Sunday, 4 January 2009

The 10 Days of Christmas - Part II

Monday 29 December
It was on this day that I learnt, from an HRH himself, that the reason Kagoro celebrates New Year’s in favour of Christmas is all down to a Scot called Archibald.

Getting to know Nigeria is all about who you know – and luckily our guard Yashen knows Gideon Agwamma, son of the former Chief of Kagoro Mallam Gwamna Awan, the longest serving chief in Africa with 63 years in office. Gideon lives next door to the Chief’s Palace and he knows the new chief Ufuwai Bonet... and thus the ladies of the Pink House were granted an audience on Monday morning with the new Chief,. Having assembled at Gideon’s house, we stopped briefly to snap Gideon in front of his father’s statue (not yet painted – but you can still see the resemblance) before waiting in the simple antechamber.

We entered the large reception room, its lower walls lined with sofas occupied by dignitaries and council members, its upper walls with portraits of earlier chiefs, other national and state leaders and our own Queen Elizabeth (in her very much younger days). Chief Bonet greeted us warmly and for almost 20 minutes we chatted about railways, the British Council in Kaduna (which he had frequented in his youth), his international travels and Kagoro – or Afan Day.

HRH explained that when the missionaries first came to Kagoro the hill tribes traditionally celebrated a non-Christian harvest thanksgiving celebration on New Year – the Afan Festival. A particular Scottish missionary called Archibald who was very close to the Christian chief of Kagoro at the time, recalled the traditions of his homeland, where the previously dominant Presbyterians had discouraged the celebration of Christmas with the gift-giving, public and feasting associated with mid-winter held between the 31 December and 2 January. By integrating the two holidays Archibald hoped that the Christians would achieve a higher degree of influence with their heathen neighbours and from that day Kagoro has celebrated Afan Day in favour of Christmas, accompanied by the traditional burning of the hill bush, so that for a short time, Kagoro Mountain resembles a small volcano with burning lava running down its flanks.
Our next engagement was the Vincent Kawai Memorial Foundation Talent Show to be held at the nearby Town Hall – an event held to combat the problems of alcoholism and substance abuse amongst the Kagoro Youth and all acts had to incorporate this theme into their performance. Posters around the town had the start time of 2pm (as appeared on our own personal invitation) crossed out and replaced by 1pm. With this in mind, we thought that 2pm would be a good time to arrive, and entered the large and almost completely empty Town Hall sharp at 2pm to be warmly greeted by our host and neighbour, Mrs Aka’ahs who apologised for the late start and ushered us to the front row of sofas, reserved for VIPs.

At 4pm – sharp – the first entertainers came on. A cultural band opened the show and were followed by a performance by the children of St Joseph’s Catholic Church.

Then came the speeches and finally at about 5.30pm the first of the 10 acts came on. As 6pm approached and dusk was falling Laurie and Dori took their leave, whilst I enjoyed the remaining five acts and chatted with Mrs Aka’ahs and her husband Justice Kumai Bayang Aka’ahs before being invited to the stage to present 4th and 5th prizes following the extended deliberations of the judges.

4th, 3rd and 2nd prizes being awarded

As the winner was presented with his TV (an extremely generous prize – perhaps the Pink Ladies should try entering next time?) he was asked to reprise his song (sung in the local Kagoro language( which got the whole hall, young and old on their feet in celebration. Not relishing a walk home along the dirt tracks of Kagoro in the pitch black, Justice Aka’ahs kindly offered me a lift home and as we left the hall, we came face to face with the flaming mountainside a Kagoro Mountain, a fitting conclusion to a long but eventful day.

Tuesday 30 December – Blog Day
.... And preparations for the 10 VSO guests we were expecting - 7 from Abuja, 1 from Kaduna and 2 from Gidan Waya.

Wednesday 31st December – New Year’s Eve
Having prepared a bottle of home-made citrus squash, ordered joloffe rice for 14, bought 24 minerals and 12 bottles of Star and, with Fantsuam Marcus’ help, restocked on kerosene and petrol and had 4 large mattresses transported from various locations across Bayan Loco, our celebrations were sobered by the news that one of our expected 7 guests arriving from Abuja had been attacked and robbed on her taxi ride home in Abuja the previous night. As a result, all of the group, who had spent Christmas together in Calabar, decided to stay with the victim in Abuja, making our party a little smaller (and probably a bit more manageable) than previously expected.

