Wednesday, October 5, 2011

mauricearchibongtravels: Wawa rediscovered

mauricearchibongtravels: Wawa rediscovered

Wawa rediscovered

A king, queen and many insights
If you think a queen is always spouse of any community’s king, here’s something to compel a re-think. In Wawa, where the king is called Dodo and Magajiya stands for queen; these royal personages are usually not partners.

Pic 1.

This is the reason the reigning King, Mallam Mahmud Ahmed Aliyu, is several decades younger than the incumbent Queen, Hajiya Fatima Garba. To Hausa speakers, Wawa passes for a clown; even an idiot. But, with a simple inflexion of sound, Wawa also turns out as the name of a town or nation. The aborigines of Enugu are possibly the most famous of every Wawa; however, there is a town in Niger State also called Wawa.

Welcome to Wawa, near New Bussa. Wawa can be reached by road through Mokwa, coming from Bida in Niger State; Kaiama, coming from Ilorin in Kwara State; and even through Babano, travelling via Nikki in Benin Republic. Interestingly, this settlement was hitherto known as Gbere; and, though today’s natives of Wawa all speak Bussanci (tongue of Bussa people), their forebear actually spoke a different language.

Pic 2.

This is Wawa, a settlement struggling to come to terms with the battle between its past and present. Many respondents were quick to point out that once upon a time there were only two senior primary schools in the old Kwara State. Central Primary School, Wawa; was one of this duo, while the only other type of this Western academic institution in these parts used to be Central Primary School, Ilorin. Today, however, dozens of tertiary institutions dot most of the surrounding lands, whereas the highest educational institution in Wawa is a Community Secondary School.

The Head Teacher of Wawa’s Central Primary School, Mr. Mohammed Abubakar, said the institution was founded in 1952. Mr. Abubakar, who assumed duty as head-teacher of Wawa’s first school in 2004, named the late General Abdulkarim Adisa, a former minister of works, among notable alumni of this institution.

Numerous respondents were keen to emphasize that, although parts of the Kainji Lake National Park stands on Wawa land, locals have gained nothing from having this games reserve on their soil. “The land was given to the Nigerian authorities free of charge, so; no compensation was paid to us”, one elder rued.

Pic 3.

A publicity pamphlet issued by Kainji Lake National Park authorities claims that this body’s management “recognizes the role of community development in natural resource conservation”. Alluding to its corporate social responsibility contributions, the said pamphlet further states, inter alia: “Among these are conservation education, formation of schools’ conservation clubs, quiz competitions, donation of trophies for sport competition and the production and distribution of benches, desks, chairs and exercise books to schools and medical equipment to hospitals in the area”.  

But, speaking with mauricearchibongtravels; Alhaji Suleiman Ahmed, who is an Ahmadu Bello University (ABU)-trained architect, lamented that the town has been unfairly treated by successive governments at all tiers. He pointed out, during our chat inside the residence of Wawa’s paramount ruler; that Wawa has got nothing whatsoever to show for the location of Kainji Dam near his town, despite the fact; as he claimed: “That (the) dam stands on our ancestral land”. He re-echoed his sadness, thus; “till date, we’ve gained nothing of value from it”.

In deed, many indigenes lamented that, despite the proximity of Kainji Lake Hydro Dam to their villages, electricity supply was extended to Wawa almost 20 years after that hydro-electric power station went into operation!

Pic 4.

Architect Ahmed also opined that successive Kainji Lake National Park authorities have not done enough in terms of corporate social responsibility for members of Wawa community.

Hear him: “the National Park has not thought it fit to build a tertiary or even secondary school or clinic in Wawa. So, if the people are not educated; how do you expect them to appreciate the dangers in poaching?

“If people are not educated, how do you expect them to understand that endangered species are of value? If a man is ill or a member of his household is sick, the man will naturally go into the forest to seek remedy: he will take herbs or kill an animal to sell and raise money to pay for drugs. So, the same National Park has failed by not putting a clinic or medical centre here”!

Pic 5.

Ahmed lamented that local communities like his own have been severally short-changed because of policy flaws. “In advanced nations, policy is made from bottom up; but, here in Nigeria; local people are usually not consulted and laws are made by people up there and passed down to the people, whether or not it is to their wellbeing”, he charged.

