Informant: Yerima Tapchi
Age: 78 years
Topic: His biography. A Typical Bura Man's Life. 36
I was born in 1895 at Fwahar on the northern face of
Fwahar hill in Garkida. My godmother at birth was Ya Silida.
I am the first born of my parents, Yablda and Jimbala,
and have only one brother Yabella. During my childhood, my
father has his own house, not living with my grandparents as
others do. My father did have another wife, but they did not
give birth to a child.
From birth to about eight months I was fed on breast
milk and warm water, after that I was given squashed guinea
corn food in the form of porridge. Children at this age are
usually fed in a horrible way that is your mother would
place you lying down side ways on her .s-z knees or legs
and she cups your mouth while you are fed liquid food. All
this part of childhood you are carried on the back up to the
age of about two years. I started walking early compared to
other children at the age of 1+ years.
At this age, my mother used to3eave me at hoae with other
smaller boys to play while she goes to farm. Not everybody
goes to farm, some stay home because there was raids by then
and they are to protect the village.
From two years to seven years old when I began herding
&ats, nothing much happened, I never was a sick person, except
once when I had stomach trouble and was taken to the witch-
doctor for treatment. There was no work for us. My father
died when I was three years old and we were taken to Djangura's
house, this is a relative having the same grandfather with my
father and he married my mother according to the custom. We
live peacefully in Djanguras house.
Every woman has her own section in the big compound we
lived. It was customary for the women of one compound to have
T. Mshelia 19
turns $, cooking the compound's meal, but my mother used to
cook us food every time whether it is her turn or not.
Everybody was a farmer by then.
At the time I was seven years old, I started herding
goats and sheep. They belong to my stepfather.
We usually get up early in the morning and take the
animals to the bush or hill side. We go in groups of about
twenty children, each with their own goats. We always enjoy
it so much. We organise ourselves into army groups and have
wars, we sing and play lots of play in the bush. This was
the time I learnt aimming in the River Hawal. We were very
free and no parent restriction. There was nothing like school
and religion except idol worshipping. We were not involved in
the worshipping but are much afraid of its power. We are' only
concerned with the celebration or eating of "haptu" food -
idol food. We used to bring back the animals at about 4 O'clock
and then go to nearby farms to help our parents.
Usually boys and girls stop going herding at about the age
of 12. But in my case I stopped at the age ofi'5 because my
younger brother Yabella was not of age yet.
At the age of 15 I started going to farm with my parents.
We were well off in mg family so I started wearing bantang
at the age of 8 while some boys stay up to the age of 14 with-
In my childhood days, guineacorn, cotton, beans were the
main things planted. Groundnuts was not much farmed because
it had little uses We used to sell some of our product because
there was too much for our use.
At this age of 15, I got a sore head. My whole face was
swollen up and there was blood and pus in it for two years.
I was taken to many villages where there are well known witch
doctors, for treatment. For all these two years before I
recovered. There was nothing like civilization or outside
influence on the people, and no hospital. It was at this age
that I started riding my stepfather's horse. Everyone had a
horse and it was the main form of transport. There were not
many donkeys in my area by then.
At this age, we had began hunting also. I had my xrz as
own bow and arrows made by my stepfather. Everybody has his
Europeans had started arriving and we used to run away.
My compound moved to Thila in a village opposite Garkida on the
other bank of Hawal because we were afraid of Europeans.
Part of this move was also due to the fight Garkida had with the
Fulania. We did not have anything to do in the fight, only the
Tarfa people settled their thing because they owned Garkida.
There was trouble between the Mziwi Mshelia and the
Shalangwa they killed our own person and one of our relatives
revenged it f&r us. This caused a fight and our house was
burnt. Even though it wasn't my step-father that killed the
Shalangwa person, his house was burnt because it was the
richest Mziwl Mshelia compound.
I was about years old when we came back to Garkida
after our house in Thila waw burnt down. We built a new house
in Kuta Mular the valley to the west of Fwahar hill. All
the people in one Zara were relatives.
At this age, I had a room which I share with some
relative friends. We mix freely in our relative's compounds.
