The Fire Incident In Shafa
1. Why are there so many Mshelia that
have their houses burnt?
2. What are exact genealogical relations
3. Why is the suspect suspected? Why
don't they do something to diagnose it?
4. What will the Malam do?
5. How will it all end?
*I used the word "Jang" to call what the people suspected, but it is not publicly
accepted. The word must be taken with care of in secret.
See other field notes for interview with Julius Pindar Mura and Mwajim on 22 April 1974
for socio-political and sociological setting for the fires
How the Fire started
On Saturday, November the 21st, 1973, I came back from the bush around two o'clock
in the afternoon, and had my normal bath. After that I decided to walk across the main
road which is about fifty yards from my compound to see friends and to relax as well.
I saw many people already sitting under the shade we used to have our afternoon rest.
I sat among them and join in their talks. We talked for sometimes then by 3:15 pm
one of the people among the group shouted that there is a white smoke and that could
be on a compound. When I looked towards the somke fear came into my heart and I did not
know when I rushed to the place. On reaching the place I noticed that the very smoke is
on my house. Immediately we rushed in and brought out some valuable properties. Likely
enough my house is roofed with good thatch and there is ceeling as well that retarded the
burning speed of the fire. We worked very hard preventing the fire from reaching the near-by
houses, especially my wife's house and the kitchen. It took about one good hour before
my house was totally consumed by the fire. After the burning I remembered that I had
i-75. 1 3d ; ____ 140 .63 inside my room. I searched for it among the properties
that were brought out but I could not find it. (Lost *140.63 in cash)
People started to question me and my wife whether we might have left a fire
somewhere in the compound, and that it may be the cause of the incident. My wife said
after cooking her breakfast she did not allow the fire to burn but put it out. By the
time that the incident happened all the fire used for breakfast was already out. Moreover
if it were the fire from the kitchen it would have caught my wife's room first. The
fire started on the too corner of my room. All these led us to the conclusion that the
burning of my house was beyond human-being's act.
People thought that was the first and the last, but after one week, at about ten
o'clock in the morning my brother's wife's room caught fire. Still the cause was a
After the burning of my house my brother Audu came to me and talked to me about
what happened to me when I was young. He said when I was young I became seriously
sick and as a result my mother had to consult "Milim" before I was cured. He continued
by saying that since my mother died I did not dare to look after the "Milim." So
because of this the "Milim" decided to cause the fire incidence so that I could look
back to hi i, amend my ways, and give him his due sacrifices. I argued my brother Audu
that I never knew the time when I was sick and to the extent of going to "Milim" with
my mother. My mother did not tell me any of this story so how can I know and believe
it. He said he should then go and look for this "Milim" and make some sacrifices to
it. But I said no I will not do anything of this sort since I did not know it from
my parents. I even told my brother to let this very words die down from there because
it is not to my interest (what does this mean = political, religious?).
When Udud&s wife's house got burnt he eradicated the suspicion he had about me.
People started to suspect that "Jang" is responsible for this incidence. "Jang" is
an invisible supernatural man who has all powers. Though powerful in all aspects
a man owns it, and it used to bring riches to the owner. Within a short tine most
of the people in Shaffa suspect one man that he is the one that owns the Jang. The
story goes on that this gentle man bought the Jang in order to bring him riches
but due to the fact that he can not meet the demand of the "Jang". People said that
he promised the "Jang" 'something' and the "Jang" is searching for that thing promised
to him in every house that is why he goes about burning h. uses in case he may find
that thing there. Almost every one knows this suspected person but no on can mention
his name because it is something that cannot be proved easily.
This incident happened from the clan of Mshelia. The first ten houses are all
people of the clan of Mshelia, but after that people of other clans started to become
After many people have get used to the fire, the night before on hous- is to b-.rn
people would notice it by the activities of the dogs. They would be barking seriously
and at the same time trying to chase something. Throughout the night that would be what
they would be doing. The following morning all people would be ready to quench any
fire out Surely that cday that thing Jong must set fire on one or two
The Jang used to set fire on the top of the roof. Normally when it starts burning
you will see white smoke instead of black. That is the distinction between a normal house
burning smoke and the one which is suspected to be 'Jang'.
Madu Musa Anjitive's house was the third house to be burnt in Shaffa. In case of Madu
Musu Anjili's the "Jang" came for the first time and set the fire. But many people came
to his rescue and the fire was put out immediately. The following the Jang came again
and set fire on the very house and this time people could not rescue it and the fire
consumed the house totally. Madu Musu Anjitivi is not from the Mshelia clan.