Shortly after 2.00 our first visitor from Kaduna arrived – VSO Monique, who works in a school for the deaf and a seasoned Naija expert with over two years already in the country. At 5.15 Victoria brought us the hug hot-pot of joloffe rice (for 14) and at 6.00 (armed with a bottle of vodka) Markus and Sabine turned up from Gidan Waya to help us eat it.

As we whiled away the hours with Star, vodka and citrus squash, joloffe rice, good company and Laurie’s grill fired up in the background, we set the alarm for midnight (I’d completely forgotten I had a shortwave radio) and duly celebrated. However, we took note of the following morning’s 08:00am start and retired soon afterwards.

Thursday1 January 2009 – Kagoro Day

Our experience with Nigerian time at the Talent Show robbed the urgency from our preparations to reach the main Kagoro parade ground for 08:00 as we admired and snapped one another’s African outfits and greeted everyone on our walk into the centre of the village.

How wrong we were! Kagoro time does not operate on Nigerian time, but something more akin to Swiss time. When we arrived at 08:30 the parade was long gone on its tour around the village only being due to return at 10:00. We stared at the near empty parade field and vacant seats before Sabine suggested we visited a friend of theirs Vera, who lived close by. As the six of us descended completely unannounced on the small house in a traditional compound, Vera and her friend from Abuja Ozi, greeted us warmly with malt drinks, beer and Baileys. Just under 40 minutes later, we heard the parade returning and, having made use of Vera’s western bathroom, we made our way back to the parade ground just as the Boy’s Brigade was leading the procession back onto the main field.

Gideon had promised us reserved seats, but knowing that he was a part of the procession, we did our best attempt to wander around to gain the attention of whoever had been told where the seats for the local batauri were. Sure enough, within 10 minutes we were ushered across to one of the front marquees, where we were given seats in the second row of sofas, the exclusive preserve of the VIPs. Over the next 30 minutes (and again, spot on time) the emirs and dignitaries started arriving with their retinues of dogaris whilst the MC announced each one in turn (all protocols duly observed) and appealed to the ‘security’ to start doing their jobs keeping the field clear of the rapidly arriving convoys of smart (and not so smart) vehicles, attendants and chancers.

Right - Gideon arrives on his horse

Us on the sofas and the emirs (plus British diplomat) in front

Dogari faithfully guarding their emirs (only one per emir officially permitted)

As 10.30 approached, the arrival of Architect Mohammed Namadi Sambo (governor of Kaduna State) and Nigeria's former military President General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida were announced, before taking their seats for the speeches and the handing of staff of office to the new Chief. At this stage I would like to point out that at many, if not all, of the events I have attended in Nigeria (including the prestigious Abuja Carnival) Sambo or his deputy have been advertised as chief guests and have never actually turned up in person. For both Sambo and Babangida to make an appearance really did emphasise the importance of Kagoro and its Chief to Kaduna State and, given Babangida’s appearance, Nigeria (although that could have had something to do with the fact that his wife was the new chief’s late wife’s sister...).
My thanks for Sabine for these pictures of (L-R) Sambo, Babangida and Chief Ufuwai Bonet

Time keeping was rigorous –and even more impressive when it became apparent that every one of the six speakers was going to give his thanks individually to all the dignitaries here present (no ‘all protocols duly observed' summary when Sambo and Babangida are there to notice who doesn’t acknowledge them), taking at least 10 minutes each time. The handing over of the Staff of Office occurred just when scheduled and the formalities were over at exactly 1:27pm (scheduled for 1.30pm) after which there was a 90 minute break before ‘cultural dances’ began.
Once again all six of us repaired to Vera’s house where, within 30 minutes she had rustled up rice, beautiful salad and stew for us and her other guests.

Whilst we were waiting Ozi rearranged my headscarf from the ‘washerwoman’ look to a more elaborate Nigerian style. A great improvement!

At three we returned to the field where the cultural dances were in full swing, and having lost our prestigious seats on the sofas, seated ourselves on the ground to watch the displays from all over Kaduna State.

Due to the somewhat obscured view that we had of much of the entertainment, we started planning our round of visits to the friends and neighbours across the village who had invited us to visit them on Kagoro Day. It soon became apparent that we had to start quickly and got up to leave as quickly as possible to avoid the wrath of seated spectators behind us.

Kagoro only sees crowds like this once a year!

