The Amazing Life Cycle Of The Kamwe/Higgi People

most of the sons and daughters of Higgi land go back home for that annual ritual of reunion with their families and friends.
Photo of Higgi Traditional Dance

By Yakubu Abdullahi Yakubu

The Higgi people of Adamawa State have a very interesting life. From cradle to grave, the life cycle of the Higgi man and woman is divided into stages. The home base of the ethnic group is Michika Local Government Area of Adamawa State where over 90 per cent of the population is Higgi. The language of the Higgi people is called Higgi, which is divided into several dialects. The Higgi man in Bazza may not understand clearly, what the Higgi man in Futo is saying due to the variety in the language. The man in Michika may speak differently from the man in Za, or Garta or Sina. However, some members of other communities learn another dialect and take at least a month to fairly learn it.

According to legend, the Higgi people, one of the Chadic ethnic groups migrated over several years to Nigeria from Chekil in the Cameroun Republic. According to legend, the migration of the Higgi people came about when a Higgi man had a quarrel with another person who was killed. The punishment for murder in that community was banishment. As a result, the Higgi man was forced to leave and was followed by his brother together with many members of that community. The migrants in their hundreds travelled for months and on their way spread to villages such as Sukur, Kamale, Futo, Bazza etc. These settlements formed into clans and even sub-clans as Chilengu, Daba, Tsumo, Ha, Sukur, Sina, Kamale, and Kurvi. In Michika, the Higgi (Tapa) are divided into as much as eight clans.

There is a story about how the Higgi came about their name. It is said that when the Higgi people came to their present location, the land was predominantly inhabited by the Marghi. The Marghi wondered why the new settlers were shouting, Hegi, Hegi when chasing grasshoppers and thereby started calling them Hegi which later change to Higgi. Efforts have been made by the Higgi to change the name of the ethnic group to Kamue instead, because they felt they were being teased.

The life cycle of the Higgi person is, especially in the days of old, amazing from the day he or she is born. In fact, the expecting father begins preparations when his wife is six months pregnant by storing dry meat. Often he would rear a goat or a cow for the meat, which he hopes to preserve for the mother's consumption from the time when she delivers to several few weeks. The meat is stored in a pot sealed at the brim with beeswax to keep away pests and germs. On the day the baby is delivered, the happy news is spread across the community. On the sixth day after birth when the sun goes down the skyline, the baby is brought outside at the entrance or porch of the household.

After prayers are offered to the gods, porridge of corn is prepared in a calabash and poured on the ground as a libation. One of the relations of the new born-child picks him up and in a sprint makes a dash into the house to the mother's room, with children trailing behind. That performance welcomes the newest member of the household.

The Higgi man begins to organize his family right from the birth of his first child. He even names his children in an orderly manner. The first male child is named Tizhe, the second, Zirra; the third, Tumba; the fourth, Vandu/Vandi; the fifth Goji, the sixth, Sini/Sinu; the Seventh, Tari; the eighth, Wada; the ninth, Drambi and the tenth is Kwatiri/Watturu. After the birth of the tenth child, the naming style changes with the suffix “hala” e.g. Kovuhala. On the other hand, the first female child is named Kuva; the second, Masu; the third, Kwaramba/Wurmba, the fourth Gonye/Kwanye; the fifth, Goji; the sixth, Wasinu/Kwasini, the seventh, Wata/Kwata, the eighth, Wada (sounds like the eight male); the ninth, Drambi (also sounds like the ninth male) and the tenth female child is named Kwatiri.

When the boy reaches the age of eight, his father thinks it is time for him to start learning how to live on his own. The boy begins some animal husbandry by rearing cattle, goats, or donkeys. By the time the boy is ten years old, he begins to accompany his parents to the farm to learn one or two skills about agriculture. On the farm, the parents try not to force the young farmer to work hard but allow him to rest most of the time. They try not pushing him to exhaustion, but when he gets too much rest, the boy is teased for being lazy which gingers him to get back to work.

As the boy adds two or three years to his life, he starts to escort the men to hunt for game. He learns how to set animal traps and how to make his hunting implements. He also learns how to make a thatched roof and build a hut with mud in preparation for future life. The boy learns all this along with other boys in his age group with a team spirit.

