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Beyond the Three: Kada Takes Us Into the Cultural Experience of the Bwatiye People

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Beyond the Three - Meet the Bwatiye People of Adamawa StateBeyond The Three is a new series on BellaNaija where we celebrate and spotlight every tribe and ethnic group that is NOT Yoruba, Hausa or Igbo. We invite ALL BellaNaijarians to be a part of this initiative.

In the first edition of this series, we were introduced to the Idoma people; this was followed by the Esan people.  Joan introduced us to the Oegorok people and we learned about the Mhiships from MwanretMa’ade told us about the Bassa people.  We had the pleasure of reading about the Uwano people of the Weppa Wanno kingdom. Last week we were taken to Langtang to meet the Taroks, thanks to Tanchit. Moses provided us with insight into the Isoko peopleNhaoma shared the Ikwerres with us. We’re kicking off the week with Kada’s exposition into the Bwatiye people. The Bwatiye people are otherwise known as the Bachama people. Numan town in Adamawa state is the home to the Bwatiye people. Speaking on the what he loves most about his people and why he’s sharing with Beyond the Three, Kada says: The two things I love most about my culture are our rich traditional festivals and the marriage rites.

“I believe ours like many other cultures are a potential tourism goldmine waiting to be harnessed. This is besides the opportunity many, I not excluded, may have to learn before towing the inter-ethnic marriage line.”

We appreciate Kada for sharing his people with us. We hope you enjoy this feature particularly because Kada gave us photos! We love it.

What is your name and what does it mean?
My name is Kadakowo and its symbolic meaning is the tree of the Kowo clan. As with every tree, I am expected to be the shade to which each must find respite from the scorching sun.

Wow that’s so poetic. What’s your language called? Do you know how to speak it?
My language is known as Kwa-Bwatiye. The word Bwatiye describes the Batta-Bachama speaking people. I speak the western Bwatiye dialect known as Bachama fluently.

Have you ever been to your village?
Yes I have been to my village, Rigange, on several occasions with each visit according me a unique memory of the place.

That’s so nice. So, tell us about some of the unique rites and cultures about the Bwatiye people
Naming styles
Naming styles in Bwatiye land are usually a reflection of the period in time or the circumstances in the life of a parent when a child is born. The birth in a family of four boys born in succession with the fifth being a daughter could see her being named Pwanovi. The long awaited arrival signifies the meaning which is: God gave me. Some names, however, are a mockery of the actions of others, a plea for vindication or an expression for the hope of what is to come.

Bwatiye Traditional Marriage
Bwatiye traditional marriage is a spectacle to behold considering the processes involved from the “love at first sight” moment to the expression of interest, the suitor’s toiling on his sugar’s parent’s farm or the construction of a hut in her father’s compound and the procession to matrimonial bliss. When a young man loves a lady and he genuinely wants her to be his future wife, he does not go to her house himself. He sends a respected elder as his nzotufe, his messenger. This process is insisted on for two reasons. First, he wants to show everybody his level of seriousness about getting married to her. Secondly, he wants nzotufe to be his witness in whatever he does – including the dowry he will be giving her and her parents. Should she later decide to break their relationship, his messenger will testify to the veracity of his statement of claim.

Traditional Bwatiye female hairstyle.

Researching the social background
When the parents are satisfied with the expression of interest, they will thereafter seek out the young man’s background. This research is also carried out by the young man’s parents regarding their future daughter-in-law. The engagement of this exercise is for two reasons; the parents want to see if the prospective partners have qualities close to what they perceive to be theirs. The desire to see the partners in their own image is what sociologists refer to as “assortive narcissism.” The second reason is to ensure that the exogamous nature of Bwatiye society is maintained.