Our first visit was Gideon, just a stone’s throw from the field. His apologetic wife informed us he had not yet returned so we made our way across the thick crowds back to our neighbourhood to visit John the Grinder who had insisted that we stop by in thanks for the picture that we had given him, via Jared and Network Rail’s printer and laminator, showing him proudly at his machine.

When we turned up at about 6 he was delighted to see us and it became clear that he hadn’t attended the celebrations as he had wanted to be sure to greet us and did not know what time we would have been arriving. We all squeezed into his tiny front room and drank minerals and ate small pieces of meat clearly specially reserved for us. He told us about his international travels with the Nigerian army and introduced us to his family that were present including wife Esther and grandson Godwin.

The next visit was to Dennis and Colletta Shelley, ECWA missionaries at the other side of town. On our way back to the Pink House to collect Markus and Sabine’s car, we came across a New Year’s street band which tour the village. As you can see – a very diverse bunch all celebrating the occasion together, and in their own special ways!

Getting the six of us into the Golf was no challenge compared to trying to get onto the main Kagoro Road to visit the Shelley’s large compound. As we exited the market to turn left onto the main road, gridlock ensued with Sabine leaving the car to stop the traffic so that we had a hope of making our manoeuvre within the next hour. Her effectiveness and nerve in the face of congested vehicular adversity would be the envy of a Lagos (or indeed Roman) traffic cop and we were soon on our way.

Once at the Shelley’s we toasted the New Year with cold minerals (NEPA was kind) and took photos in front of the only Christmas tree we had seen that year, whilst Dennis and Colleta’s charming children, who had been born and brought up in Nigeria, told us of their experiences at school in Jos during the recent riots.

Luckily the traffic through the village had subsided considerably when we took our leave and made our way up to our final destination, the Aka’ahs, three doors down from the Pink House. We knew that Rebecca and Justice Aka’ahs would have been busy during the day as the Justice had been mentioned several times during the day’s proceedings as being at the head of 19 other judges who had been invited to the event, and who I had guessed would have been at the Aka’ahs eating the cow that I had seen Rebecca ‘dressing’ the previous day. When we arrived there at about 8.00pm the whole family were clearly relaxing after a very hard day but that didn’t stop them inviting us in for drinks and the most delicious spice cake that I have tasted, (on a par with my sister’s fruit cake) prepared by their senior daughter Joyce, who was practising as a lawyer in Kaduna. Both Rebecca, her husband and their four present children, were wonderfully hospitable and allowed us to have a very relaxing end to a very busy day.


Belindka said...

Hello Cicely I tremendously enjoyed the blog - as usual - and as for the length, do you remember Mummy's letters to us at boarding school? Well they are sort of like that but without the limitations of old fashioned technology (like running out of paper or typing ribbon)and with EVEN more to say than Mummy had (which is saying something!)...Anyway I am well trained in skim reading something and the photos help to pick out the juicy bits (although that perhaps is an inappropriate expression for the photo which most caught my eye....scuse me that wasn't the one who stopped the traffic herself was it??)keep it b

Jenny said...

Hello Cicely, I an Dori and Laurie's friend Jenny (we have met on SKYPE). I just found your blog-the lovely ladies of the pink house had not shared it-but I have enjoyed your take on Nigeria and the pictures...especially of the New Year's celebrations! I will be sure to read regularly now that I know your blog is here...looking forward to meeting you in person in 2010 (provided you are staying 2 years).
Stay safe and Happy New Year to you all!
Jenny in Florida

Anonymous said...

Hello Cic, Just found you on Google, pretty cool. Have read your April entries, pretty interesting, have not seen the New Year's Celebration yet, will check out later. Just wanted to check in with you and see how you are doing and wish you a fantasticly wonderful HAPPY BIRTHDAY!! Hope you enjoy the day and celebration and wish you many happy returns. Drop me a line when you get a moment. Sorry to have been out of touch for so long. How long is your contract for, can't remember if one or two I still have time to come and visit you at some point? It looks interesting. Looking forward to hearing from you on the e-mail. I hope that the roofs of the houses/office/school can get fixed as well as the antennae. Hopefully you can still get internet connection some how on your special day. All the best. My Mom also joins me in sending you her best wishes. Take care of yourself. Big hug, Yvonne (Note: please confirm receipt, I am putting anonymous below as I don't normally blog and did not want to sign up for anything new...hope you can tell this is from me...sorry I am a novice at this :=)