Abisi political organization
Abisi political system could be described as a type of chiefdom. All their leaders are called“Chief” or /ures/ in Ibisi or “Sarkin” in Hausa. These power centers are in operation since the Abisi Hill times.
The notion of chiefdom implies a degree of political centralization that works under a hierarchy of commanding office holders (the chiefs) in contrast to more egalitarian political systems based on village councils, family descent group’s head or voluntary associations.
Abisi political power relations are more dynamic than the definition implies, their chiefdom is more decentralized and more hybrid.
Basically, they govern themselves by three joint offices working like a triumvirate (a term of ancient Roman origin that political scientist use) and their proceeds are conciliatory, using discussions to obtain consensual decisions.
Their authority is moral but physical coercion with the help of young men can be used if needed.
Another aspect of this decentralized political chiefdom is the wide distribution of offices that reaches deep into sacred necessities for the good of all Abisi.
Some chiefs preside sacred ceremonies performed to initiate the planting of crops.
Abisi also incorporated Hausa political offices since the British indirect rule imposed its system like the Makama or judge, the Sarkin or administrative director.
These offices were in the hands of the Igallik section ans all hamlets had a Mai Angwa, a representative who is also some sort of tax collector.
Abisi’s own offices have been superposed with Hausa titles. For example, the /urᴈs uyikut/, the “one of the settlements” is translated by San Gari even if it has a different meaning in the Hausa system.
The center of Abisi power lies with three main leaders: the /uyikut/, the /urᴈs upaŋga/ and the /urᴈs ubar/ better know to foreigners as respectively: San Gari, Sarkin Dutse and Mogaji.
List of Abisi Offices
The tasks of Abisi chiefs are to decide what to do when problems arise.
The fields of their responsibilities concern all questions pertaining to the survival of their community. Some are related to human actions like security and order, organizing war and peace or hunting parties for examples.
Other responsibilities are about events that go far beyond human actions like drought, epidemics or good luck in hunting and success with agricultural production.
These powers are metaphorically expressed by the uyikut, the Abisi San Gari:
“My main duty is to monitor the /ukikiu/ bird (owl) who cries at night as a sign of approaching death.
On the Hill we were within earshot and I shouted to the Mogaji, asking him if he was responsible for the arrival of this bird.
If the Mogaji knew nothing, he replied “ask your eldest son.”I cried then the Sarkin Dutse.
If he said:“yes,” I told him to send the bird away. The next day the bird was gone.”
In this story, the owl represents bad luck and the problem it brings can only be solved by the collaboration of the triumvirate. It also hints at how the trio functions: the search for causes is delegated among them.
Usually, the final solution will be to quickly find a reason for the problem. The rain ritual will later show how it works in reality.
Abisi political organization also rest on sodalities, groups based on kinship, or age and gender.
To govern, the chiefs collaborated and coordinated their actions and the decision-making of assemblies of house heads, youth organizations and their chiefs /urɜs ayira/ or Sarkin Samari.
Ranks between Abisi chiefs
Although complementary, these leaders are ranked according to the chronological order of their section’s establishment on Abisi Hill: Agiram, Ekantin and Nigertin
The Paramount Chief: San Gari
The main section, the first and the biggest is Agiram has the /uyikut/ (San Gari) office. According to oral tradition, the urᴈs uyikut , has preeminence over the other offices because his section was the first to settle on the Hill.
This chief is responsible for inter-ethnic relations and the incorporation of immigrants. He is the paramount chief.
San Gari had two assistants /mate meki/ who were named Rↄnu and Kare in 1973.
They, as all subordinate, were considered metaphorically as his wives i.e. ukone, because they were at his subordinate at his service (so were all foreigners) . Their main work was messengers.
Agiram also have the chief of millet office, /urɜs iyuk/ (Hausa: Sarkin Dawa).
War Chief: Sarkin Dutse
The second chief (/urɜs upaŋga/, chief of the rock, Sarkin Dutse Hausa) is from the next section to arrive on the Hill, the Ekantin.
He deals with Abisi war problems and his task is explained by the geographical position of his section on the hill where they overlook the Zaria plain.
From this privileged position they could see the enemies before all others, which earned them the war responsibilities.
Ekantin also has the office of sorghum chief /urɜs undar/; rain chief /ures kire/, and the tout’s chief /ures uta/.
Hunting Chief: Mogaji
The third section to arrive, Nigertin, has the /urɜs ubar/ office, the hunting chief or Mogaji.
The origin of the function of the Abisi Mogaji is explained by different stories depending on whether the interpreter is from the section of the leader of the hunt, the Nigertin or of another section.
The son of a deceased Mogaji, from ajer patriline in Nigertin section, explains how they became expert in hunting matters:
“During a hunt, a hunter killed a chameleon that changed color and became spotted like a leopard. All hunters recognized that this was a sign that Ajer should get the skin of all killed leopards.The hunter divided the chameleon and gave the breast to the Agiram (village chiefs section) and to the ekantin (war chief section) and a foreleg to the Igallik and another to the Agurasin. The ajer kept the hind legs and the animal’s trunk. The hunter became the Mogaji and had to wear a leopard skin to show his function. “
A member of another section tells another version:
“The Nigertin (Mogaji’s section) was smaller than the others and hunters of other sections would try to bully them and considered them scapegoats.
When they killed a leopard, they were afraid of his influence and carried the corpse to the ajer in order to divert on them the evil effects of the feat. They were not afraid of retaliation on their part since they were not numerous.
The hunters realized that the house where they put the remains of leopards were not afflicted by bad leopard curse and concluded that the ajer must have had very strong protective medicines. For this reason, the Abisi gave them the office to deal with headhunting of large beasts and enemies. “
The Mogaji’s office started because his group was a scapegoat to the others and were frequently provoked up to the point that they went back to Surubu Hill where they came from.
Seeing that Abisi went to fetch them accompanied with their the sacred big drum to show they now would respect them if they came back.
The Abisi confessed that they were in danger without the protection of the Hunting Chief against predators like leopards and hyenas.
The Mogaji became the master of the /ubar kimoŋ/, the most important collective annual hunt at the center of dry season activities.
The three San Gari, Sarkin Dutse and the Mogaji controlled a set of legal and political powers to referee disputes between sections that cannot be resolved by the meeting of the house heads.
They also mediated in inter-ethnic conflicts and were responsible for the mystical welfare of the society.
Access to Offices
Access to these offices is inherited through the paternal line but the son of a preferential wife is favored. This woman is the first one married to a man, she is the Riner wife, the one chosen by her husband’s father.
Upon succession, the candidate who had been previously selected is trained by his predecessor and is usually installed without any public introduction ceremony. (Kuraɲe was San Gari when his younger brother replaced him.)
If there is no such successor, the holder of the office can choose a man from another patriline of his section, as was the case with the current Mogaji, even a sister’s son, a umat, can be chosen if he accepts to settle in his uncle’s hamlet.
The originality of Abisi political system has been to be able to maintain an equilibrium between contradictory solutions to law and order