamuna explained that his people dress half naked as part of their culture and that nobody has a right to force them to change, since Christians and Muslims cannot be forced to change their religions.
According to him, some groups have tried to convert his people by bringing them gifts. He said it was a ploy to encourage the Kambari people to conform to how the rest of the country lives.
He said such overtures have created a suspicion among the people because they never tried to understand the Kambari culture.
Most parents are against sending their children to school, feeling that it is a waste of time when the children could be doing farm work.
He described the Kambari people as very friendly to strangers in their midst. The only time they do not take kindly to strangers is when such people deride their culture.
Kamuna said, “Social gatherings like weddings and markets draw huge crowds while social vices like drunkenness, sexual immorality and stealing are very rare in our communities. In fact, these things are taboos.
“Due to non-existent health care, our witch doctors handle all the health-related issues while they also communicate with ancestral spirits for blessings, good harvests and other aspects of daily life. Even our wives put to bed through traditional method,” he said.
“I have never been to hospital in my life, including my two wives and my children and we are strong and healthy.”
The Chairman, Rijua Local Government Area, Bello Bako, said there is nothing any person can do to stop the way of life of the Kambari people.
“It is their way of life and they must be accommodated. So many missionaries have tried their best to convert them to embrace Christianity, but they refused to be converted. They are holding their customs and traditions firmly and are surviving with it.
“They are rich farmers and the communities are very peaceful. Even though they don’t depend on the government for anything, they obey the law of the land.”
Asked whether he was aware that the community (Acer) provided borehole water for themselves without government assistance, Bako said, “I am aware that they contributed money for the borehole water and that’s why I said they live in the world of their own helping each other.”
The Niger State Commissioner for Information, Culture and Tourism. Mr. Jonathan Vatsa, said the culture of the people of Birnin Amina and Acer communities must be respected provided they do not go against the law.
Vatsa said, “There is nothing bad about people adhering to their culture and tradition provided it does not breach the peace of the state.”
He advised people to learn how to live with their culture and tradition and do what is expected of them without fear for peace to reign.
On why the communities are abandoned by the state government, Vatsa said the state government would set up an enlightenment committee in collaboration with the Rijau Local Government to educate the Kambari people on the need to embrace “civilisation so that they can participate in the activities of the government.”
Though they are being neglected for years now, he assured that the present government would provide basic amenities that would improve their lives. (Punchng.com)