Thursday, June 9, 2011

Some charms from Potiskum

In Potiskum, musical instruments are drugs

Welcome to Potiskum, an ancient aboriginal Ngizim settlement in Yobe State. Yobe is part of Nigeria’s North Eastern geopolitical zone, and hundreds, perhaps thousands, of years before pharmacists were born and they began to produce drugs; the Ngizim had ways of treating certain ailments.

How they arrested microbial infections remains unclear, but Ngizim ethnics had cure for many kinds of aches and pains; stress, and even heartbreak. Centuries before the earliest of Western apothecaries landed with analgesics, anaesthetics and what have you; Ngizim had their locally made emollients, tranquilizers and sedatives et cetera.

In ancient Potiskum, being a barber automatically made one a pharmacist as well. Interestingly, this local druggist’s store neither held tablet nor capsule; and, the treatment did not come from shavers, clippers or scissors, either. Instead, this particular dispenser’s power lay in a musical instrument, a drum to be precise. In any case, everyone believed in the efficacy of this instrument as medicament; this is why Ganga-kuriya must have been a widely used drug in ancient Potiskum.

Duru-duru, the local barber, was the only “pharmacist” permitted to dispense ganga-kuriya, which served as an emollient. The mellow sounds of this drum was exploited to mollify an infant and to discourage the child from crying during circumcision or when the baby was being given tribal marks.

To date, the sound of ganga-kuriya is still employed to attract onlookers, who; as custom demands, subsequently make donations to the child as witnesses to the baby’s rite of passage. Ganga-kuriya is also beaten during a baby’s naming ceremony, which; in Ngizim tradition, takes place seven days after the child was born.

Out with ganga-kuriya and in comes another special drum called Tamba: The natives of Dadlawa, one of the many clans of the Ngizim nation, are the only custodians of Tamba (also pronounced Tambari). Tamba can only be beaten, when a chief is to be turbaned or to rally warriors as announcement of outbreak of war.

Currently, Baba Adamu of Garubawa is the only Ngizim native, authorised to pound tamba. He is one of this instrument’s custodians and upon his death the honour of beating the drum must be bequeathed to someone else from his clan. In the same vein, the sound of Ganga-jmagauru served to announce the death of a “Big man” or a senior citizen, male or female, to the community and surrounding villages.

Through his dexterity, the drummer rendered special rhythms that clued listeners in; thus helping the community to identify the deceased without the mention of any name. On the other hand, Kanjau is a fits-all, a sort of Jack-of-all-trades; which can be drummed at every ceremony. While kanjau, the general-purpose instrument, was being drummed, young men used that opportunity to put up energy-sapping dances; flaunting their vigour and stamina, and ultimately, announcing their fitness to go to war should the need arise.

Across Ngizim land, the people obviously set great store by sound, which explains the plenitude of musical instruments in their culture. To this day, some of these instruments are still used as drugs of another kind. For example, a jilted lover does not have to resort to suicide; the desolate one has a livelier option: the distraught person simply grabbed a wind instrument; put it to the mouth and start to blow his/her sorrows away.

Moreover, if one was going on a very long and enervating journey, another kind of oboe came in handy. The traveller simply made the necessary first step, after which he or she switched into reflex gear; kept on walking and ceaselessly blowing his or her flute. Before knowing it, literally, the wayfarer would have arrived at his/her destination, however distant it was.

Apart from wind instruments that make time fly away, thus reducing the pains of a broken heart in the case of a deserted lover or bereavement or the pangs of a tedious trip; Ngizim also produced traditional instruments that served as lullaby tools or anaesthetic. Ngizim drugs were not limited to drums and wind instruments: Just as today’s pharmacists have churned out aspirin, paracetamol, panadol and what have you; the melodious drugs invented by the ancient inhabitants of Potiskum include cordophones, vibraphones and so on.

Welcome displays in a museum
All of these instruments and various other objects, such as agricultural tools, wedding ceremony items, domestic utensils as well as various weapons of war; are on display inside Pataskum (Potiskum) Emirate Council Palace Museum, which was launched on 8 May, 2007. Housed in a room and an adjacent cubicle inside the palace, this repository is one of the youngest palace museums as well as one of the most compact repositories in Nigeria. But, what this mini house of heritage lacks by way of age or space, it more than makes up for in terms of its collection.

Mallam Usman Garba Pataskum alias Babayo is Curator of Pataskum Emirate Council Palace Museum. Throughout our encounter, the man was effervescent with passion. Babayo trained as a teacher and actually worked as one for many years until he came down with a stress-related affliction.

On a more cheery note, however, this curator said he believed that his recovery had been facilitated by his interest in, and passion for, museum work. Any time a visitor arrived and he was summoned to the palace to guide the tourist, Babayo had always risen to the occasion. Such demands required him to move, and being on the move has proven a most rewarding exercise for this once very ill man. “Now, I walk with greater ease and I can speak very well again. Also, my mouth; which was once twisted, is back to normal,” he mused.

What inspired palace museum
Alhaji Bubaram Ibn Wuriwa Bauya I is Mai Pataskum or traditional ruler of this community. An Officer of the Order of the Niger (OON), this Mai Pataskum is a retired Controller of Prisons. He said he decided to open a museum inside his palace to preserve invaluable antique objects and, consequently, his people’s heritage.

Hear him: “I did it to preserve the historic relics of the community, which is fast fading away. If we left them in individual hands, they would disappear. I am quite sure that ‘civilization’ may consume these relics, which our people have lived with for centuries. Therefore, without the move to collect and preserve these objects, ancient treasures would be lost. So, we felt it is better to collect them and take care of them”.

From glory unto glory
The fame and fortunes of Potiskum Palace Museum has galloped astronomically since our first report on this repository in 2008. Two subsequent stories had attracted more visitors to this palace museum, revealed the curator, who named HRH Litaussou Makaini Makkadallah, Limido of the Cameroonian town of Yagoua; among eminent personalities that have toured his museum after our reports.

Apart from Mr. Nath Mayo Adediran, Nigeria’s Director of Museums; who has severally visited Pataskum Palace Museum and other parts of Yobe State, where he incidentally spent his National Service year; other top functionaries of the National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM) had also been at this palace repository. Furthermore, the people of Massa paid a two-day call on the Mai Pataskum on the 3rd and 4th of February, 2011; the curator concluded on an enthusiastic note.
Admission to Pataskum Emirate Council Palace Museum is free-of-charge, but donation is always welcome. According to the curator, apart from cash presents, visitors sometimes make donations in kind.


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