Around a week after that "Jang" came and set fire on Adamu Thlama's house. The
fire did badly by burning his house as well as his wives'. The whole compound was not
destroyed on one day. It came several times and people quenched it. Before the hoi4se
was totally burnt down the Jang came about ten times. There were no much loss of
properties because people knew before hand what would happen and as such all properties
were vacated from Thatch roofs to Zink roofs.
The fourth compound to be burnt was Adamu Thlama's. At first the "Jang" set fire ca
his personal house. With many people's effort the fire was put out. The following day
in the afternoon at the same time the Jang came again and set fire on his wife's house.
Then people rushed but they could not do very much to it, so the fire burnt his wife's
sleeping room plus her kitchen. Two weeks after that incident the "Jang" came again to
Adamu Thlama's compound and set fire on his sleeping room, the room that he set fire
at the start. Despite people's effort the house was burnt within ten minutes. Adamu
Thlama lost properties like clothing and some little money.
Katsala Mahelia was the fifth person whose compound was affected. His sleeping
room was set on fire about two times, and the third time the "Jang" succeeded in burning
the whole room. About fourdays after that the "Jang" came back again. He set the fire
on his first wife's house and it was put out. The following day at the sametine a fire
was set on his second wife's house again it was put out. After the Jang forgets about
Katsala Mshelia's house and starts on other people's house. From Katsalla's house
he landed on Wakil's house. After burning Wakil's house, he came again to Katsala's
house where he first set fire. Again people put it out. The following day it came
back to the very house and this time he succeeded in burning both houses that belongs
to both wives.
After burning any house made of thatch grass from Katsala's house it again came
back to Wakil's house. This time he set fire on his second wife's house. By
people's effort the people put out the fire. The following day again he came back and
set the fire on the same house and this time every thing was burnt down, remaining his
first wife's house. A week after that the Jang came back again and burn his first wife's
Musa Birna was the seventh person who was affected by this mysterious fire disaster in
Shaffa. Among all the affected persons this seemed to have suffered the most. The
Jang came for the first time and set the fire on his personal house, but by the people's
effort the fire was put out. Again the following day at the same time the Jang came back
and set fire on the very house on the very corner. Again people rushed and put it out.
On the following day again the "Jang" came for the third time and again people put it out.
From then onwards people knew that what ever happens the "Jang" must burn that particular
house so they used to get prepared in the afternoons to watch what would happen on that
particular house. The fourth day he came back, and since the people were ready they put
the fire out. From then onwards the Jang never set fire on the house again but
embark on the business of burning materials inside the house. Son on the fifth day
people gathered outside waiting for the burning of the house. They waited, but they saw
nothing. After sometimes they saw smoke coming through the window. They rushed inside
and they saw that one of the shirt that Musa Birma hung on the wall was on fire. The shirt
was already half burnt down so they left the rest to burn down. The following day agian
he sets fire on his siirt and the whole shirt was burnt. So Musa Birma collected out all
his clothing and other valuable materials and took them to his Zink house. Yet the Jang
did not stop coming, it still came, but still people used to put it out. The "Jang" set
fire on that very house thn times before it was finally burnt down. The following
day the Jang as the people call it set fire on his wife's house and it burnt down.
completely. His wife lost some money which she said she did not know the actual
amount. When he was burnt all the thatched roof house he started to work on the Zink roof.
Since the Zink cannot be burnt easily he used to take the kerosene the man used to
sell and then sprinkle it over the roof. Some times if Birma comes in his room he
would just find some kerosene being sprinkle on his bed or sometimes his shirts.
Sometimes he would sprinkle it on the roof. This pushed the man to give up selling
kerosene. But despite this fact the "Jang" still turns up to do the work of sprinkling
kerosene on ht his zink roof. Any time Musa Birma sees the sprinkled kerosene on
his roof or beddings he invited many people to witness what was happening. The most
recent sprinkling of the kerosene happened on the 30th and 31st of Mark 1974. At
the moment there is no thatch roof left in that house. In all there are three thatch
roof houses which are burnt down.
The eighth person to be affected by the fire disaster is Adamu Pindar. Adamu
Pindar is also from the clan of Mshelia. At the first attempt the fire was set on his
personal room but with people's effort the fire was put out. The following day at the
same time in the afternoon the fire was again set on his roof at the same corner of the
house. Again people succeeded in prtting it out. The following day the fire came
back, but this time it landed on his first wife's house, and again it did not succeed
in burning the house. After coming three times with out success, it decided to carry
other houses from other peo- le's compound. Two weeks later it then came back to Adamu
Pindar's house where he set fire on the second wife's house. This time he succeeded in
burning her roof. The next day it came back and set the fire on Adamu Pindar's first
wife's house. This is the second time the same roof has been set on fire and again people
succeeded in putting it out. The sixth time it came to Adamu's house it burnt all the
remaining thatch roof houses.
