Types of hunting
There are three types of hunting in Pitiland that occur only during the dry season.
All experienced hunters know how to track animals and call them.
Individuals or small groups of two or three hunters can spend a few hours, half a day at most, to capture small animals (rabbits, guinea fowl), especially with snares. This lone hunt appears to Abisi as no more than a walk (Ikpa∫i) in the bush.
The second type (kimↄ-ki∫e: sleeping-bush) gather a larger party, up to ten hunters, who go out for two days and sleep in the bush. This hunt is done on foot, without setting fire to the bush, and involves entrapment of large animals at water points.
Cooperation is simple because all have the same task and the meat is equally distributed among participants.
These hunts are for subsistence, putting some meat in the daily menu. Abisi giving the same name to wild animals and meat, they are both called /enam/.
But some other hunts have a greater social significance and are highly valued by Abisi.
Collective ubar hunt
Called/ ubar/. they are collective hunts based on complex battues with the cooperation between horsemen (ukpaso) and foot hunters (utawit: archers).
The wild game is forced to flee from their covers. Each thicket is burned and beaten with sticks and making scary noise or drumming.
The hunt master will light the first fire while foot hunters walk in a semicircle, each distant of about three meters. When an animal flees, riders waiting above the fire line rush and try to be the first to hit it. The beaters send their dogs and also run for it.
This is the type of hunt that Piti-Abisi sees as the true and authentic one.
Hunters come from all sections of Pitiland and sometimes from neighboring groups, like Rukuba or Irigwe.
There are many collective hunts during the dry season, they have varied cultural purposes and are organized at different levels, a hamlet, a patriline, a section but most important, even the whole Abisi.
The bush (kit∫e) is divided into twenty-three hunting territories, each under the control of a hunting master, the uyikpe (one grass). Every year, he must organize a ubar hunting expedition.
For this, he sends a crier who climbs on a high rock of the hill and publicly announced the event. All those hunts last for a single day except for two when men sleep in the bush. Early in the morning, hunters meet at a determined place marked by a rock, a tree or another characteristic which is known and named.
This table summarizes some information about the diversity of Abisi hunts.
Division of tasks in collective hunts
Going on foot, trackers and beaters are men of any age, between 15 and 60 years.
They use dogs, sticks, bows and may use poisoned arrows (ugan tisin) to chase the preys.
Horse riders are men between 25 and 35 years old that are practiced equestrians. Cavalier and their Horses
The proper use of a hunting horse requires a difficult learning and only the most skilled have the opportunity to use the horse of their family group.
Horses are ridden without saddle or stirrups.
A simple goatskin is attached to the back of the horse whose control is ensured by a ring and no bit. It surrounds the nostrils and is tied by a single rope to the right hand of the rider. Spurs are tied to the bare ankle of the rider.
To turn, the rider must make a gesture of great amplitude, arm outward so has to close the opposite nostril of the horse by tightening the ring prompting the animal to turn in the desired direction.
The left turn is more difficult because the rope has to pass over the horse’s head and pull to the left with the right hand. In 1973, horses were bought for 25 pounds but the best ones cost 30 pounds. These prices went down from a few years ago when they were worth about 25 pounds.
This amount is usually raised collectively by a group of house head in a hamlet.
Abisi do not own mares and usually, buy their horses from neighbors. They use the typical plateau bred of a small sturdy race.They are ready to be mounted around 4 years old.
Abisi recognizes some horse sickness such as /miro mu∫I awon/ or leg sickness or /miro ubarak/ skin sickness… There are various horse name like / utira,udanda/ ( black and white spots) /ut∫at∫a/ , /waruru/…,
In one case, the horse was named /ahuta/ a name given to a new riner wife that just got married in this house. These women have the responsibilities of feeding the horses. They are the caretaker of one of the most precious belongings of the men.
To stimulate the horse’s speed, which is crucial in the pursuit of fast animals or in combat, a dead bird is tied in the stable over the horse’s head to symbolically give it the speed of birds.
Weapons and Gear
The paraphernalia of the rider includes leather leggings, a goatskin (ahan) tied at the waist and another one on the shoulder (ubↄzↄ) plus woven straw hat (walangkata). A woven back bag is used to carry meat.
