By Usman Aishat Abubakar

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Etsu Nupe, Alh Yahaya Abubakar

Nupe-speaking people live near the confluence of the Niger and Kaduna rivers in west-central Nigeria. They live in the heart of Nigeria, spread over the low basin formed by the two rivers, Niger and Kaduna, which the Nupe people popularly call Eduand Lavun respectively. There around 3.5 million Nupe people, with the largest congregation found in Bida.

The Nupe comprises other related ethnic groups or sub-tribes namely Beni, Benu, Kusopa, Dibo, Gana-Gana, Kakanda, Basa, Cekpan, Kede, and Kupa.

The Nupe are organised into a number of closely related territorial groups, of which the Beni, Zam, Batache (Bataci), and Kede (Kyedye) are the most important. The Kede and Batache are riverine people, subsisting primarily by fishing and trading; the other Nupe are farmers, who grow staple crops like millet, sorghum, yams, and rice. The Nupe are noted throughout Nigeria for glass beads, fine leather and mat work, brass trays, and fine cloth.

Before the Fulani conquest in 1804, the Nupe Empire had reached the height of its fame. Later developments brought the empire under the domination of Gwandu, after the Fulani conquest of the entire Hausa States. After the seizure of authority from Nupe(non-Fulani rulers) in 1810, MallamDendo, locally called Manko, a Fulani scholar from Bangana, a village near BrininKebbi, established himself as the new leader. After his death, the children moved the then Nupe capital from Raba to Bida.

Bida is generally regarded as the capital of Nupe land in Nigeria. Its rapidly increasing population is put presently at more than 600,000 people.History has it that by 1352, the Nupe people were already settled in this location. They speak a language of the Nupoid group in the Benue-Congo branch of the Niger-Congo language family. Other languages in the group are Igbira (Ebira), Gbagyi (Gbari), Gade, and Kakanda. Nupe is related most closely to Gbari and Kakanda in structure and vocabulary. There are at least two markedly different dialects: Nupe central and NupeTako Notwithstanding, there is a common definition and understanding when the central Nupe tone is used.

The use of Nupe, in its spoken term, is pure. However, it is noteworthy that due to centuries of intercultural activities between Hausas and Nupes, certain words seem to have been integrated into the lifestyle and certain expressions in Nupe culture.Most importantly too, the sharing of practices based on the common principles of Islam, that is the predominant religion of the Nupes and subsequent Jihadist activities, have left traces of language sharing and combination of Nupe and Hausa words. A similar trend is observed among the Nupes in Lafiagi and the Igbomina Yoruba in the South Western Nupeland. The interrelationships are so deep that in some Yoruba villages in the Igbomina area, in certain ceremonies, a Nupe head presides with deep sense of respect forancestral backgrounds of the two groups. This is, particularly, significant, given the history of several families formed as a result of Yoruba Nupe intermarriages.

Formation of Nupe kingdom

The Nupe kingdom was founded by Tsoede, alias Edegi, who was born in 1465. The early Nupe history recognisedTsoede and his fundamental contributions to the building of Nupe dynasty. Tsoede was the son of a Nupe mother and an Igala father, who was raised at the Igala court, in Idah, but later returned to his maternal home in Nupeland. He returned with magical and symbolic regalia bequeathed to him by his father, the Igala king. On his return to his maternal home, he gained control over the vast area of Nupeland and extended his kingdom by conquering the lands of neighbours as well. The people conquered were the Yoruba in the south and the Kamberi and Kamuku in the north. He founded Nupeko as his administrative capital and from there asserted his political might and authority in the entire Nupe kingdom. Tsoede passed away in 1591 in one of his military expansionist missions, north of the Nupe kingdom. Hence, Nadel refers to Tsoede as the culture hero and mythical founder of the Nupe kingdom.

The Nupe people have been recognised for their tremendous achievements in the history of the black race, according to valuable information from the work of the renowned anthropologist, Professor S.F. Nadel, the author of the Black Byzantine, who spent over 20 years in Nupeland and spoke Nupe fluently in those hectic years of anthropological research. His adopted Nupe name was NdakotsuNasara (Etsu’s grandfather, the white man).

The Nupe people have historical links with the Hausas of Katsina, Kano, and Borno people. This is evident with few examples. Both the towns of Abaji and Eggan have traditions which confirm that they were founded by men from Katsina. Bokane was first settled by a man from Kano (i.e. Bakano), while Kutigi and Enagi became the homes of settlers from Borno, whose origins gave the whole region its name, Benu. They are said to be specifically from ukawa.

