A test for Sarkin Piti
We will examine in detail a case of colonial intervention in local inter-ethnic relations in order to emphasize, first, the method of intervention and, second, the importance of Abisi control of Sarkin Piti as their messenger.
Abisi against Irigwe
Each year, Abisi organize a large interethnic hunt. In 1930, a conflict broke out with the Irigwe of Kwall about the division of games.
These conflicts often escalated from fights to murder.
Here is an account from Sapon, an Abisi elder who was in his twenties at that time
The fight started when an Abisi hunter killed an animal, a Miango man wanted to take it by force. I heard people yell announcing the capture of a wild pig. Later I heard the war horn. We saw people transpierced by Miango lances.
We fought with them and they ran away. The next day we wondered if Miango would come back to the hunt, but they did not. This battle took place on the other side of Talo River. At this place, there is an Abisi house surrounded by a small bush that keeps them from seeing the enemy arrive.
On the night of the hunt, women from this house went to /upaŋkiriŋ/ a hamlet near the hill. They did not see the Miango approaching and surrounding the house until they put fire to the roof. Nobody could get out.”
The Miango ran away, crossed the Talo River and stayed on the other side.
Sapon later said : “We regret these fights with Miango, Rukuba or Chawai , we are all brother.”
This story was also described in a report found at Kaduna National Archive document No. 2938: Miango-Piti affray 1939.
It says that at first they exchanged blows but the cries attracted supporters from both sides until a general battle ensued during which “both spears and poisoned arrows were used freely by both sides”.
Barge the DH of Garu District came to stop the fight. He reported to Zaria who sent the Waziri to investigate and to judge the dispute. The Irigwe were pushed beyond the Garu-Chawai border.
They left five dead and 10 injured while 12 Abisi were wounded
The next day, on February 2 an Abisi man coming back from Ribam informed Abisi that numerous Irigwe were preparing to attack them .
Those settled in the plain took refuge up the hill, leaving some men in their homes to protect their property from theft, in case the rumor proved false.
On the third day, February 3, around noon, an Irigwe punitive expedition estimated at 200 riders went near these settlements and surrounded Bala’s house.
They shot a volley of arrows that killed Bala and wounded 6 others who died a week later. They then set fire to several houses where one horse and 18 goats died and granaries were destroyed.
The Abisi warriors on the hill noticed the smoke and went back on horseback to seek revenge but their offensive was stopped by the District Head of Garu who had just arrived to investigate the previous confrontation.
He convinced Sarkin Piti to stop.
Taken to Court
A few days later, (on the 6 and 7 of February 1930) the district officers (the D.O.) of the Plateau and Zaria province held a court in Zagun (Kakkek) in Rukuba.
J.C. Drummond -Hay D.O. Zaria Division, T.M. Chadwick A.D.O. of Jos Division Were attending, the representative of the Emir, Wazirin Zaria the Vizier, the D.H. (district head) of Garu, the Sarkin Piti and Abisi elders and for Irigwe, a representative of D.H. who was sick , the Madakin of Kwall (Irigwe section), the administrative chief and elders of Miango, the Irigwe section involved in the conflict.
The two Englishmen were favorable to the Abisi because, they note, they had confessed frankly to have fought in response to the Irigwe attack while Irigwe maintained that they had not fought but only tried to escape.
The D.O. noticed that the 12 injured Abisi showed otherwise and that therefore Irigwe had something to hide.
Irigwe explained that they came back to bury their dead but Abisi prevented them. It was seen improbable because, first, they were not on the path to the location of the battle and second, according to the D.O., it is absurd to say that five or six Abisi prevented them since they were two hundred!
This discussion finally brought an Irigwe to confess that he had come to take revenge for his dead brother. The two conflicts were judged separately.
Judgment: fine, lashes and prison
The hunting conflict was understandable in the prejudice colonial view, it had lasted only 10 minutes, because “an event of this sort is, in some measure, excused on the score of the primitiveness (sic) of the people engaged and their excitability in the chase.”
But the revenge attacks of Irigwe warrior was severely punished because it was evidently premeditated. On February 8 , Chadwick ( a colonial officer) had gone to inquire in Miango.
He rejected the allegation of the chief because
1) Piti were not more numerous
2) Miango could not have had poisoned arrows at a burial. He said nothing of the second conflict.
The court judged that for the first conflict the blame was equal on both sides For the second conflict, the blame was on Miango. Their village head would be severely punished for his lies and inaction.