We did go back to Fwahar but later came back again. The whole
My step-father died when I was 23 years old. That was
the year I got my first wife. Marriage was very difficult
because of the heavy dowry. My first wife's name is Mablama.
I stayed in Suwang house with my wife a relative. I had my
first child, a girl named Penny still in his house. At the
age of 26 I built my own house outside his compound. There
was no war during my lifehood. Only the small fight of the
Fulanis and the Tarfa people. I had my own farm and grew
what everyone grew. There was not much trouble between men
and women or rather husband and wife because- women were
regarded much to inferior to even bother a man's temper.
Before I was thirty years of age I had already married
three wives. They had their own farms and granneries.
I stayed near Suwangb house in Kutamular for three years.
There was nothing very much exceptional within these three
years. Just farming. In the rainy season I farm alone. In
the dry season I do all thebuilding work that is changing
of fence. Every two years the house fence has to be changed
due to detoriation of the coin stalks. I was unfortunate in
that I had no sons to help me collecting cornstalks, grass for
roofing called Manshan, wood for fence and also making ropes.
All thesis work are for young boys to do for their father, but
I had no son by then. I did all myself.
At the age of thirty-three, I left Suwangs area because
of a quarrel he had with my brother Yabella. Yabella is a
sick man and hot tempered, they did not like staying together
so I had to move with Yabella to Gunjugu. I built another
compound again. I alone did the building without help.
Usually some men get helpers who give them mansham, corn-
stalks and also with the building itself. But I was rather
self content with my own ways. I did have friends like Gwamna
and Kombali Duna. We just sit and discuss the days work, but
I was never drink or smoke. Only snuffing. Up to this day
I have never tested beer. Also I don't eat kola nuts;. There
is no special reasons for this.
In my Thirties I was not very interested in hobbies or
games. All I was interested in was farming and making of
local material. I was well known for that.
At about the age of forty I married three more wives. I
had sons then at this age. The oldest is Yamta.
At this age I got sick for about two years and was in bed
in the hospital. By then the hospital was developing fast.
The medicine was much more effective than what it is today.
I did allow my children to go to school except the girls
because they were not allowed to go.
I was very good at getting off people's wiesl off them -
that is san mwalla chasing married women. It wasn't a bad
idea by theni and it was regarded as braveness and richness. I
married quite a lot of women and divorced many. Marriage was
not a solid business by then. Not all gave me children and
separation was very easy because most of them when they get
tired of their husband they just run back home to their parents.
The haptu I have is one of the strongest known around
this area of Garkida and Kilba land. It is used for settling
cases in courts. I got it from my step father Djangura when
If there was a case of theft, the suspects would be brought
to my house and the haptu would be brought to him. He then
swears to the haptu saying if he is guilty it shouldaaffect
him. The haptu is much feared, because it destroys not only
the suspected pers*a but his whole family and it continues on
wards on his decendents.
My clan being second to Tarfa as owners of Garkida are the
advisers. I became adviser to Birma Joro Buba. I got this
post from Suwang. The post is Alkali and we conducted sharia.
I was also the adviser to Birma Usman and in all his travels to
Yola, Gombi for the village dealings. At times I might
represent him on some business there in Yola or Gombe.
The house am now staying in is the one I enjoyed most and
I have really stayed long in it about twenty years. I did
stay in another house still in Gunjugu but left that house due
to a quarrel I had with a friend.
I was also once the head of labourers in Ayaba Ochsrd
for about twenty years.
Throughout my life time I had more than twenty wives.
But now I have got only two wives. All the rest were either
divorced or they just went away. I am now just a quiet old
man but still strong. My eyesight is still very good.
One occasion I did enjoy this year was the talking I did
about the arrival of the missioneries at their 50th
Page 18 Raids
One of my relatives called Gabn married off Chemwasu's
wife. When everyone had gone to farm and only my grandfather
Middala blri was at home, he was very old by then to go to
farm Chemwasu's people came to catch me as a revenge on the
wrong did him by Gabn. When we saw them coming, we the child-
ren ran to a neighbouis house where we were locked in .a goats
house. Middala Dawi came out and chased them away. They
went to Chemwasu's wife's: people and caught one of her
relatives. This catching they are doing is a sort of kidnap-
ping and you pay them the dowry before you get back your child.