The ninth person to be affected is Ali Myada who is also from the clan Mshelia.
For the first time it did not succeeded, the second one the something. Until the
third time it:-.udeeded in burning one, Ali's personal sleeping room and second his
his wife's, and the third one Kefa's house. Kefas is Ali Myada's house boy. There
was no much loss of properties, only a few beddings.
The tenth person to be affected is Bukar Pela. His is a peculiar one in the sense
that all the rest of the fire disaster happened in the day time and in most c4ses in the
afternoon, but his own happened in the night. The 'thing' came and set fire on both
Bukar Pela's house as well as Yohana's house. Since it was night and it was unexpected,
before people could rush to the scene the two compounds were beyond control. Yohana's
compound and Bukar's compound are adjacent. More of that Bukar Pela and Yohana are from
the clan of Mshelbwala. The incident happened around 3 am. At this point when the burning
down of houses affected people from other clan every one started to think that the whole
village of Shaffa might be burnt. Before then the incident had been reported to our
District head Ajiya Ayuba, bu the Lawan of Shaffa. Despite the constant report almost
after every house that was burnt he failed to turn up to see what has been happening.
The Lawan then sent delegates to Biu to report the case to the Emire. When the Emire
heard of it he immediately came with the District officer to see to themselves what
has been happening. When they came they followed any affected house from house to house.
Garba Giulde is the eleventh person to be affected. The Jang, what they
suspected to be the cause of the fire came and set fire on his wife's sleeping room in the
afternoon, the same time as it used to happen to other people. People knew that there
would be a fire accident because they noticed it from the unusual dog barking that happened.
the night before the incident. People rushed and the fire was put out. The following
day again the fire was set on the same house on the same corner. This time people
tried to put it out but they proved helpless and the fire consumed the whole room
within a few minutes. After the burning of this house people that came for help
thought they would be no more of such happening so every one went back to his house to
wash away the dirt they collected in the process of putting out the fire. Before other
people could wash up there was another shouting and other people thought that it may
be something else like death, but when we stretched out to see what was the matter we
saw that it was another fire disaster. It was on Emmanuel's house, his personal
sleeping room. Emmanuel and Garka Ngulde are both from the clan of Mshelia, but from a
Musa Siga's house is the thirteenth to be affected. It was in the afternoon at
about two o'clock that a fire was set on the eastern corner of his wife's sleeping
room. It was very windy on that day and to add to the fact that Maina Gargas house is
close to Musa Siga's, the fire jumped escaped to Gargas house and both rooms were on fire.
People tried to control both, but our effort was not big enough to put it under control.
The two rooms got burnt simultaneously. Of course there were no lost of properties, because
almost everybody in Shaffa never leaves any thing of importance inside a room that has
a roof thatch. Maina Garga is Musa Siga's elder brother, both of them from the clan
Of Mshelia from our Nyarmbwo from, where the fire disaster first started.
Nyarmbwa first originated from Mandaragirau. Our grand, grand father first lived
there, but they fought with his Junior brother and their parents blamed him being that he
was the elder one. He did not want to bear the blame among public so he decided to travel
south. He travelled until he came to the present river Shaffa and here he decided to
stay for sometimes. By then the river was having a thick forest. In the afternoons wild
animals used to come and drink from the river so he found a suitable place where he
would be hunting them. He stayed for quite a long time but he did not lack animals to
hunt so he decided to make a permanent house by the river bank. He then found the
present Shaffa. It is from this man that out present Nyarmbwa originated. Other Mshelia
from this town came from a different place.
The fifteenth house or compound to be affected by the desasterous fire was Bello
Thlama's. Two rooms got burnt from his compound, one his own personal sleeping room and
second his wife's own. On the night before the incident there was the unusual dog barking
so the following morning every one was talking about the unusual dog-barking, and likely
another fire, disaster might happen again, so they must get prepared that afternoon. In
fact it did happen. It was in the afternoon at about two o'clock, the usual time
when we saw a white smoke coming from the east. Without doubt or questioning we knew
it was the usual fire disaster and that must be on someone3s compound. On reaching the
place we noticed that it was on Bello Thlama's house, a man of the clan of Mshelia from
our Nyarmbwa. After the incident his wife told the public that she had lost some few
clothing. The husband Bello Thlama, did not lose anything.