Despite the ever-increasing connection in social and commercial relationships, which gradually spread over Nupeland from the north, we must not lose sight of the fact that the Nupe culture, especially prior to the nineteenth century, was firmly linked to that of its neighbours across the River Niger. Due to overwhelming data on Yoruba history over that of other Nupeneigbouring tribes such as Igala, Gwari and Borgu we can see through documentation and interactions of the long-term connection between Yoruba and Nupe. There is reason to accept the evidence, in this connection, of major shifts in population as well as the emigration of individuals and small groups. For instance western Nupe had once been settled by Yoruba-speaking people who, it was gathered, as a result of integration, moved to the south of the River Niger.

It is interesting to note that, historically, it is established that Oranmiyan, a descendant of Oduduwa, the founder of the Yoruba race, married Elempe, the daughter of the Nupe King. Their son was the powerful god of thunder, Sango; thus he was half-Nupe, half-Yoruba. He later became the Alaafin (King) of Oyo Empire. After Sango’s brother invaded the Nupe people during his reign as the king of Oyo, the Etsu-Nupe, known then to the Yoruba as Lajomo, fought back strongly and the evidence of that historical event could be traced to Ede and Ilesha and the conquest of Oyo Empire. However, events of the following years showed that the relationship between the Nupe people and the Yoruba came to be cordial. This explains the introduction of Egugu into Yorubaland by the Nupe. Subsequently, with the introduction of Islam into Nupeland, it equally spread fast to the neighbouring Yoruba towns like Offa and Ibolo communities.Nupe servants, to leading Yoruba chiefs were treated with cordiality. A prominent example was the Tapa Oshodi, the servant of Kosoko, the King of Lagos, who recognised or treated slaves as free natives. Hence, the Nupes in Yorubaland made themselves at home throughout the 19th century. Therefore, it is not surprising that the Tapa Oshodi’s name has become a popular or household name in Lagos and beyond.

Also, during the 1980s and 1990s, the wind of unity blew across the entire Nupe speaking communities in Niger, Kwara and KogisSates. For instance, this period witnessed a clamour for Ndaduma State, a dream that is still dear to the hearts of Nupes in these states. The recent approval and construction of a major road and bridge across River Niger through Nupeko, the historic headquarters of the Nupes, to Pategi is a development that is heartily celebrated among the Nupes.

Nupe kingship structure

It is good to understand the evolution of leadership structure in Bida, the undisputed headquarters of Nupe people in Nigeria. The traditional inhabitants of the ancient city (BaninBida) were known as Beni. These were very powerful people with mystical powers (now overtaken by Islam). The original house of Etsu-Yisa was the palace of the leadership where the Etsu came from before the conquest of Nupeland by the Fulani rulers (Goyizhi) in 1804, who displaced the BidaNupe leadership structure in early 19th century.

The Fulani leader, MallamDendo (Manko) who became the new leader of this empire started it all. His son, UsmanZaki, became the first EtsuNupe in 1832.

There are three ruling houses in Bida, between which the EtsuNupe rotates. These are: UsmanZaki, Masaba, and UmaruMajigi. Since the emergence of the first Etsu-Nupe of Fulani descent in 1832, there have been 13 Etsu.The Etsu-Nupe appoints credible people to several traditional title offices. These title holders are the EtsuNupe’s loyalists, who advised him from time to time, while several district heads are appointed to head several districts in Bida Emirate. The same is practiced in other emirates of Lapai, Agaie, Patigi, Lafiagi, etc.

Economy

Nupeland is made up of an agrarian population, where the economy and social life revolve round agriculture. The people are active farmers. Major crops grown are rice, sorghum, sugar cane, millet, melon, vegetables, yam, homestead livestock management, and fishing.Cassava, maize, and sweet potatoes (grown inland) are of secondary importance. The large proportion of seasonally flooded (fadama) land has allowed a greater emphasis on growing rice, sugarcane, and onions. This has encouraged the establishment of commercial growing and refining of sugar at Bacita. The Nupe practice hoe agriculture, using a large, heavy hoe called a zuku and a small hoe called dugba. The Nupe system of agriculture is based on shifting cultivation combined with rotation of crops. The low population densities and less intense form of agriculture allowed more of the original savanna to survive, and woodland products are significant, particularly from the shea-butter tree and the locust-bean tree. There are many fishermen in the villages on the banks of the Niger and Kaduna rivers and their tributaries. Food processing is entirely done by women. Also, marketing of farm produce is in the hands of women. Cattle raising is engaged in by the Bororo Fulani, who move their herds from one pasture to another as necessity dictates.