Once the social backgrounds of the future partners has been screened to the satisfaction of all concerned and qualities which include: Bukbukto (kindness and understanding) intelligence and a desire for children, Diiti-nyirto (industriousness and a high sense of responsibility), Wula lagboune or wula nyekoune (physical attractiveness, handsome and beautiful), mandiune (good house-keeping) are established, nzotufe (messenger) resumes his work. He will take sogelto, the engagement ring to the lady. It does not have to be a physical ring; it could be money or some other valuable object. If she accepts, she will show it to her parents as a symbol of her betrothal. If the parents have no objection to the engagement, the messenger will be informed by the lady during his next visit.

An avoidance relationship also ensues afterwards, with the young man visiting her in company of his trusted friends. The young woman also avoids all familiarity with her in-laws. The next gift to be given is for his fiancés parents and it is known as So-wa-mandye. The acceptance of this part of the dowry signals parental approval of the engagement. After this, nzotufe (messenger) again takes the second part of the wealth the young man wants to spend on his future wife. This is known as So-kul-kwame. It is after So-kul-kwame has been given that the parents of the lady request for So-za-ha. The third and largest part of the dowry which the suitor gives towards the stabilisation of his intended union. Alongside this is the provision of three kojee (mats), one for her, one for her father and the third for the mother. Hers is the mat she will unfold for him and his friends whenever they visit her at home in the evenings.

The final stage is the request by her parents for the soon to be groom to work on their farm. The request represents the tacit agreement to the date fixed for marriage. Deeds are said to live longer than words. He and his trusted buddies will do the hauto (farming). Others demand the building of a house in addition to the farm work or in place of it.

The young man is also expected to invite his towns’ people with drums and work songs to the same farm for kod-hauto, more extensive work while his in-laws provide the food and mbale (local brew). The corn grown on the said farm is what she will be taking to her husband’s house on their wedding day. When all is done, he makes his final request that she go and pick bauto (wild spinach) for him and with this formal request goes the last part of the dowry called So-yirha.

“NAGI serving food to her suitor Mr Philip Nahadeino at my farm after a long day of hard work as provided in Bachama customs and tradition. This is a demonstration of his capacity to feed his family before giving her hand in marriage. Very soon he will build a round hut for me in our family compound at Lamurde.” The foregoing statement is as written by the father of Nagi, the bride to be on Facebook from where I extracted the picture to present in practical terms a major process in Bwatiye traditional marriage.

Lokai is the symbolic gathering of gifts for the bride to be by her relatives with a corresponding procession from her parent’s house to her matrimonial home. Her friends carry decorated calabashes, pots, flour, dry okra, bukute (stew ingredients), a goat, cow or some other live animal and decayed fish either compressed or sliced. The procession is punctuated with nzo-koombe (women’s ululations) and the necessary stops to show some selected relatives her wedding presents and bid them farewell. At each stop, she receives lamato (advice) on conjugal rights and how to live with her new people and her fellow wives if her husband has already taken other wives.

A Bwatiye lady carrying the necessary corn flour for lokai which must be paid for by the groom’s friends and relatives before the bride gets to settle in her new home. (Photo credit: Dakaimi Basason)

Shi lokai, gifts and wares the pride of every Bwatiye bride. (Photo credit: Vrati Swade)

She leaves the procession after showing the last relative her lokai gifts and returns to her parent’s home. The next morning, it is the best man who takes her to the husband upon the payment of some money to her relatives or friends. Food prepared by one of her aunts and others is served to his relatives and some village elders. The beneficiaries are expected to contribute something when the calabash in which food was served is returned. The bukute stew is the most prized.

The people who help in carrying the bride’s property to her new residence usually return home after one day. Nji-lokai, the house maid, is her assistant and her parent’s eye. Some ji-lokai, are in effect, informers. They often report on the young couple’s activities and marital relationships.

Other forms of Bwatiye traditional marriage are: Kur-meto (capturing the woman to her fiancés house). This is usually done either against the lady’s wish, or with her full cooperation when there is cut-throat competition for her hand. Ngur-meto (eloping) is often an arrangement between the man and woman in order to evade parental objections, necessary dowry payments or other obstacles to an ordinary nzahodye (marriage).