This is the reason children are not left alone. Also
because of thieves and possible slaves. It was during the
time of slave raids alse. I did not experience any other
raid than that of Chemwasu.
Page 19 Children Play: Army
In our case, we go into the hill and cut stick or rods.
All of tk us that went herding.
Usually the fight has no cause, we just send a message
to any Zara that tomorrow when we go herding, we would fight
you the cause might be competition the message is taken
to them by any of us.
Every Zara army has its own head or commander. This
commander is not specially chosen, but the most popular,
wisest and bravest among you just become the head.
Always when we go herding, this commander has a royal
stool built by us from stones. We pile up stones as high as
five feet and with a diameter of four yards. He sits on top
of this every time we go herding. The herding place is;
always the same the fields.
On the day we go for the war, we go early in the morning.
The challengers go and meet the challenged Zara in their own
When we in my Zara gather ou goats I was once the
commander of my Zara we move to the other Zara's field where
their commander has his royal stool. We choose smaller boys
to keep watch on our goats.
We fight with rods and whips, but no bows or other hamful
weapons. We arrange ourselves in a line and move forwards
with the commander in the middle shoulder to shoulder we:
start singing war songs and our hearts boil up like brave men
in real war. Even the girls are included. The songs are
just rough and loud and sorrowful as the armies do today. That
is, they give the same feeling to us as the soldiers of today.
The other Zara would also be ready and would be advancing
in the same manner. Our parents do not know of it only when
they see broken legs, arms and lost eyes with broken heads. We
do not think of any harm and we do it very wildly. It was
When the war gets very hot, we start with stones, edaee due
to the noise, people in the village would hear of it and come
we spoil their
rushing. If we win the other Zara/royal stool and chase them
in the bush.
Our parents do not allow their children to be chased home,
your father would beat you and chase you back if you come
running. That shows cowardice on your side and they don't
Page 20 Fear of Europeans
Apart from the fear of the colour of their skins, the
British that came, came through people like Joro Gwala, and
these Joro's and Ajias usually use the presence of Europeans
with as power over us and take our animals and corn away.
Therefore when we are told that Europeans would be coming, we
run away with our things to save our properties. The Europeans
at times burn some village and also they had guns.
Page 19 Kaliazar
The sickness has never recur again. It is kaliasar and
my head used to swell like a baloon. It was considered a
very dangerous sickness. But it wasn't common in my days.
Many people do come with it today to the hospital.
Page 20 Killin~ and Revenge
My people Mshelia had just finished farming their ground-
nut farms, Dawi and his brother Gasharu were doing theirs at
Pellachirama opposite Garkida on the other side of the River
Hawal. They are Mshelia persons but just preferred staying
There was a rich man called Hedima Tsikwa in Pellachirama
who had slaves, these slaves were nine in number and they said
they would keep watch over everybody's farm so that thieves
and monkeys would not touch it. They would be paid only a
calabashful of the dugged groundnuts they had kept watch over.
A woman named Yangasa Copayar went and told the slaves
that Dawi Nshelia said he won't pay them anything, what were
slaves meant for if not to work free of payment nobody
actually sent her just interference.
During the harvest day, one of my relatives, Baidi Mshelia
went from our hom in Fwahar to help Dawi with his harvesting.
In the afternoon the slaves came to Dawi with their bows and
arrows. They asked him why he said they were slaves to work
for nothing. Dawi denied that, they argued for long and later
a fight break out between them. Dawi was wounded in his head,
the slaves were also wounded but Dawi died after seven days.
One of the slaves also died. The slaves are Shalangwa's
because Hedima is from a Shalangwa clan.
S Mshelia people went and burnt Shalangwa's Zara. Mshelia
people needed to revenge with a real person Dawi is not
revenged by a slave that died Kshelias started looking for
Shalangwa people they had ran away to Gareu. After three
years, Suwang succeeded in killing one of them Hyelka Shalangwa.
That was the reason Djangura my step father's house was burnt
Page 21 Suwang and Yabella
Yabella is my junior brother and he was staying in my
house. Iy house and Duwang's are very near to each others
and we are of the same Nyarbwa.