By the time the boy is 16 years old, he is already a good farmer, hunter, and mason. He is getting old enough to be a man. However, he needs a wife to be a complete man. He then leaves his father's house and adopts a foster father, who becomes a mentor to train him for about six months (together with about 20 other boys) into manhood. Having accomplished the training, the boy is deemed fit to take a wife and together build a new home.

Perhaps the hardest part is the payment of the bride price which, on the average, is not less than 15 goats, £60 (in the old days), about 150 iron rods (used for making hoes and other implements) and two or three traditional gowns (including a black one). The suitor works in his future father-in-law's farm for 9 months at four different times in the farming season with about 30 or more of his friends to produce crops such as millet, groundnut, corn, etc.

The bride price, heavy as it is, could be refunded by the father-in-law if the marriage fails and the wife does not bear any child in the marriage. However, if there is a divorce and the wife bears two children, one-third of the bride price is returned to the husband. If the failed marriage has already produced three or more children the husband receives nothing. Sometimes, the parents of the wife are considered for the return of half of the dowry even if there is a child produced in the marriage. A man could take up to eight wives in a polygamous family with as much as forty children. His large household reflects the extent of his wealth. His farm is often the largest around with bountiful harvest yearly.

The female child, too, begins tutelage by the age of seven. She begins to sit with her mother in the kitchen, to watch and learn how to cook. At the same time, she washes the dishes, sweeps the house, and grinds the corn etc. She is also allowed to rear some goats or even cattle. When the girl starts to show signs of physical maturity, it is an indication that she will soon begin to talk about marriage. By the age of 13, she is adorned with traditional marks on the face. The facial marks are meant to add to her natural beauty. The marks are meant to add to her natural beauty. The marks are carried out with a special instrument by professional artisans, who belong to a particular clan, and are skilled in making hoes, knives, decorated calabashes, etc. The process of making the marks could be painful and some girls do faint owing to loss of blood. Most often, the girls do not complain or else they are jeered at and branded as cowards.

At the age of 16, the girl is decorated with marks on one side of the belly. As for the other side of the belly, the adornment comes three months after her wedding, which comes up in a year or less. Weddings are generally seasonal and held between August and September at the peak of the rainy season. After the marks on the side of the belly have healed, more marks are made on the chest and arms. After those two have healed, more marks are made on her entire back. It is at this stage that the girl is deemed to have completed the process of beautification.

For the girl, the whole thing is a feat and for that, she goes on a diet of fish and beef, more or less, to help heal the wounds. Furthermore, the girl begins to visit her father’s house to work there in the daytime only to return to her marital home at night. The purpose of her going to work is to collect materials, utensils, calabashes, pottery, beddings, and other household items for her new home.

It is expected for the girl to raise her family based on the high moral standard she was brought up. The discipline on the girl-child is strict to the extent that pre-marital pregnancy is regarded as taboo. If a girl happens to get pregnant before getting married, she is treated with disdain for as long as ten years. In fact, prostitution was hardly known until the Nigerian Civil War 1967-70 when soldiers used to elope with young girls without their parents’ consent. Most of these girls later went into prostitution.

The heavy payment of the bride price places the woman in a slave-like position. Much often, her freedom in marriage is limited. Much of her farm produce is likely to be taken over by her husband, while any money she gives her husband for safekeeping may be cornered. Nevertheless, the husband carries out his obligation of fending for his children, taking care of their wedding expenses and school fees etc.

Forty to fifty years ago when Christianity and Islam were not fully entrenched in Higgi land, it was not unusual for a man to steal another man’s wife. A man wakes up in the night to find his wife is not there. A man goes to the market with his wife and turns around to find she is not there. When the man eventually discovers his wife, she would probably be married to another man. If the old husband confronts the new husband, the consequences may turn out fatal. To avoid that the old husband reports the matter to her father who is expected to intervene by meeting the new husband and pleading for the release of his daughter. Sometimes, the woman returns to her family. Sometimes she leaves again for her new husband’s home whom she loves instead.

