By MAGNUS EZE
The Gbagyi is the most populated ethnic and indigenous group in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), also predominantly found in Central Nigeria Area of Niger and Kaduna States. They are also found in Nasarawa and Kogi States.
Mainly farmers, some Gbagyi men are also hunters while some others are involved in making traditional arts and craft products including pottery and woodwork like mortar and pestle. The dexterity of the Gbagyi woman in pottery was epitomised by the legendary Ladi Kwali. The women take great pride in their large piles of firewood.
But occupations like hunting and weaving are no longer common nowadays as they were in earlier days. Worthy of note is that civilisation has not really diminished the common feature of the Gbagyi as shoulder carriers.
Another striking feature of the Gbagyi is that they are seemingly uncomfortable with civilisation. In fact, to them, the making of Abuja; the nation’s capital has somehow raped them of their serenity, innocence and original nature.
Little wonder, they are said to usually withdraw further into the villages as development approached them; where they cultivate yam, guinea corn, millet and other type of grains. Some others cultivate melon, garden egg, groundnut and even rice. In fact, as rural farmers, most of them see education as waste of time.
The people are naturally peace-loving, transparent and accommodating. Daily Sun gathered that the Gbagyi are quite friendly with strangers but it takes time to build firm friendships based on trust.
Confronted by the threat of extinction of their culture all round, some young men in the FCT said their culture was vastly being eroded by modernisation; hence they are resolved to stop at nothing in keeping their heritage.
To this end, they appear almost like the early men at functions and ceremonies these days in the FCT, in costumes depicting the traditional Gbagyi man before the coming of civilisation with its attendant effects including culture shock.
Leader of the group, Mr. Zephaniah Henry, a Senior Secondary School Certificate holder told Daily Sun that they display in public functions in Abuja as a way of preserving and promoting their culture.
He said the troupe could perform at any event except in marriage ceremonies.
Henry explained that the cultural group has neither religious nor fetish embellishment; hence any Gbagyi male born is free to join them.
Unlike some cultures where you must get to certain age before performing some traditional rites, the group’s spokesman said that age was not a condition for joining them.
On the significance of their costume made up of hoe, bow and arrow, calabash, black dye, and piece of rag among others, he said it was meant to show Gbagyi man in his original age of innocence.
The Esu of Kwali, Alhaji Nizazo Shaban the third, in talking about the history of his people described an ordinary Gbagyi man as a simple person attached to nature, adding that whenever he notices things disturbing the nature, he runs away from it: “He is naturally bound to his environment and whenever there is a disturbance to his ecosystem, he tries to run away and create another system that will be favourable to him.
“However, presently, some sociological elements have caused the Gbagyi man to behave like other people. We are now caught up with modernity. We cannot force ourselves again. We have to accept now that we need to behave like other people. Most of the Gbagyi settlements have been destroyed by modernization.
“Again, our housing system cannot conform to what we have in Abuja. The Gbagyi do not have the wealth to compete with people in Abuja who built skyscrapers. Sometimes, we call ourselves the missing tribes. If we do not work very hard, the Gbagyi of Abuja will disappear with time. Development will consume the Gbagyi people and we may not see them again.
“There are people who do not speak Gbagyi to their children and we tell them to speak Gwari to their children or lose their identity. There are social forces against the Gbagyi people as far as project Abuja is concerned.”
Coping with culture shock
There are some theories that posit reason for the scattered settlements and migration of the Gbagyi people. Their settlements can be both large and small; but in locations were farming is the dominant occupation, the settlements tend to be small so that enough land is available for farming.
Forty years after their land was designated the nation’s capital; the people are still suffering culture shock occasioned by the development of FCT. The result of the dislocation was the removal of people from their ancestral homes, from spiritual symbols such as Zuma Rock. Today, they still brood over seeing their ancestral land being referred to as no man’s land while battling with issues about adjusting to the new environment given by the government.
Prince Gbaiza, National Coordinator, Greater Gbagyi Development Initiative of Nigeria (GG-DIN) at a forum in Abuja recently to press for the rights of FCT indigenes, emphasized that the issues must be redressed because if the people are left with nothing, then the heritage of the Gbagyi man would be extinct.