Kapfani Msh elwaksha is the sixteenth person to be affected. Kaptami came from
a different clan, that is the clan of Mshelwaksha. The people of Mshelwaksha are
believed to have obtained their name from small rounded calabash which is covered by
a goat's skin to protect it from being broken. This rounded calabash is called
waksha and it is used for storing some tobacco which old men use in their noiees.
They would take out the tobacco, the powdered one, and put in on their palm and then
inhale it. The people who used this very much in the past were identified as "Waksha"people
that is Mshelwaksha.
Immediately after Kaptani's incident people went home to wash up the dirt they
collected in the course of putting out the fire. Not long we saw another smoke in
the direction of Audu's compound, my brother, whose house was the second to be burnt.
Again we rushed to the place and we saw that the fire was on his wife's house. People were
tired there was no much effort put to put the fire out. It did not last long the fire
consumed the whole house Audu's wife's house and Kaptani's house are among the most
recent fire disaster that happened in Shaffa. Both took place on the 20th of March 1974.
The Seventeenth person was Musa Bulama. He is also from the clan of Mshelia. His
own sleeping room was affected. He reported no lost of properties so far.
The eighteenth person was Malam Hamma. This man comes from the clan of Mshelia.
So far he is the last person to be affected by the fire disaster. There was no other
fire disaster after him. But still we are not safe. Wie are still expecting it another
one any moment from now.
The burning of the market stalls the night before this incident still there was
the unusual dog barking and also there was a heavy wind blowing. The dogs barked
almost through the night. They barked and chased some things with we people could
see. We could hear their foot steps seriously running after things and for sometimes
they would stop and resume afterwards.
The dogs rendered people almost sleepless that night. The following morning
every one was suspicious that there was something going to happen. After breakfast
all those that wanted to go to Huma market were discouraged because they knew that
something must happen, but they did not know on whose compound it would be. Everyone
was thinking that he would be the next person to affected. The afternoon passed but nothing
happened so every one tends to feel a little bit at ease. In the evening at about
five o'clock the market stalls caught fire. Within five minutes all the market stalls
within, that line were burnt down to ashes. It was very windy that evening so the
fire was really beyong control. The number of stalls that were burnt down were about
twenty. It was the responsibility of the owners to rebuild their own stalls. Many had
done so, but some are yet to be reconstructed.
The latest news about the incident.
A report from home said that after I left Shaffa still there has been another case
of the fire disaster. According to Julius Musa Pindar, the man who gave the report,
said that after I left Shaffa two other housed were burnt down again. The two houses
got burnt on two separate days. But both the two happened in the afternoon at the same
tiie the former onew happened.
At the moment with the help of the Lawan and the elders of Shaffa, a well advanced
Mallam from Kubo has been invited to look into this mysterious matter. This malam
from Kubo is called Malam. Bukar Kubo. About ten years ago this mans name had thrilled
in almost every corner of Bura Land. Not only Biu the division where he resides but
he had been famous in places like Chalagg, in Adamana province. At the time of his fame
people say he could interpret to any ont that goes to him his/her own problem. At
his climax there was no disease that he could not cure, these include cases of mental
sichnesses, deformity and paralysis.
But for some unknown reasons he lost all the supernatural powers of doing these
jobs. His fame retarded fast until his name died out in Bura Land. Now people say that
he is becoming famous again. The story goes on to say that he has gain all the supernatural
oowers he lost.
The people of Shaffa invited him as the most famous Malam who they think would
find out what is the real cause of the fire disaster. At the moment Malam Bukar
Kubo is a Shaffa.
PC. I asked about the Thlama Dawha (no mention of his home)
account of some one dying etc. neither Mwaji.n or Julius Pindar
Musa knew anything about such a story. Their account seems much more
See Usman Malgwi Yimirshika Notebook for June 1974 p. 38/39
The leadership of Shaffa is now in some doubt:
A, There is the continuing problem of Wokawa's being
Lowan's when they are really not original to the
town but have come in from Tiroha etc.
B. The leadership of Mshelia's the "true" people of
Shaffa is quite confused because when the last of the
actual leader lineage died (Bila Dzan) his son was
very young and 17 years old when gave it to
someone else then later that man died and son still felt
too young (15 years later i.e. Lowan 32) gave title
to Buba Biram present head (Bulama). People say
leadership will go back.