He carries light lances (apↄn), made of a wooden stem weighted with a counterweight and iron barbed point which is not poisoned. Most riders hold three lances in their left hand which they rest on their left foot.
These, if well-taken care , can last a long time, some hunters still have their grandfather’s lance. They also use large sharp knives (unↄgupat) for butchering.
This is a dangerous moment of the hunt because once the prey is captured; competition for pieces of meat is fierce and they have to wear large metal bracelets (apiriŋ) to protect their forearm.
In 1973, after years of hunting and of expansion of agriculture at the expense of the bush, many animal species were greatly reduced and even exterminated.
Missing varieties are the elephant (urↄ), lion (uzeyki, in Hausa) and hyena (umↄrum). Some leopard (upwↄ) and buffalo (it∫em) remains.
Some preys are still relatively common warthog (udwang), antelopes, baboons (agir), monkeys (akapↄ) and various small animals such as bats (ako), hare (usↄm) , guinea fowl (ubelem) and reptiles (snakes: iwↄk, turtles(akrukut) and chameleons (agↄkdok).
But even if large animals are rarely captured, the Ubar hunts are still periodically organized because, as we shall see, they serve important social and cultural purposes.
Dangers to co-husband
Riders and foot hunters are grouped by sections ( ekantin and igallik, giribom and nigertin) and must stay far apart from each other during the entire hunt.
The uyikpe will announce:
“We will hunt. I want you to be careful so that you return home without unharmed. If someone kills an animal, do not try to argue him because we do not want to disturb our hunt. If you catch a large animal, look for a senior man who will help you. If anyone does not obey and makes trouble, shout for help. “
One of the reasons for this warning is the idea that the greatest danger of such a hunt is being hurt in the presence of a co-spouse (another husband of one’s wife) because it leads to death.
Sharing and Redistributing the Meat
Distribution of the meat depends on the size of the animal. Only four legged animals can be shared.
The competition for small animals (rabbits, guinea fowls) is hard because it is not shared, each hunter trying to take all and forget the recommendations of the hunting master.
Once, for example, I witnessed an argument about a hare that lasted twenty minutes. A horse rider was holding it by the ears and arguing with a foot hunter who argued that his dog had caught the animal first.
These debates are very fierce, edgy hunters shout, beat their weapons on the ground, bulging torso in a challenge and seek support among men of their group who support each other’s claims. However, an experienced hunter will show its superiority by disdaining such a small prey.
Large quarries are shared by more stringent rules depending on the capture.
The first hunter who injured the animal receives a hind leg and the head. The second to arrive near the animal also receives a hind leg while those who arrive on the scene in the third and fourth positions will each receive a foreleg.
For the rest, the chest and back, each hunter tries to cut a piece, struggling with the others to get the largest possible share.
The meat is then redistributed according to different rules.
The heads of large animals can be given to the senior men of the hunter’s household. These older men can keep it but they also can give it as a gift to the father of a girl he seeks to marry with one of his sons or nephews.
When a hunter kills his first prey, he must give the animal’s pelvis to his maternal uncle, the mother’s brother, from which he receives in return a few arrows.
These rules look simple to apply but they all rest on a context that can be rather confused.
If a single rabbit can be the cause of disputes, rushing after a large prey can be a really dangerous and competitive situation with beaters, archers and armed horsemen trying to get a part.
Wearing a large metal arm bracelet is the only protection a hunter has when a flurry of long knives strike the “meat”.
Quarrels about the order of arrival are usual to determine who was the first one to injure the animal and the one who eventually killed it.
If the conflict is not settled on the spot, they go to the Mogaji.
He can then take the head and the meat and leave nothing to the hunters but , if one is really sure of himself, he will swear:
“Let this arrow wound its archer if what I say is not the truth!” “Dumben went to Mogaji in 1972 for /ujemaa/ hunt. A Mai Angwa had killed a wild pig. He claimed his leg as due. Witness said that Mai Angwa and Dumben were first and second to get the pig. Each got their just part. “
The cultural history of Abisi hunting is more complex than the direct purpose of getting meat. Generally, collective hunts are organized for social purposes and cultural meanings.
The Mambo hunt in particular.