Wawa, then and now
The sadness that tinged comments by many locals who spoke with mauricearchibongtravels apparently owed to the impression that Wawa seems rooted in the past, as far as availability of modern amenities are concerned. Would you believe there is no bank in this town? Ironically, Wawa boasts what numerous inhabitants proudly described as “the biggest international market in this part of the world”.

Truly, Wawa’s emporium is international because it draws traders every Wednesday from Benin Republic, Niger Republic et cetera to this Niger State settlement. Curiously, however, there is no financial institution within 12km radius of Wawa. The nearest bank and ATM facility stand in New Bussa. Moreover, this town has no secretarial bureau alias business centre, so; to make ordinary photocopy, you have to travel some 12km to New Bussa! Take out Wawa’s international market and the local Nigerian Army garrison as well as Wawa Museum from this town and the settlement is almost back to primitive days.

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In the years of yore, inhabitants of Wawa practically shared their surroundings with wild animals. As a result, people turned in quite early; often, before dusk. Even at that, chimps and baboons could be heard grunting at the doorsteps of numerous homes every night. In fact, lions and elephants were frequently sighted in these parts, those days.

To worsen matters, there was no market anywhere close; therefore, children were sometimes left without their mother’s care for days. Yes, it took almost two day’s trek to get to the nearest market. Thus, by the time a mother or father returned from shopping, she/he would have been gone for four days.

Pic 7.

During our sojourn in Wawa, mauricearchibongtravels enjoyed the rare privilege of engaging the town’s queen in a chat; and, it was this nonagenarian’s reminiscences that helped to put in perspective, what Wawa used to be, against what obtains here nowadays.

Encounter with Queen of Wawa
How old is the Queen of Wawa? It is hard to put an exact figure on her age, but she provided a reliable clue: Hajiya Fatima has seen four kings rule and depart. The ruling king is the fifth Dodo since Hajiya Fatima Garba, who resides in the Kibe Forandi quarters of town, was installed Queen of Wawa or Magajiya of Wawa!

The roughly 90-year-old woman is mother of many children and expectedly, has numerous grand-children. She, however, rued that all her age-mates had since passed on. Speaking through Alhaji Alhassan Yusuf Awuru, who helped us out as translator, the queen observed that life has changed dramatically across Wawa, compared to that obtained in the years of yore.

Hear her: “those days, you sometimes had to trek for two to three days to find a place to buy basic items because they were not available in your settlement. So, sometimes; one’s father or mother was away from home for maybe four days to a week, depending on how long it took that person to get to the market and back. During that period, many of us children lived in fear because there were wild animals around and frequently we heard the roar of a lion in the distance. Occasionally, baboons and other monkeys invaded our kitchen and food-store chattering noisily as they ate our supplies. But, nowadays, everything you want to buy is literally at your doorstep because there is a very important weekly market here and numerous shops can now be found near every home”.

So, what did the children eat throughout the many days that their mother was away in search of lebensmittel (basic needs)? The queen recalled: “Before the woman travelled, she would produce plenty of millet powder; so, whenever any child was hungry, he or she would feed on millet powder soaked in water”.

Before we left this queen’s home, we put one last poser to her: when was she crowned? Her faced showed signs of deeper creases as she tried to recall; but, unable to remember the exact year, she gave us a reliable clue. She was installed Magajiya during the reign of Ahmed Aliyu. Mallam Ahmed Aliyu was Wawa’s 12th Dodo, and he ruled from 1946 to 1958.

Mallam Alhassan Aliyu, whose reign lasted from 1958 to 1960, had succeeded King Ahmed Aliyu; followed by the 14th King, Usman Tondi (1961-1989) as well as 15th King Ibrahim Ahmed Aliyu, who was turbaned in 1989. The reigning King, Mallam Mahmud Ahmed Aliyu, is Wawa’s 16th monarch.

In other words, this queen was enthroned roughly 50 years ago: “she said the recently installed paramount ruler is the fifth Dodo Wawa since she was crowned”, reiterated Alhaji Alhassan, who holds the title of Ajiya of Wawa.

Dodo of Wawa up close
Mallam Mahmud Ahmed Aliyu, the incumbent king or the 16th Dodo of Wawa is not only immediate successor to but also brother of the late Alhaji Ibrahim Ahmed Aliyu, the 15th Dodo; who passed on in 2009.

Interestingly, shaving is an inextricable part of this community’s king’s enthronement. Usually, a prince would be shaved in public to round off a new king’s coronation ceremonies. For this current monarch, that process was concluded on July 9, 2011 with Aski (the Traditional Shaving) Ceremony at the local palace.