When Hedima was dying Hedima is of the same Nyarbwa
with me he said I should be the one to marry Khidawa his
wife if he dies. That is not customary correct, because
Suwang is older and it is he that should marry her, but
Suwang and Hedima were not friendly and he preferred me to
Khidawa went to her brother Njakaw's house when Kedima
died the death ceremony has to be over before the widow
I myself at that time went to Kwabisigu with my third
wife. Suwang and Yabella were then sitting at home and were
discussing about this marriage between me and Khidawa.
Suwang was saying that he should be the one to marry her and
not me, Yabella was supporting me as the right one becuase-
Hedima said so, it became a hot argument and they faught.
People came and separated them.
When I came back, Yabella did not welcome me as he should,
I then knew something was wrong but did not ask what. One of
the persons that stopped their gight Mshelbwui my uncle -
called me and told me that it is better I move off from
Suwang or elae they might kill themselves Suwang and Yabella.
So I packed off.
Pager 22 Medicine
The first missioneries that came were honest and did not
dilute the medicine given to people in hospital. Today, maybe
because of lack of medicine and too many people are sick, the
medicine is diluted and not very effective.
Page 22 Chasing Women
Before you take off someone's wife, you weren't enemies,
it is after that you become enemies.
There is nothing very special about it. You just see a
beautiful woman and if you like each other, you chase Der and
then marry her. Women have freedom of movement and it is
easy to meet her anytime and continue with the friendship.
When the ftrm friendship is tight or very strong, you decide
to marry her. She just comes to your house and live with you.
The husband starts trouble with your family then and after
some fight you may pay back his dowry.
One such wife of mine was Nkwadimi. That was when I was
25 years old. She was married to Kadab~ He was living at
Shafa. I met this woman when she came to visit her uncle.
From then on I used to go and visit her at Shafa and she used
to come here at Garkida to me, all without her husband's know-
ledge. They were married for eight years/they had a daughter.
Not that they were not happy, it was just that we liked each
other. She one day packed all her things from Shaffa and came
and stayed with me whenever you take someone's wife, you have
to stay in your father's house with her for about seven days -
just culture or custom. We stayed seven days with Suwang
before I took her to my house.
When the husband found out, he went to the woman's people
and told them. They then came to me and it is customary to
give them four kuntu and they went back. They came back again
and I gave the six bul, two kuntu and a goat. Whenever they
come, they ask the woman that does she want to go back or am I
going to pay them back. The woman preferred to stay and
usually her people are only interested in the gifts I give
them. The husband doesn't come with them. He just leaves
the trouble for her people trouble of bringing her back.
I then played marriage music for her Gulum and gave
her a room. I then payed bae~ikher dowry to her former
Page 22 Divorce
Most of them were people's wives, and some did go back
to their husbands, when they do that, their husbands pay back
my Rowry. They do go back because some of the husbands do
medicine from witch doctors to attract them home again. One
such woman was still Nkwadimi, her husband in Shafa attracted
her with medicine and she went back. The medicine is not
given to her to eat or drink and they don't have to come to
her to do the medicine.
Some of my divorced wives were bad tempered and not good.
Such my wife was Zara. She was always having trouble and
gossiping, abusing people and no one enjoyed staying with her
in the same house. One day she said very bad abuses to me, I
took out a knife ready to kill her and myself myself because
I hated what she was saying about me among people, about my
parents but I was interrupted. I asked my relative Kabura
to take her to her people. He would just follow her to her
people and explain the case. In the morning her load was
taken also by her people and they payed back the dowry I gave.
These are the two tupe of divorces I had.
Page 22 Haptu
The Haptu with me today was given to me by my step father
Djamgura. Actually I got them when he died. He said in his
death wishes, that I should be the one to have them. This is
because I was the eldest And Djangura saw that I would be able
to keep the haptu properly he saw that my nature and manner
and respects suited the haptu.
If a person needs a haptu he would go and meet a Hwana
woman Haptu is a Hwana thing you would beg her to come to
your house. Any Hwana woman who knows how to build can be
asked. You would take a big white calabash and a small one.
You take Shafa leaf and go and get any ordinary mud. You
place it in the calabash and place the shafa leaf on it.