First, the D. H. of Irigwe had to apologize for the actions of its administered to the D. H. of Garu for the invasion of his territory, and possibly to the Emir himself.
Second, Abisi and Irigwe were equally punished for the first conflict.
A ) A money compensation
They had to pay in cash and in kind for the destroyed property
- B) Blood money
They had to pay cash compensation for the dead
- C) Physical punishment
Those responsible were flogged and put in prison.
The Abisi had to pay a total of 59 pounds and 7 shillings which were collected by a contribution of 3 shillings. by adult men (396 taxpayers). Of this amount, 22 pounds, 5 shillings were handed over to Irigwe and 37 pounds and 12 shillings were handed to Zaria as a fine.
The money was given to Irigwe compensated for the five dead (it was decided that the death of a sixth one was not compensated because he was an aggressor) valued at 4 pounds each, 5 shillings for a wounded. A horse was valued at 2 pounds.
Sarkin Piti, the administrative chief was sentenced to two years in prison to be served in Zaria while the traditional chiefs San Gari and Mogaji and 5 other Abisi received on site 24 lashes each.
Irigwe paid much more: 2 horses for the dead, 9 pounds for 18 burned huts, 2 pounds for 40 chickens, 2 pounds 10 shillings for 50 sorghum boots, 12 shillings and 6 bags of fonio, 1 pound for 10 baskets of millet, 2 pounds 10 shillings for women goods, 10 shillings for 4 injured horses and 14 goats replaced in kind.
The Irigwe leader and other defendants also received prison terms and lashes.
The relative importance of legal superstructures involved stems less from the conflict itself than from the inter-provincial relations it implies.
Abisi subordination to the administration of the Emir is obviously stated here and we see that the colonial power uses such channels to legitimize sanctions and their execution.
The application of these sanctions had to be confirmed at a meeting in Kaduna and by the British Resident in the Plateau area since there was no “Central Native Administration “in Jos division and that the report should be treated according to the “Collective Punishment Ordinance”.
A new Sarkin Piti
The imprisonment of the Sarkin Piti and the ad hoc appointment of a new chief emphasize the importance of the enthronization rituals Abisi had used.
The district officer S.C.R. Stanley wrote in 1931:
“« After the affray with Miango (Irigwe), Bornu, Village Head of Piti, was sent to Zaria, imprisoned and dismissed from function. (…) The Mogagin Dodo chooses the civil chief. In choosing a successor to Bornu, that right had been overridden. Barde (chief of Chawai District that included abisi area) who, despite protests of elders against a chief who disregarded their own religion, duly installed Adamu in office».”
The new executive Chief had not been ritually enthroned even though he was from an Igallik patriline, /ekit∫irᴈs/, entitled to the office.
The three traditional leaders made pressure to destitute him for despotism.
He was accused of unjustified arrests, land confiscation and extortion. He forced men to work in his fields and do domestic work “like women ».
Those who refused were tied down and left to burn in the sun.
The district chief referred the case to the district court, but they found it inadmissible because he was himself part of that court.
The visit of the Emir in the region allowed the traditional leaders to voice their complaints and ultimately get the usurper deposited and a new leader was chosen and properly installed.
The deposited leader was then reappointed head of the local Hausa minority thus showing the collusion between the chief and the local administration.
This chief,Poma, was destitute when Bornu came back from prison but Poma would not leave his post given by Hausa.
A District Officer (Osborn, 1935) manifests the Machiavellianism of this decision: “… Given Sufficient rope, it is quite likely that Sarkin Hausa will hang himself and simplify the problem, not being a Hausa, he is not popular among Hausa “.
A political song
Abisi political philosophy about chiefs and leaders, in general, is expressed in songs like the following one.
Ridicule as a political protest in a song
Children of the Hill
This song is very explicit about the ambivalence of the Sarkin and the collusion with Hausa power.
Indeed, this song, like the enthronement ritual of Sarkin Piti, questioned his ambiguity: how can a community member, a “child of the ritual place” be a “thief ” in the service of foreign exploiters?
Abisi are proud “Children of the Hill” who must resist and revolt against chiefs allied to northern “Ali”, Muslims invaders “Children of the Hill” refers to the fundamental Abisi identity where are the souls of ancestors who protect them and to which they dedicated their rituals and prayers.
It is through this loyalty to the Hill that the Kidun River that encircles the hill, ensures the protection of the community.
This song I heard in 1973 conveys a strong historic sense of Abisi cultural identity and expresses their political philosophy concerning the ambiguous use of the exercise of power, for good or for bad.
Isn’t it a universal preoccupation?