However, many people are civil servants, employed in government establishments only. There are very few industries and private companies that employ the services of people. Despite the unique history of the Nupes, they have not had fare share in national development. The commonest occupation in Nupeland is teaching. Most of the schools in various zones are predominantly handled by teachers of Nupe origin. Those around the riverside areas are predominantly fishermen and their wives are actively engaged in processing and selling of fish.

Some of the cottage industries that are simple income-generation avenues to Nupe people are traditional soap making, blacksmithing, brass work, wood work, tailoring and cooperative engagements. Modern industries in Nupeland include Nigerian Sugar Company, Bacita, Sunti Sugar Company, Sunti, Jebba Paper Mill and the two major Hydro Electricity Stations in Nigeria – the Kanji Dam, New Bussa and Jebba Dam, Jebba. Hence, Nupeland is the power base of Nigeria.

Delicacies

A major staple food that is common to many households in Nupeland is rice. This is prepared either as joloff rice or in the form of “ejeboci” (mashed) rice. The reason for this development is due to the fact that majority of the farmers, both within and around fadama lands (lowland marshy areas) which allow for the cultivation of rice, in communities like Jima, Doko, Edozhigi, Bacita, Katcha, Gbaraetc have rice production as a major and profitable venture. Hence, the explanation why rice is a common feature in households diet in Nupeland.

Another delicacy that goes with rice is fish; both smoked and fresh fish are in abundance, especially from adjoining tributaries around Rivers Niger and Kaduna. All villages and towns around the bank of these rivers and other smaller rivers engage in fishing activities all year round.

It is a tradition in Nupe land to welcome visitors with delicious meals from rice and fish soup. Also, during ceremonies such as naming or marriage ceremonies as well as festivals like Sallah (end of Ramadan) Id-El-fir or Id-Kabir celebrations, rice feast is a common feature.

Other food types include mashed meal ejeboci, which Hausas refer to as “tuwo” from sorghum, millet, and maize. These are served on alternate basis with beans, cooked yam, potatoes and garri. Sometimes, beans are mixed with yiwara (ground sorghum) or millet sprinked on beans after conversion into paste form. Other common foods are porridge from millet, sorghum or maize called“Kunu. This is consumed along with certain snacks, like akara (bean cake), masa” (sorghum cake), “mashe (early millet cake) or Dankuwa special confectionery from a combination of fried groundnut and maize and, lastly, kuli-kuli, made from groundnut after extraction of groundnut oil, where the paste from that process is fried; this is popular with students as African “biscuit. These snacks are very important in Nupeland because they facilitate casual eating, especially among children when they like to soak garri and drink along with these snacks of interest. Most significantly, they are used to take breakfast, when served as porridge. This also brings to focus, the consumption of leftover (jekun), that is cooked with fresh ingredients. Jekun is the second cooking of leftover food from previous supper. This left-over is from ejeboci (mashed food) of rice, millet, sorghum or maize origin.

Several dishes are served with specific soups in Nupeland. Some of these soups are stew, made of tomatoes with either meat, chicken, or fish. It is good for all kinds of food; it goes with ejeboci, white rice, yam, etc. Other soups are Ezowa (bean soup) significant for ejebocifrom rice and vegetable soup that is sometimes mixed with melon that is served along with ejebocirice. Others are Ningbana (from liquid ground sorghum). Ningbana is delicious if served with left-over (Jekun) second cooking of left-over food. Other common soups are from HerbiscusSobderifa (calyx) known as emagi, okro soup, baobab leaf soup (kuka) among others. One significant soup ingredient inNupeland is Kula, processed locust bean that is Nupe’s version of Dadawa (Hausa) and Iru(Yoruba).

The traditional industries, especially guild-organised crafts in which membership is largely hereditary, are done by men. These trades include blacksmithing, brass and silver smithing, glassmaking, weaving, beadwork, building, woodcarving, and carpentry. Nupe brasssmiths (tswatamuku) are found mostly in Bida. The woodcarving tradition of the Nupe does not depend on the ceremonial or ritual use of artifacts but is almost entirely art for art sake.

Aishat Abubakar sends in this piece from the Department of Mass Communication, Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida University, Lapai (IBBU).

TAURARUWA