CHIBOK: The story of Nigeria’s last people to submit to British rule

4 Comments » July 28th, 2014 posted by // Categories: Nigeriawatch




CHIBOK: The story of Nigeria’s last people to submit to British rule

THEY were the last group in Nigeria to submit to British rule. Chibok people, hundreds or perhaps thousands of years ago, were a proud people who lived in and near the rocks, from which they warded off intruders. Historians record that as the gale of colonialism eventually blew across Africa and enveloped the geographical entity today known as Nigeria, these agrarian people did not give in easily to the Europeans.

The land of Chibok is in the tropical savannah. They are an ethnic group in the north-eastern State of Borno. The Mandara Mountains are to the east dividing Nigeria from Cameroun; the Sahara is about 322 kilometres to the north, and the tropical rain forest begins a few hundred kilometres to the south.

As of 1968, according to Gerald A. Neher in his book, Life Among the Chibok of Nigeria, the population was estimated to be between 10,000 and 20,000. They are a lot more today.

There are several instances in that book of the war-like nature of the Chibok people. In the past, it was said that if a chief in Biu died, the new chief-designate was taken to Chibok for a kind of rite before he was installed in his new position. The new chief-designate would be helped by a Chibok girl to mount a rock (called ‘Muyar Patha’) in Wantaku and an exhortation would be made about him before being taken back to Biu for installation.

The coming of the Europeans to the area changed this though, as the people of Biu no longer came to Chibok before installing their chiefs… till this day.

Even though at a time the Chibok people paid taxes to Fulani people from Yola (their momentary overlords) in form of ropes from the baobab tree and native cloth, it was never out of timidity or inferiority. A story was told of how on one such occasion, the Fulani came to collect taxes as usual, at a time the people were ‘having a crying’ (a ceremony for honouring the death of a person).

On this day, the Fulani asked for taxes as usual, but it was a wrong time. A Chibok man said he would not pay taxes because his son had just died. When the Fulani man kept bothering him, he (Chibok) ran into his house, got a spear and threw it at the Fulani man. Terrified and wounded, the latter ran away, and it took a long time before anyone dared bother the Chibok about taxes.

Such was the temperament of the average Chibok. And being majorly hunters, their prowess at being able to defend themselves is legendary as well. In those days, they fought those who stole their source of livelihood – guinea corn.

But for the cunning way Boko Haram fighters snuck in and ‘stole’ their children away in the dead of the night (pretending to be friendly soldiers), they would probably have put up a spirited resistance as well – even if they would be eventually overwhelmed by the bandits’ sophisticated weaponry.

As a matter of fact, even as the present outrage raged, a Chibok woman was reported to have told a Cable News Network (CNN) reporter last week that if the Nigerian state and its international friends were not ready to help, the people (Chibok) were prepared to defend themselves.

In a twist of fate, these once courageous people have today become the victims of a horrendous brand of terrorism, with the sanctity of their locale viciously violated and nearly 300 of their female children carted away and still locked down in Boko Haram captivity.

Neher, whose missionary work together with his wife, Lois, over 50 years ago gave the first set of female children in Chibok opportunity to attend school, writes in his 2011 book: “Present day Chibok has two groups: the Wantaku live at the west end of the rocks, and the Kwanda live at the east end of the rocks.”

These are offspring of one Bila Batari (a hunter reputed to be the first person to come to Chibok, with his wife. His place of origin was unknown) and one Bila Mayer.

According to Chibok history as recorded by Neher, Bila Batari was an elephant killer. His wife was pounding guinea corn one day when the sound of the mortar attracted a stranger (Mayer) who came from the direction of Biu. Mayer and Batari’s children eventually intermarried, and constitute the people now called Wantaku.

“Pulai was another early man to this area. Ba Kapi calls his people Warga Pulai. They came from the direction of Gidi, which is in the direction of Bama (to the east). They settled on the east side of the mountain where the rocks are white. Pulai and another group called Mazwai, who were the ancestors of Muta Lugwa (both hunters) came at the same time. They married each other’s daughters…These were the first four families that came. Bila Mayer and Bila Batari settled in Wantaku and the families of Warga Pulai and Mazwai settled on the east side of the rocks,” Neher said in his book.