The incumbent Dodo, who goes by the sobriquet Ki-Ali II, was born in 1968 to the family of the 12th Dodo of Wawa, the late Alhaji Ahmed Aliyu; who ruled between 1946 and 1958. Little Mahmud Aliyu attended Wawa Local Education Authority (LEA) Primary School, before proceeding to Borgu Secondary School in New-Bussa. For tertiary education, Aliyu enrolled for a degree programme at Usman Danfodio University, where he earned a Bachelor of Science (B.Sc) degree in Biochemistry.

He later studied at Federal University of Technology, Minna; where he bagged a Post Graduate Diploma in 2004 in Environmental Management. In 2009, he graduated with a Masters degree in Environmental Biology from University of Science, Malaysia. He was working as Principal Environmental Scientific Officer at the Federal Ministry of Environment before his appointment as Dodo.

Married and blessed with children, Dodo Wawa enjoys horse riding and burying his nose between books; for recreation. He also cherishes every opportunity to travel, which explains why he can be described as a widely travelled man today. Among other destinations, this Dodo has visited China, South Korea, Malaysia, India, Indonesia, Thailand, Netherland, South Africa, Ethiopia and Kenya. 

During our sojourn in Wawa, we were lucky to have their reverred traditional ruler dress in royal attire for pictures by us. It was in this process, we came to appreciate the components of this king’s full regalia: there is a spear, which was first given to Mallam Abdullahi Toga, the community’s first paramount ruler; a hand-written copy of the Holy Quran, a traditional staff of office, something called Fulan Abarkada, a royal umbrella and royal trumpets (kakaki). Apart from these, there are royal drums (tambari), which are said to be over 300 years old. The drums are beaten to herald the monarch’s appearance.

It is worth noting that in ancient times, local drummers used strips of the hide of a hippopotamus to beat the royal tambari. However, with the location of a games reserve within parts of their land; awareness of the need to protect wildlife has increased. This is why strips of old tyres are now used as drumsticks for pounding the royal drums.

And, talking about this monarch’s equistrian interests; in the course of showing us around the palace, the reigning Dodo took us to his stable. We counted at least four powerful horses, mares and stallion, here. And, it was here we learnt something new: Did you know that horses love kolanut?

Yes, Dodo of Wawa had served each horse kolanut, which these animals snapped with their tongue, flung it into their buchal cavity and chewed with delight.

Pic 8.

Wawa’s ancient wall and gates
Though much younger, compared to Kano, Katsina or Maiduguri; the Niger State settlement of Wawa also boasts an ancient city wall and gates. In fact, Wawa has four city gates, which the natives who took me around, said were erected over 400 years ago. In the locals’ tongue, gate or Kofar (Hausa) translates as Bini-Ze; and, Wawa’s four gates are Kale, to the West; Bussa, to the East; Fakun, to the North; and, Lesu to the South. Kale Gate, we were further informed, leads through other Nigerian villages into Benin Republic.

Interestingly, Wawa’s so-called gates are not gates at all, but passage-ways along a wall built around the settlement’s perimeters for security. It is also worth nothing that the wall around Wawa is evocative of the Benin City Moat and that it probably served as a dual defensive structure, simultaneously featuring a rappart and fence.

After a visit to Kale Bini-Ze (Kale Gate), we stopped briefly at Central Primary School before moving on to Fakun Gate, which suggestively leads to Fakun Village. It was here, we met a group of seven boys heading home with kpongkpono, a cherry-like fruit also used as natural laxative or digestive.

Wawa’s ancient wall and passage-ways are prospective attractions for archaeologists, in particular and tourists, generally. The presence of Kainji Lake National Park in these parts is also a plus as regards the potential for attracting visitors. It is also note-worthy that this sector, called Borgu Sector, of Kainji Lake National Park boasts a museum.

Although Wawa museum is unknown to a staggering majority of Nigerians, even museum afficionados; this repository could, given proper handling, morph into one of the nation’s most visited museums.

Inside Wawa Museum
Wawa Museum is housed in a cute cylindrical structure and boasts dozens of specimens. Wawa Museum is a specialized one dedicated to Natural History, and truly, this repository throws up dozens of interesting objects. Did you know that biologists world-wide do not all know the elephant by this English name?