When cutting or collecting the mud, you say "With G&d's
blessing, I beg that you protect me and watch my things, you
should be over me and guide me, also to help me get all I
desire", this you say to the mud.
When coming with the mud to your house:, you cut off a
piece of shafa leaf in your hand and you don't talk to any
one on the way. This is because you are in a duty with things
higher than human beings.
Before start building the mud into a haptu, you would
have decided what sort of haptu you need some are to
protect your village: to protect and provide for your needs.
Most haptus are the last type. You would go to any pers@9
with haptu and ask the owner to break off a piece of the
haptu pot for you. This piece is then brought together
with the clay or mud to the Hwana woman. She would grind the
piece and mix it with the clay for the new haptu she then
makes two pots for male and female or only one. All this
while she would be repeating the same words as was said
when cutting the clay.
Most haptus are only one and these are not male or
female, just haptus. But mine is male and female. When
eating haptu feast, any one can come and eat it provided he
is included in the effects of the haptu the uses of haptu -
but for the male, only you the owner can eat the feast. The
remains you must bury. You don't give it to anyone, haptu
is very dangerous and it would kill him there at the moment
he eats the food.
After the pets have been made, a white goat is brought,
also guineacorn for beer special beer the beer is prepared
and when it is ready the Hwana woman comes again to your house.
A white chicken is also brought. All by you.
In the evening, the Hwana woman would take the pots and
put them in a fire-kiln process. In the morning cotton wool
is brought and a white calabash. The woman takes the pots
out kt of the fire and puts them in the calabash. You would
stay in your gate and the woman would bring it. You take it
into the house and in the night you place it in his room or in
You slaughter the chicken and goat on them pots the
heart of the goat and its kidneys kulshi are taken out and
also the chicken. This is cooked near the haptu. The remain-
ing goat meat is given to relatives and friends.
Food is prepared also and the leg of the chicken and its
tashika are placed on the food placed on a shafa leaf, also
with the heart and kidneys of the goat. The food is kept in
three little piles for a male owner of the haptu. If the
haptu owner is a female, four piles are kept. It is later
given to children to eat your own children.
The beer is placed in the haptu pots and a gown is showed
over them kuntu material and a white calabash is placed on
them as a cap.
You give the Hwana woman, the head of the goat, its skin
and three kuntu.
The haptu I have today was made for Yahaman my grand-
father. When transferring it, nothing special is done. You
just pack it. If someone goes and break it, that person
would immediately become a useless person through out his
generation his children and grandchildren. It destroys
Today, when a case can't be solved, the case is brought in
front of this haptu. I would go and talk to the haptu, take
off the two calabashes and place cotton wool under them. I
then bring them to the people. The person that brought the
report would bring two kuntu for the haptu, I pray to God,
not god there is only one God but many gods and haptu is a
god. You beg for a god from God.
The wrong person would swear and then place his hands on
the calabash. That is the end. If he was the wrong person or
if he is guilty, he later becomes a mad man. Many had died.in
Garkida because of this haptu. Some people run back and beg
me to stop the effect of the haptu. I then ask the haptu to
stop its effect.
Page 23 Orchad (Avaba)
At first I went to look for the job. The Europeans did
not care what religion you follow when choosing people for
work. They might try and convince you, but they don't force
you. I got the job as a head labourer and I worked for about
twenty years when Suwang retired from Middalaship with Joro
Buba due to old age, I was made the Middala. The missionaries
liked my method of working and it took Joro Buba two months to
get me from the Europeans negotiations. I worked with Joro
Buba for a year hut the orchad was getting spoilt Lf wasn't
yet the Middala so I went back and worked for them. The
missionaries were the ones that beg for me. They did not
force me to stay or say no to Joro Buba. When Suwang retired
I then became the Middala and left the missioneries.
What I had always wanted since childhood to my old age,
is for God to help me in my work to get food and good health.
The reason I refuse to be a wanderer or a drunkard is
because I never want anyone to look down upon me. It is the
worst thing that can be done to a man.
When a man is born and he gets regular food, regular
health, clothes to cover his body, no one looks down upon him
and peace of mind; there is no king greater than such a man.