Neher described the community as the last in Nigeria to be subdued by the British, and, with the drumbeats of international outrage (against the mass abductions) getting louder by the day, however, it appears Chibok is yet again at the threshold of setting another record: will it be among the last in Nigeria to be tormented by the obviously deranged Islamic insurgents?

Many have expressed a surprise that so many girls were in Government Secondary School, Chibok, to write the ill-fated exams from where they were abducted. However, an American newspaper, Daily Beast, during the week, quoted the American couple who introduced western education to that community on how the girl-child there got hooked to education: “They would thank you over and over because they were so anxious to learn. Any way to get education is what they wanted.”

‘How girl-child education began in Chibok’
When Gerald and Lois Neher arrived in tiny Chibok, Nigeria, girls didn’t go to school. The couple’s work helped the first girls attend—50 years before terrorists abducted 270.

The very opposite of terrorists arrived in Chibok more than a half-century before the world came to know this remote Nigerian village as the place where maniacal members of Boko Haram kidnapped more than 270 girls and burned down their school.

While the terrorist group struck in recent days intending only evil, Gerald and Lois Neher of Kansas came to Chibok in 1954 with the purpose of doing as much good as they were able. They helped make it possible for girls to attend school there in the first place.

Only boys attended the village’s only school when the Nehers first arrived.

“Girls didn’t go to school back at that time,” Lois says. “They don’t like to send the girls to school. They want them to help carry in wood and bring in water.”

The Nehers helped expand the school with sun-baked mud bricks and grass roofing. The structure’s very size became an invitation for more children, and the first girls began to attend.

“That was the beginning for them,” Lois says. “The girls went to school more and more.”

Lois served as a teacher, which placed her below only a chief in the social hierarchy. She used a patch of painted concrete as a blackboard, the students doing their work as best they could without the most basic school supplies.

“We didn’t have much paper or anything like that,” Lois says. “You make do with what you have. If you don’t have paper, you use dirt. They learned to write in the dirt or in the sand with a stick.”

Back in America, keeping a youngster after class was considered punishment. Here it was a reward.

“They would thank you over and over because they were so anxious to learn,” Lois says. “Any way to get education is what they wanted.”

Gerald served as a teacher of another kind, instructing the farmers in the use of a plow and oxen where they had previously employed only short-handled hoes. A farmer who was previously able to plant and harvest two acres of peanuts or guinea corn or cotton was now able to do 20.

“I think it did change things for them,” Gerald says.

As a result of these good works, Chibok gained local prominence.

“Because of the development of the school and agriculture and everything, Chibok became known as an outstanding village in the area,” Gerald says.

The Nehers had come to Nigeria to participate in the Church of the Brethren’s humanitarian programme. The people running the programme asked if they would go to Chibok.

“We didn’t know that nobody else would go there because it was the most remote place,” Lois recalls. “So we said, ‘Yeah, we’ll go anywhere.’”

Gerald adds, “We just went there by default.”

They were in their 20s when they arrived with their eight-month-old son. They discovered that Chibok had grown by some rock outcroppings at the edge of a broad savannah. A swampy area was nearby, and the village had gotten its name from the sound your feet make when you pull them out of the mud there.

“Chibok…chibok…chibok,” Gerald says.

Also nearby were the rugged Mandara Mountains, which are honeycombed with caves and extend into neighbouring Cameroon, facilitating both hiding and escape. The mountains are one reason Chibok was the very last place in Nigeria to submit to British rule, a fact the Nehers found was a source of considerable local pride.

One king, or chief, once resided in the mountains and had a rock throne that his subjects were allowed to approach only by sitting down facing away from it and scooting in backward so they never looked at him. This king chose to disappear in the mountains permanently rather than cede to a colonial power.

“If a king cannot be a king like a king should be a king, there should be no king at all,” he declared, according to the Nehers’ book, Life Among the Chibok of Nigeria.

Those are the same mountains where Boko Haram is believed to have taken the kidnapped girls. The terrorists are described as Islamic extremists, but they hardly seem of the same faith as the handful of Muslims who were in Chibok during the four and a half years the Nehers were there.