But, mention Loxodonta Africana; and viola! Thanks to taxonomy, every biologist immediately knows what you are talking about! Did you know that an elephant can live for as long as 70 years? Did you know that the African elephant can weigh as much as 7,000kg? Did you know that one ostrich egg is the equivalent of 25 to 30 chicken eggs? All of these and more one can learn from a visit to Wawa Museum of Natural History.

Although, most of its exhibits are skeletons or remains of dead wildlife as well as guns and traps used by poachers, Wawa Museum boasts at least one live ostrich (Struthio camelus). Parts of the head of an elephant, a hippopotamus and the skeleton of an ostrich are among the bones of some animals on display, here.

From the literature inside this museum, the viewer would learn that the life-span of a hippopotamus is in the region of 30 years; that this amphibian only bears one baby (litter) at a time; and, that this animal can weigh as much as 3,000kg. Furthermore, a crocodile (Niloticus crocodilus) can lay as many as 20 to 50 eggs; and, though its weight is nothing compared to that of a hippo, the 60 to 80 years life-span of the reptile called crocodile means that it usually outlives a hippo.

Mr. Taiye Alabi works as Park Interpreter at Wawa Museum. A park interpreter would be called an Education Officer, and; in the course of work we have met dozens of such employees in various museums across Nigeria and in other parts of the world.

However, Alabi would remain one of the most impressive for us; for, he came across as one at home with his calling; and, someone determined to ensure that every viewer he took on a tour of his museum took in the lessons he sought to impart. Did you know that poachers are not only a menace to wildlife but also possibly the worst enemies of rangers and other conservation workers? Poachers come in various garbs; whether posing as hunters, herdsmen, loggers and fishermen et cetera; each represents serious danger to wildlife. Hear Alabi: “These people are the most serious problem we face… They can cause serious disruption of park activities, and because of their desperation for money; they don’t spare any plant or animal. Even if it was the last surviving piece of some endangered species, a poacher would snap it up to sell or to make juju”.

Juju ke? Yes, hunters; like other Nigerians/Africans rely on juju. In fact, your local babalawo or marabout could be a poacher. When he has to make some charm nothing would stop him. Interestingly, many hunters rely on magic to make their sojourn in the forest fruitful. Mr. Alabi again: “We have heard that some poachers and hunters use charms for protecting themselves from wild animals”.

From Alabi, we also gathered that the African hunter would never have invented a compass. He has no need for it because he could never miss his way. Many a Nigerian hunter has special charms that help him locate his way through the forest. If this sounds incredible, how about the following: could a lazy hunter return home with a priceless game or trophy?

We were told that with appropriate charms this was possible. The trick lay in some incantations, we learnt. “African hunters have powerful juju that make them invisible to certain animals. And, even when there was no beast in sight; with the right magic a hunter could conjure whatever kind of animal he wished to take home. Upon reciting the necessary incantation, that animal would appear and the hunter would kill it immediately”, Alabi narrated. Now, we want to be wary of eating bush meat; don’t we?

Such are the allurements of Wawa Museum. But, despite its rich collection; one could not enjoy the exhibition because the bays were dark due to power outage. Also, the tags or exhibits’ descriptions left a lot to be desired. Moreover, the presentation was poor: imagine placing an object on window sill; which means you are viewing against lighting gradient. Admission to Wawa Natural History Museum is free.

Since this museum’s attendants are federal civil servants, their working hours run from 8am to 4pm, Monday to Friday. Therefore, viewers are advised to visit between 9am and 3pm. However, tourists can also be received during weekends, provided the museum’s authorities had been notified of such viewers’ arrival days earlier.

To be candid, Wawa Museum desperately needs a museologist and museographer; but, when we put this to Mr. Yakubu, Conservator of Kainji Lake National Park; his response hinted at near impossibility of engaging any new employee. His explanation was that hiring new hands would translate into a heavier wage bill, and to get an increment would take time.

However, it would seem that Kainji Lake National Park authorities have never explored the possibility of getting technical assistance from the National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM). In deed, one was tempted to believe that this park’s management is unfamiliar with statutory mandates that empower the NCMM to guide every museum in the land.

Although there is a guesthouse within Wawa Museum complex, we had to forfeit the payment earlier made and escaped! From the damp odour and coat of dust on sundry furniture in the room, it was obvious no guest had occupied this space for ages; so, we fled back to Kainji Lake Hotel in New Bussa, where we had already spent five days since coming to these parts!

It is worth noting, however, that something very different made up our mind for us. One of the doors in my suite opened to the balcony of the two-floor building housing the guesthouse within Wawa Museum complex. Alas! This door had neither lock nor bolt!

