From biblical to social perceptions, hewers of wood depict the class of persons in servitude, those who occupy the lowest rung in a society . They are the category of persons used solely for menial tasks.
The Old Testament, precisely Joshua 9:21, the expression- hewers of wood and drawers of water, was used to illustrate how the Gibeonites were condemned to servitude under the Israelites.
It also historically tells the story of how Israelites were tricked into sparing the lives of some of the indigenous inhabitants of the Promised Land with the directive from the Princes to: “let them live; but let them be hewers of wood and drawers of water for the entire congregation.”
There is nothing farther from the reality that hewing of wood is synonymous with slavery and thraldom. It is a vocation reserved for the illiterates, farmhands, dropouts, less privileged and never-do-wells in the society.
Those thinking that Abuja and its dwellers are immune from the derogatory expression of hewers of wood due to its metropolitan nature and because of the seat of power, have not only made a mistake but committed fallacy of gross generalisation.
From the Kuje Area Council, Nyanya, Dutse, Oroso to Bwari and other suburbs of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), hewers of wood are visible sights to behold. They are in every nook and corner of the FCT.
While some of the hewers have put in over 12 years and still counting, others have spent 30 years and above without any plan of quitting the vocation. One will equally bask in error to think that many FCT dwellers would avoid the vocation of wood hewing like plague due to the tedious nature and derogatory attachment. However, considering new recruits joining the ageless ones, it is obvious that hewing will remain an undying vocation.
The vocation may rightly be an exclusive reserve of the downtrodden, but unlike other drudges and skilled labour, currently under the occupation of foreigners from neighbouring Benin Republic and Togo, hewing of wood at the various suburbs of Abuja seems to have been exclusively reserved for the ordinary Nigerians.
Although authorities in environmental pollution have advised on embracing alternative source of energy, especially cooking gas, in cities like Abuja to reduce deforestation and ecological damage, however, the forest around the suburb are ready sources for firewood. Trees were fallen recklessly without any replanting plan.
Hewers share experience
For middle-aged Abdul Rasheed, every other job comes second to hewing. Understandably, having taken up the vocation at a teenage age of 17, he has done no other thing apart from hewing, which has contributed in no small measure in the modest achievements he has recorded.
Fielding questions from Daily Sun while sweating it out in the vocation that gives him joy and happiness, Abdul said it has become part of him that he does not even need pain killer or any other form of medication to remain in the job.
“I have spent 12 years hewing wood,” he told Daily Sun in Hausa through an interpreter, adding: “I was 17 years when I joined the vocation. I was a motorcycle operator before I discovered how I can make better living out of hewing wood.
“I can tell you that I have no regret since I started because apart from avoiding the risk of riding motorcycle, I have achieved s much through hewing of wood. People may see it as a tedious work but I have become used to it. I don’t even need to take any pain reliever after hewing wood.
“It has become part of me that the only thing that can make me change the job is raising money to start a viable business. I have no reason to regret because I am making little money. I got married through this job and I am also sustaining my family through this,” he said.
Asked the obstacles he is encountering hewing woods, Abdul explained: “The only challenge I usually have is feeling of severe body pains sometimes but it has never stopped me from working the next day. Yes, we don’t require many tools to do this job, but we cannot do with axe. I have equally used axe numbering over 10 since I started this job and I am still counting.
“There may not too much money, but it is enough to keep my family and don’t forget that somebody must do this so long as the demand for firewood for home use continues. Let me shock you by saying that if my children grew up, I will encourage them to take up the vocation if they cannot secure any job. Hewing is better than staying idle,” he warned.
Duration of apprenticeship
Looking at them break the hard woods in pieces, could mistake hewing an all-comer’s vocation. But one would have serious challenges embarking on it without taking time to go through the rudiments of the apprenticeship.
“To master the art of hewing wood, I went through two months of apprenticeship,” Abdul reveals, adding: “Since I finished learning, I have never run out business. We equally do home services with an entirely different charge. However, there were few instances there may not work, which we use to rest.”
I’m not planning retiring, 60 year-old hewer insisted
For 60 year-old Zamfara State-born hewer, who simply introduced himself simply as Haruna, hewing has become a life routine, having put in an unprecedented 30 years.
As he matures in the vocation, Haruna equally progressively repackaged himself, climaxing to pinnacle of hewing and selling with wheel barrows to various homes at Kuje and environs.
Beyond hewing, Haruna’s journey to Abuja evokes sympathy. In what many may describe as race for survival, he had narrated that ordinarily he would not have loved to leave the comfort of his home state in Zamfara, where he productively combined hewing with farming, to spend even a night in Abuja.
However, he was left with no other choice than to escape for dear life when the activities of the dare devil gunmen and terrorists ravaging his state almost cut his life short.
Speaking to Daily Sun, he proudly announced with tune of finality that he will die hewing wood, explaining: “I grew up into adulthood hewing wood and the much I can remember, I have spent over 30 years doing this work. What has come between me and wood in the past 60 years of my existence on earth is farming.
“I got married through the job. I am feeding my family with it. I started this job in Zamfara. I was enjoying it because I combined it with farming work. But I had to run away to Abuja for my life with my family due to the consistent attack on our community by the armed men.
“The situation forced me to concentrate on hewing wood alone. On arrival, I initially attached myself with a firewood distributor who was paying me based on certain quantity of wood.
“But, when it was not yielding enough money, I decided to go into the bush, fetch firewood and supply many homes. I made more money through that instead of working for the suppliers. I have also been doing home deliveries and services,” he explained.
Asked if he has plans of retiring now that age is not on his side any longer, laughing hilariously, Haruna replied: “Retire, how can I feed my family if I retire? I don’t have any retirement plan for now.
“As for the energy required to do the work, let me inform you that there is a stage you get to in this vocation, you apply technique in hewing not power. As we grow older we avoid certain hard woods that would require energy,” he quipped.
Those that rightly concluded that hewers belong to the lowest rung are apt because the vocation is anything but lucratively rewarding. Firewood vendor, who introduced himself as Saminu, told Daily Sun that he pays the hewers as paltry as N7000 for a full tipper-load of wood.
“Depending on the demand from the end users, he usually takes delivery of one trip or at most two trips in a week. It takes three to four days for two hewers to finish a tipper-load of firewood. We are even lucky to have these two permanently attached to us here,” he explains.