Those Muslims were malams, or teachers, and sometimes would write phrases in Arabic that people would wrap in leather and wear as charms, perhaps for prosperity or to ward off harm. The Chibok people had no written language of their own.

The malams did not seek payment for their charms. These Muslims would cite an adage, “If someone gives you free medicine, it will be good, but if they want to sell it to you, it will not be good.”

At the time, the village also included a number of Christians, though most of the villagers were animists, recognising a single God they called Hyel, yet believing all living things, including plants, possess individual spirits. People of every faith lived in harmony.

“When we were there, we had many friends who were Muslims,” Lois says. “It didn’t make any difference.”

Since the Nehers departed, the school got a corrugated iron roof and there is now a real road into the town. But however much life there has changed, some of the cultural dynamics the Nehers observed almost certainly persist and may well assist the kidnapped girls through their ordeal. There are particularly close bonds among peer groups in Chibok, and people of the same sex often hold hands as they walk through the village.

Girls further bond by playing a particular game that begins with one of them standing in the centre of a group that claps and sings. The girl pitches herself backward and trusts the others to catch her before she hits the ground. Another girl then takes a turn, then another.

And children are trained to be brave. Adults sometimes spring from hiding to surprise them and then ask how they will react if they suddenly face danger in the bush.

Boko Haram presents a more diabolical danger than anybody could have imagined a half-century ago. The terrorists are possessed not by anything resembling true Islam, but by what the people of Chibok would call “muta ndin nda,” an evil spirit.

Word of the atrocities committed by Boko Haram has reached the Nehers at their present home in Kansas.

“We’ve been hearing about all the strife and the horrible things,” Lois says.

Lois is now 85. Gerald is 83. They have not been in recent communication with anybody in the village where they landed by default 60 years ago.

“The people in Chibok are the grandchildren or great-grandchildren of the ones we knew,” Gerald says.

The village that had achieved local prominence more than five decades before with the help of the Nehers’ good works now became known to everyone as the result of Boko Haram’s evil.

The couple who had seen the first girls attend the village school now joined the whole world in hoping for the safe return of more than 200 kidnapped schoolgirls, who had been taken into those mountains that offer so many opportunities for hiding and escape.

“It was just an out-of-the-way village when we were there,” Gerald says.

And the Nehers know that finding the girls is likely to get hellishly more difficult this month, with the expected arrival of the rainy season. The area can get as much as 40 inches of rain and can become extremely difficult just to travel through, much less to search.

“It lasts six months,” Gerald notes.

Source: Daily Beast


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4 Responses to “CHIBOK: The story of Nigeria’s last people to submit to British rule”

  1. Olu Koleoso says:

    You said Chibok people were Nigeria’s last people to “submit to British rule” but failed to give the date they did so.  For historical accuracy you should have dated the event.

  2. Ahmadu Umoru Kalau Yimirpuba (Askira) says:

    Chibok is the name of town
    Kibaku is the name of the tribe

    In the book of Gerald A. Neher with Lio A Neher
    that Bila Batari
    and his wife, Bila Mayer were the first to come to Chibok hill.

    According to the book of Dr. Gwandang Yaga Ndirbita
    A History of Kibaku the Book
    mentioned that the Pulai and Chiroma brothers Yamtara Pawla
    were the first to come to Chibok Hill
    Warga by Clan.
    If you want to get the time use analysis of the time of throne of Mai Ali (Yamtara Pawla).

    If you are actually want to know the time that Kibaku People’s to be last ethnic submitted to British in Nigeria so simple contact the Auther Gerald or Lip A Neher for a details.
    Get them on Fbook or fine them on there website or get my contact for more informations. 08038073556. Thanks.

  3. Abdullahi Bulama says:

    You will read all sort of history of the Chibok the town and Kibaku is the name of the tribe,but no date,please help us with the date?

    • Ahmadu Lawan Umoru Kalau says:

      Find a book of Dr. Gwandan Yaga Ndirbita

      2. Gerald A. Neher with Lio A. Neher. You will see dates. Thanks.

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