And, about 8pm; I discovered the attendant had closed for the day and gone home! So, I would be sole occupant of the entire guesthouse located in a neighbourhood brimming with all kinds of wildlife? Count me out! What, if a chimp or even lion came knocking on one of the windows in the thick of night? That, in a nutshell, is why I seized my laptop and took off!

Pic 9.

Town named for a fruit, and roots of Wawa Dynasty
Gbere or today’s Wawa, we learnt, was founded by groups of the Kamberi people. As scions of the Kanuri, descendants of brave warriors of the historical Kanem-Bornu Empire, these early settlers probably spoke Kamberi.

It is widely held that these early settlers occupied Wawa lands long before Mallam Adamu, who would later sire the community’s first king, set foot here. A devout Muslim, Mallam Adamu was also a learned scholar; who held tenaciously to the tenets of Islam. For example, Islam forbids the consumption of alcohol; so, Adamu couldn’t stand living among the natives, whose major preoccupation seemed to be the brewing and consumption of alcohol.

Consequently, he had a large compound built for him to shield him from the noise made by people apparently rendered inebriate by alcohol. Subsequently, Mallam Adamu married a girl from the Bamarubere House of Bussa, which; according to one lore, was the only house where Islam was practised.

This union would foster strong social and cultural links between Wawa and Bussa peoples, and put Adamu in the position of royal observer, whenever a new king of Wawa was turbaned. This position is reserved for the Bamarubere folks: a man, who holds this position, performs royal duties for the King of Wawa. In the pre-colonial era, there were, frequently, wars between one chiefdom and another, and these conflicts spawned a feeling of insecurity across the land. This culminated in the quest for a brave, honest and confident leader, who would help restore peace and unite the various clans.

After much deliberation, Mallam Adamu was consulted with a view to installing him King of Wawa Kingdom. Curiously, he politely declined and went on to present his first-born, Mallam Abdullahi Toga, for the throne. Consequently, Abdullahi Toga was crowned the first King of Gbere; and, he reigned from 1715 to 1750. Thus, began the Wawa Dynasty some 300 years ago, with the appointment of Mallam Abdullahi as the first king of Gbere.

In the pre-colonial era, Wawa kings had traditional staff of office signifying their sovereignty. Wawa Palace sources state that by 1903, this town’s 9th King, Mallam Mamman Kantama, was recognized and graded as 3rd Class Chief by the colonial authorities. Sadly, the said recognition was later withdrawn on grounds of old age. However, five monarchs down the road, interestingly, during the reign of Usman Tondi, a son of Mamman Kantama, the throne was again recognized as 3rd Class. Unfortunately, by this time; other stools that were once of the same class as that of Wawa had been upgraded.

In the then Borgu Empire; Bussa, Wawa, Kaiama and Nikki (in Benin Republic) were prominent and autonomous kingdoms. In the beginning, Wawa consisted of three wards, Kosobi, Tandebi and Weregi. This trio is extant to this day, but Gbere would later be dropped in preference for Wawa.

Among the locals, Ali stands for tree, so; in times past, Wawa was called Wawali (Wawa tree). Wawali, we were told, could be likened to a short form of let’s meet at the wawa tree.

We also gathered that this town’s current epithet, Wawa, just like the settlement’s original name, Gbere; actually derived from a fruit. In the English language, what locals call wawa goes by the nickname of wild biscuit. Mallam Ibrahim Bike is Seriki noma (chief farmer) of Wawa. A retired ranger, Mallam Bike said the botanical name of wawa fruit is Diphtarius macrocarpus. Diphtarius macrocarpus? Now, you understand why the locals prefer simple Wawa to some jaw-breaker!

In any case, Diphtarius macrocarpus is, to this day, a much cherished snack in this part of the world. “After eating this fruit, and washing it down with water, you will not feel hungry for many hours”; is how one elder described wawa’s tummy-filling property to us.


1. Dodo of Wawa in full regalia.
2. Queen of Wawa or Magajiya Wawa.
3. Wawa’s Palace.
4. Wawa’s Central Mosque.
5. Dodo and some courtiers.
6. Dodo, during the incumbent king’s installation ceremonies.
7. Signboard at entrance to Wawa Office/Museum of Kainji Lake National Park.
8. One of the exhibits inside Wawa Museum.
9. Wawa kids at Fakun Gate.