The culture of the people of Birnin Amina Acer in Rijau Local Government Area of Niger State makes them unique or distinct from others. And they have held tenaciously to this for decades of their existence.
A journey from Minna, the state capital, to this very remote part of the state is about 325 kilometres, passing through four local government areas, all in Niger North Senatorial District. First, a journey to these communities in Rijau LGA from Kontagora, the neighboring local government, which is about 100 kilometres, tells a story of a people forgotten and abandoned by government, with no single social amenity, except a hand pump borehole sunk by an NGO.
Again, a 45-minute journey from Rijau, the local government headquarters, to these communities on a bumpy and rocky road, easily accessed only by motorcycles, can make someone to conclude that the people belong to an entirely different continent and age.
Interestingly, it is the home of the Kambari people, cut off from the rest of the world to practice their cultural beliefs and way of life, which they cherish, and it has remained unique to them.
It is a tribe cut off from the modern world in all ramifications. Donkeys are the only means of transport for the largely sleepy, peaceful agrarian and nomadic people.
Infrastructural development is far from the people and appears not to be their priority. To visitors and outsiders, they are an angry or dejected people, but to the unclad people inhabiting Birni Amina and Acer communities, their reclusive nature gives them peace and happiness. Their everyday life, which is nowhere close to ‘civilisation,’ gives them joy and satisfaction regardless of what you feel about them, as the two communities hold tenaciously to their culture and tradition to the extent that they insist that nothing would change their way of life.
Since western civilisation is far from the people, so also are all the challenges associated with civilisation and globalisation nowhere near them. There is no room for any form of social vices or criminalities. The civilised and educated sons and daughters of these communities keep a safe distance to avoid a possible crisis of cultures because, as it were, there is no way western civilisation can blend with the culture of the Kambari people, at least not for now.
The dome straw roof and round mud houses in which the Kambari currently live have been their homes for decades since they started living in the area. While most parts of the state suffocate in the heat that sometimes characterises the northern region, their homes provide a cool interior, which gives them comfort. The drinking water usually served visitors from clay pots is cold, tasteless and odourless, full of natural alkaline.
Visitors to these communities will definitely experience a number of cultural shocks. For instance, to a visitor new to the way of life of the Kambari people, the sight of young girls, women and men walking about nude would be a shocking. But for the people of these remote communities, it is a way of life.
Naked, yet no rape
With over 87 rape cases reported in 2019 alone in parts of Niger State, where women cover every part of their body, naked women in Kambari have no experience of rape by their men. Their story is akin to that of Adam and Eve in the Bible, until the serpent came, but in Kambari that serpent is yet to come.
Rape cases are non-existence in these communities because rape either by a stranger or members of the communities is “punished by the gods” with death. This law and many others are as old as these communities and that is why it is extremely difficult for the “civilised” sons and daughters of Kambari extraction to fit in anymore.
“It is unacceptable and unforgivable and our people are conscious of this,” the Mai Angwar (community head) of one of the communities, Gandi Kamuna, said.
According to him, men and women mix freely unclad because their nudity does not elicit any sexual emotion. They are born into it and they are used to it. It is a normal way of life
“Moving around naked or half-naked is our culture and we don’t care what people say about us. We are comfortable that way because we find it normal, we don’t see it the way you see it. That is why we are not comfortable with influx of strangers to these communities.
“However, those who find their way into the communities must adapt to the way of life of our people so that they can live in peace. You can see that we don’t have police here but we are free from any form of criminality or social vices.
“Here, in our communities, what attracts men is not nudity. Our men are attracted by how women plait their hair, good manners and the tattoos the young ladies have. This might sound funny to you but that is the truth.”
The Mai Angwar, who is popularly known as Babangida among the locals, confirmed that government has made no attempt to provide any infrastructure in his community in the last 60 years.
Kamuna said: “We don’t need the government to live a wonderful life here. After all, we have been managing ourselves well for over 60 years. Currently, we are about 500 men and women along with about 150 children.
“We don’t actually need the government because we have all it takes to take care of ourselves and that is why we don’t bother them for anything, unlike people living in the city.
“We are on our own. We believe strongly in our customs and tradition and we don’t need any religion or government to come here and change us. Since the god of our land, Migaro, is protecting us and taking care of all us, we lack nothing.”
Surprisingly, despite their stance against western civilisation, the people have embraced modern communication technology.
They use mobile phones and the Mai Angwar believes that will not adulterate their culture and tradition
“The borehole water we drink today is our personal effort. We even have a generator to charge our mobile phones. We have a rice mill and one of our people even has about 300 cows. So, you see, we lack nothing,” he explained.
Kamuna explained that his people dress half naked as part of their culture and that nobody has a right to force them to change, since Christians and Muslims cannot be forced to change their religions.
According to him, some groups have tried to convert his people by bringing them gifts. He said it was a ploy to encourage the Kambari people to conform to how the rest of the country lives.
When the Kambari people go to the market to do their buying and selling, it was observed that the women cover the lower half of their bodies with wrappers while the men do the same. In fact, they are bare-chested.
In addition to this, it was also observed that many cultural practices make these people very distinct from the rest of the world. Most importantly, what constitutes societal norms and laws are different in these communities.
Apart from the fact that cousins marry one another and can never marry outsiders because many of their neighbours don’t even believe in their cultures, it is entirely normal for a 60-year-old man to marry an 18-year-old girl.
In Kambari and Acer, marriage is celebrated by slaughtering goats and cows for food, while the parents of the bride cook food for the groom. Once the food is eaten, the marriage is contracted. No formal dowry is paid.
Early marriage for the Kambari is a common tradition, as parents believe marrying off their children at a young age is the best gift they could give them.
In Birnin Amina and Acre, young men who have saved up through their harvests use the money to get married.