Ngur-meto is dangerous especially when the woman is either married or engaged to another man and the elopers happened to be caught by their pursuers. Bwatiye Homye (kings) have special ways of giving voice to their love for unmarried or single women. Their musicians and music do the talking for them. Royal music is played at the door of the lady’s house in the evening. This establishes royal presence as well as interest in the girl. A commoner can compete with royalty at his risk.

Governance and ruling class
The Bwatiye monarchs control the economy as well as the belief system. Theirs is the highest decision making body in the land. The King also presides over the cults. There are royal clans (Zomye) and non-royal clans (Kabe). The latter are the custodians of the royal institution as well as of all the religious rituals. They select a King from one of the royal clans whenever there is a vacancy. Zomye and Kabe titled elders hold offices in the King’s administration both at the headquarters and the outlying villages.

The mention of monarchs above is a reflection of the twin kingdoms of Batta and Bachama which make up Bwatiye land. The two kingdoms lend their division to the power tussle which ensued between King Taganiya’s twin sons, Zaro Kpalame, the elder and Zaro Dembune, the younger. The elder’s plot to kill the younger was leaked. The younger twin fearing death at home decide to emigrate along with significant objects of the cult and belief system further across the Benue to establish Bachama Kingdom with its headquarters at Bachama, later known as Lamurde.

During the crossing, one of the pots from the shrine of the cult fell into the river causing a great thunderstorm that alerted the elder who had gone hunting. He returned swiftly only to see the younger along with his followers rowing towards the other bank of the River Benue. There he stood and declared, “henceforth, you must live on the northern bank and I shall live on the southern. We must never look on each other’s face and we must neither of us see the Benue. Yours shall be the duty of sitting at home, a slave of the cults; mine will be that of hunting game and of fighting our Fulani foes.”

That’s a very interesting story. Tell us about some unique Bwatiye cultural and religion festivals
Bwatiye people perform a second burial called folshe. It is believed that if a person dies, he lingers invisibly among his people while judgement is carried out by Won (god of death). When folshe is performed, the individual is believed to have passed to the realm of death either as a clean man or sinner. It is believed that sinners have their skins peeled off by Won (god of death) while the righteous ones see the kingdom of Homun-Pwa, the god of the sky.

Before the advent of Christianity, the Bwatiye bury their dead in the huts in which they live and traditional title holders receive a unique funeral as characterized by the procession above. The latter is practiced to this day. (Photo credit: Rinji Kwashi)

Vunon/Farei festival
Nzeanzo is a Bwatiye god worshipped at Farei. His name Nzeanzo means, a boy who is not a boy. His mother Vunon was a sister to Won (god of death). No one knows Nzeanzo’s father just as his birth was mysterious. His mother Vunon had never met a man when she became pregnant. He asked his mother to be born, and upon his birth, began to show unconventional wisdom. When his mother died, Nzeanzo urged the people to feast and make merriment and wrestle in memory of his mother. Her grave, he said, has become a place where the Bwatiye and Mbula people would come to conjure and consult spirits for all their needs. No one dare put hoe to till the ground until after the folshe of Vunon.

The procession into the sacred groove in Farei being led by a seasoned drummer to commence folshe in honour and respect to Vunon as admonished by Nzeanzo. (Photo credit: Diyalo Jediel Gbokamuno)

When time for the folshe of Vunon comes, people gather at Farei, a village near Demsa, along the Yola-Numan road, from all nooks and crannies of Bwatiye land and beyond. Farei cultural festival is hugely symbolical not only to the Bwatiye but to our neighbours the Mbula. Nzeanzo remains the most worshipped of all gods at Farei. Notable priests of the cult are the Kusahome (keeper of the shrine of Vunon), Mbamto (queen priest) is the keeper of shrine and holds the responsibility of entertaining guests and priests at Farei sacred groove and the Nzobyalto (spokesperson of the priests) is in charge of delivering the opening and closing remarks at the Vunon wrestling festival.

