Friday, March 18, 2011

Sight and sounds of Potiskum

Sights and sounds of Potiskum
Welcome to Potiskum, an ancient settlement in Yobe State, north-eastern Nigeria. Ngizim is the name of Potiskum’s earliest settlers, although different historians, ethnologists and anthropologists had variously recorded this ethnic group as Nguzum, Ngwazim, N’gazim, Ngojin, Ngazar, Nkazara and even Nguidjim.
Today, virtually all Ngizim are Muslims; proud, devout and sincere worshippers. But, once upon a time, before Islam came their way; not by violence but by persuasion and voluntary adoption; Ngizim believed in a deity called “Gisku”. Those days, upon returning from war, the soldiers shared the spoils on the outskirts of town. As tradition had it, the heart of every animal captured as part of the spoils of war that was slaughtered to be shared among the warriors was reserved for the town’s Mai (traditional ruler).

But, on one occasion; it was discovered that the number of hearts was one short of the number of cows that had been killed and shared. After counting and cross-checking, the warriors were still baffled because things simply didn’t add up. After much more pondering over the mystery yielded no fruit, they decided to leave everything in hands of Gisku.

As was their tradition, upon reaching such a pass; the worried warriors looked to the heavens and prayed. To conclude their supplication, the shocked soldiers chorused: “Gisku, we leave this issue in your hands”. And, pronto! A lightening sprang forth from the skies and struck one of the soldiers named Ari. Ari hit the ground and died instantly. As some of the returnees would later tell the town’s folk; Ari had actually died, even before his body hit the earth.

In any case, it was subsequently discovered that Ari had stolen the missing heart, which was later recovered from the dead man’s bag. That, in a nutshell, is how the phrase “Ari-Gisku” entered Ngizim vocabulary. “Ari” means “with you”, while “Gisku” stands for God. The incident, local lore has it, took place at Babut Village in Yerimaram; near the present Palace of Mai Pataskum, Alhaji Umaru Bubaram Ibn Wuriwa Bauya I; according to Mallam Usman Garba Potiskum alias Babayo, who is Curator of Pataskum Emirate Council Palace Museum. 
Pataskum Emirate Council Palace
To date, a sacred tree stands as part of a symbolic shrine of “Ari-gisku”; whose legend goes back to time immemorial; to those days, when judgment came swift as a swallow; when sin was abhorred and everyone lived in fear of the all-knowing, all-seeing and all-powerful God.

“We don’t have shrines”, the town’s paramount ruler, Mai Pataskum, told us during an encounter inside the Pataskum Emirate Council Palace. Interestingly, however, many Ngizim were Ziga or practitioners of traditional religion in ancient times.

Evidently, times and attitudes have changed across Potiskum and in deed all over Ngizim lands; for, in the days of yore, adherents of traditional faith worshipped Gamarim, a unisex deity. Although Islam swept Ngizim nation almost 1,000 years ago, when they aligned themselves with the revered Kanem-Borno Empire, Ngizim people are, nonetheless, proud of their heritage.

The high level of their intellect could be gleaned from their traditional craft and how they relate with their environment and others around them. Furthermore, Ngizim people played enviable roles in the development of their immediate environment and surrounding territories. For example, Waziri Kabir Kursu Ibn Harun was a unique Ngizim warrior, which led to his appointment as Commander-in-Chief of the Army during the reign of the famous Mai Idris Alooma (1571 to 1585).

Sacred tree in Yerimaram
Aside Waziri Kabir Kursu Ibn Harun, Nasir Bultu and one Gamaru were also among many outstanding Ngizim ethnics that held exalted offices in the famed Kanem-Borno Empire. Expectedly, Ngizim people cherish their history of gallantry and rich culture; and a museum was therefore conceived to preserve this history and other aspects of the way of life of this ethnic group.

That repository, called Pataskum Emirate Council Palace Museum, was launched on 8 May, 2007 as part of ceremonies marking the formal opening of the sparkling new Pataskum Emirate Palace by the then Yobe State Governor, Alhaji Bukar Abba Ibrahim.


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