Almost every parent regularly has one or two early marriage proposals for their female children whose ages range from six to 17.
One man, four wives
Kambari men traditionally marry up to four wives and always ensure that their wives are well taken care of equally.
The 70-year-old Mai Angwar said, since the Kambari people know nothing about civilisation, what others may term fashion and beautiful clothes hold no appeal for them.
“Western civilisation is another man’s culture. Why must we embrace it, leaving our own that was handed over to us by our forefathers? Our society would have been destroyed by now,” he insisted.
Since they live in what could be described as a closed society, another man’s language is a taboo except for those who have gone out of the communities.
Majority of the people cannot speak even Hausa, a language widely spoken in northern Nigeria. Therefore, English language is out of it. Kambari remains the only spoken language.
A local interpreter whom our correspondent engaged from Rijau town was the only way of communicating for anybody who wanted to conduct any form of business in the communities that required contact with the residents.
The Kambari people have refused to embrace any of the two major religious (Christianity and Islam) and this has greatly kept their culture and tradition intact.
They are pagans and worship a god called Magiro, while belief in curses, witchcraft and magic is rife among the people.
They have resisted every attempts by apostles of these two religions to indoctrinate them as attested to one of the locals who explained that in the past, missionaries from all walks of life had made spirited efforts to change their belief, but have not been successful.
They maintain that the God of Migaro is working for them and you can only worship the god that answers your prayers, insisting that it is a religion handed over to them by their forefathers, and they have guarded it jealously ever since.
One unique thing about these people is that despite the fact that they are cut off from the rest of modern society, their level of kindness to visitors is unprecedented. They find joy in welcoming visitors as experienced by our correspondent.
Again, helping each another and living in harmony is the hallmark of their peaceful nature. In their world, there is no rancour.
According to the people, they have no need for education, primary health care, access to good roads and other social amenities as they have never demanded for one from the government. They prefer to use herbs in treating all their health issues. The only time they mix with outsiders is when they are in the market to sell their farm produce.
Birnin Amina and Acer are responsible for 70 per cent of the crops consumed by the entire people of Rijau Local Government. The people spend most of their time in the farm.
They plant almost all crops, including corn, millet, peanuts, beans and rice. Nearly all of the locals keep chickens and goats for meat, while the richer ones among them rear cattle.
Mallam Mohammed Bello, a resident of Rijau town, who has a good history of the people, told our correspondent that there is no evidence of government presence in Birnin Amina and Acer at all, but the people are not worried as nothing is missing in their existence as a people.
He disclosed that, since the creation of Niger State, no government has ever shown interest in the communities, and they have never been treated as indigenes of the state.
According to him, “the two communities of the Kambari tribe have lived here for over 50 years without any reference to government and they are not worried because they have all it takes to care for themselves.
“The government only remembers them during political campaigns to seek votes and once the election is over, they are abandoned until the next rounds of election.”
Bello also confirmed that the Kambari people are the food basket of the local government and without them the people of the surrounding areas would die of hunger. He added that that was why they remain in the bush for the benefit of farming and maintaining their culture and tradition as they got it from their forefathers.
“They cannot read and write and are not ready to embrace modernisation. They don’t care what government and other people will do for them.
“To them, their tradition is the best thing that has happened to them and they cannot leave it, no matter the pressure.”
“Missionaries and other organisations have been trying their best to reform them but could not succeed. They still stick to their beliefs.”
Although our correspondent gathered that, apart from Birnin Amina and Acer communities, there are other communities in Rijua Local Government that practise paganism like Aulo, Gulubaidu, Dugge, Agwanda, Buni and Arigida. And all attempts by a number of non-governmental organisations to make them change their beliefs have met with the same disappointment.
Our guide said such overtures have created a suspicion among the people because they never tried to understand the Kambari culture.
The Kambari are aware that the way of life outside their communities is much different but they seem to be comfortable in retaining their ancient culture and tradition.
Festival of their god
Another tradition that they value and cherish is the festival of their god, which is celebrated once a year. Sacrifices are offered to the god to celebrate the bumper harvest of their crops.
Most parents are against sending their children to school, feeling that it is a waste of time, when the children could be doing farm work.
He described the Kambari people as very friendly to strangers in their midst.
The only time they do not take kindly to strangers is when such people deride their culture.
Kamuna said: “Social gatherings like weddings and markets draw huge crowds while social vices like drunkenness, sexual immorality and stealing are very rare in our communities. In fact, these things are taboos.”
He said, in place of healthcare facilities, “Our witch doctors handle all the health-related issues, while they also communicate with ancestral spirits for blessings, good harvests and other aspects of daily life. Even our wives put to bed through traditional method.
“I have never been to hospital in my life, including my two wives and my children and we are strong and healthy.”
A former chairman of the local government area, Mallam Bello Bako, told our correspondent that the people valued their culture and there was nothing anyone could do to change the way of life of the Kambari people.
“So many missionaries have tried their best to penetrate them to embrace Christianity but met a brick wall, they refused to be converted. They are holding their customs and traditions firmly and are surviving with it.
“They are rich farmers and the communities are very peaceful. Even though they don’t depend on the government for anything, they obey the laws of the land.”
The immediate past commissioner for information, culture and tourism in the state, Mr. Jonathan Vatsa, said the culture of the people of Birnin Amina and Acer communities must be respected, provided they do not go against the law.
Vatsa said: “There is nothing bad about people adhering to their culture and tradition, provided it does not breach the peace of the state.”
He advised people to learn how to live with their culture and tradition and do what is expected of them, without fear, for peace to reign.
Vatsa suggested that there is the need for government to look into ways of educating the Kambari people on the necessity of embracing civilisation “so that they can participate in the activities of the government.”