Mbamto Farei here pictured, performing her duties in the sacred groove. (Photo credit: Diyalo Jediel Gbokamuno)

A dance procession at the sacred groove which is held a day before young men take to the arena for peer group wrestling. (Photo credit: Diyalo Jediel Gbokamuno)


Here pictured is a wrestling match between peers. This is where the boys are separated from the men. (Photo credit: Halima Abubakar Idirisu)

Young intending wrestlers look on as the aged custodians of the cult lead a dance procession in the sacred groove. Note the priest’s crook in each hand. (Photo credit: Diyalo Jediel Gbokamuno)

That was so insightful. The Bwatiyes have such a rich and unique culture. Kada, what’s that thing you love most about your people?
It’s the concept of Bwaaraune which is the humaneness or what is expected of a responsible human being. This set of virtues as enshrined in the Bwatiye codes and codices include: Homha (Generousity/Hospitality), Gwadoha (Helpfulness), Moha (Love), Kedok-ha (Cheerfulness), Ndukodoha (Giving honour), Wunakaha (Greetings), Bukbukto (Gentleness), Tikusto (Truthfulness), Twaito (Reliability), Mbasto (Patience), Gboo-nzumto (Fearlessness) and Muroune (Manliness). All of these and more, are regarded as qualities of a genuine human being and can be said to be universal guiding lights for a purposeful life.

The Bwatiye man is a wrestler and fighter by default. Pictured above are men dancing with spears. (Photo credit: Halima Abubakar Idirisu)

Please share a proverb/folklore that is native to your people
Mya wa le kufa gidinoto a go do.” Meaning no one knows underneath what trunk lies the scorpion.

Ngburum (Baaje) is a trickster and favourite comic hero of Bwatiye folklore as well as an embodiment of all negative values. He is a powerful spirit with judicial functions. As a musician, he chose to reside at Byemti, a central location, so that he can attend festivals to supply music. When the major spirits (Pule Kpankpanye) were people and took turns to become King at Lamurde, Ngburum degraded the monarchy by eating vanga (a type of fish) before the Kabe (non-royal clans).

When he was deprived of the position, all Ngburum could do was dance, and this he did round the world. To this day his concerns for hospitality is unequalled and he frowns at anyone who rejects an act of charity or hospitality shown them on a visit to Byemti his chosen abode. It is believed, and many have been victims, that a refusal to spend the night owing to impending nightfall in Byemti will incur Ngburum’s wrath with such a person wandering aimlessly without reaching their destination.

We definitely don’t wanna cross Ngburum! He sounds scary. What’s that thing you don’t really like about your culture?
The fact that whoever marries a lady from Bwatiye land has her for as long as she is alive. When she dies, her husband is expected to return her remains to the family for burial in Bwatiye land. Many have had to bear a pain beyond their loss while accepting this harsh reality of a culture they married into.

Wow, that’s sad. What do you wish more people knew about your people?
We, the Bwatiye are an impeccable people whose history as true a past and present is represented by the beauty seen above. We are the all loving, hospitable and generous humans “Bware” who welcome all. The truth we live in each path we embrace has been a shining light guiding each son and daughter who have in numerous ways contributed to the growth of Nigeria. We have raised a son who rose to lead the country’s army and defence forces, we have captained D’Tigers to glory, God rest his soul, our daughter Naydo has sang on the African stage and there are many more coming up with great exploits for Nigeria’s development. Visit Numan in your lifetime, you will be glad you did!

We sure will put Numan on our list of places to visit. Thank you so much, Kada. We appreciate your detailed insight into the Bwatiye ethnic group. BellaNaijarians, find out more about the series HERE. Click HERE to read more entries in the series.

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