When it comes to inheritance, the female child does not inherit her father’s wealth or property. Even if the father leaves 10 houses to ten girls and one boy, the boy takes most of it. However, the female child is allowed to inherit the wealth of her deceased mother. Nowadays the religion of Islam especially gives the right of inheritance to females. In some communities though, this tradition still holds. Nevertheless, with monogamy being practised in this modern society, even if the females are denied inheritance, their brothers (being of the same mother) sympathize and still share with them.

Even though the two major religions have a significant influence on the long-held traditions of the Higgi people, the traditional African religion plays a great role in the way of life of the people. Adherents of the traditional religion still abound in Higgi land with some people worshipping the gods in the river, the crossroad, the mountains and their ancestors as intercessors. The custodians of the religion of the ancestors are the chief priests who are distinct in their appearance. They have long hair, which they never shave except near the forehead. The chief priests always wear a cap covering that shaven part of the head.

Apart from the spiritual role they play, the chief priests are also the custodians of the people’s culture. Since they act as diviners and intercessors between the people and the deities, the chief priests may be classified as traditional leaders of their communities. However, they are not accorded royalty but are simply seen as part of the common folk. The chief priest performs rites for people on occasions or festivals such as weddings, funerals, farming seasons, famines, disasters, etc. He also consults the oracle for the people.

Religious rites of the ancestors are performed during funerals of the young, the old, the wealthy, or the commoner. Traditionally, when an infant or a young person under the age of seven dies; members of the family, their friends and the whole community are thrown into mourning. Apart from the weeping and wailing, there is no other festivity or celebration. Usually, when a person dies, he is buried on the same day. However, if it is in the evening, the corpse is kept until the next morning for burial.

If an adolescent boy or girl dies, he or she is mourned for three days before burial. After that, a ram is slaughtered and bean soup is cooked. Some of the food is put in an earthen pot, which is placed on the side of the road as an offering to the ancestors for the passage of the departed. The mother of the deceased continues to mourn the loss of her child by not having bathing for days or not putting on perfume or lotion.

The passing away of an elder is marked differently. In many cases, the elderly man makes a request (before dying) for his corpse to be kept for at least five days before burial so that his passage will be celebrated with dancing, drumming, and festivity. If the elderly man is a leader in the community (having attained the age of 70 or over), the mourning is extended for seven days, with or without the request of the deceased (before his death). The funeral rites are more or less a festival of sorts. Dry meat is put on fire, as a delicacy and also as a scent, to cover the stench of the corpse.

Meanwhile, the lifeless celebrant is put on a chair or laid on a bed as a passive observer. By the fifth day, the corpse gets inflated and to avoid it from bursting, a professional blacksmith is called in to take care of the situation. Skilfully, the blacksmith peels off the outer skin of the deceased person. He then pounds some acacia (a kind of bark used for dyeing cloth) and makes a paste with water. The paste is used to cover the dead body, which tans and makes the skin look lively. A lot of charcoal is collected in about six bags and put into the grave before the corpse is laid into it.

The interment is often not the last to be heard of the departed. In about six months or one year, the children of the dead elder come together to celebrate once again the transition of their father. They drink and dance the night away with friends, family members and also their in-laws. It is believed that this is another way of heralding their patriarch’s passage to the great beyond.

The average Higgi person is enterprising and self-reliant. His main occupation is farming and trading. The Higgi man travels far and wide across the country selling his wares. He adjusts to any situation and adapts to any social setting he finds himself. As a farmer, the Higgi man feels the land in his homeland is not vast enough to take care of his agricultural needs, especially due to the mountainous nature of his homeland. An average family has not less than 12 persons and each individual desires to have his or her own farmland.

The search for land and livelihood has taken the Higgi man away from home to other places to settle down in huge numbers such as Golontobal, Kwanan Waya, Belel, Sorau, Maiha etc. Outside Adamawa State, the Higgi man has ventured out to set up business in Kano, Jos, Maiduguri, Lagos etc. It is always a wonder when there is a meeting of Higgi people in those cities one sees hundreds of them; young and old, male and female in attendance. In contrast, during the Christmas season and to a lesser degree, the Easter holiday - most of the sons and daughters of Higgi land go back home for that annual ritual of reunion with their families and friends. Doesn’t the old adage say North, East, South or West, home is best? See less

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