In Nigeria, people are often classified by their Tribal origin, their cultural-linguistic characters.Tribe is used as a synonym of ethnic group.
Tribe is an old word dating from the roman empire that the British used to unravel the multitude of societies they encountered. The darker side of the use of this word is that it also classified people according to what the colonial saw as a lower level of civilization than their own, a primitive state of human societies.
Tribes were defined by their social organization based on kinship and marriage constituting Clans and Lineages descent groups. They were decentralized and egalitarian.
They were also defined negatively: they lacked the main institution of a civilized people : a State.
The use of this word to talk about Abisi is somewhat confusing. How can we put in the same category small groups a few thousand people and others of many millions with all kinds of political systems from a family-based to Kingdoms ?
In Canada for example, the indigenous people now called Amerindians prefer to use the word Nation instead of the word tribe and they are referred to by the words First Nations , the others having immigrated later.
There are so many traps in this word “tribe” that I prefer to use word “community” to describe Abisi History and Culture.
Abisi seems to be the last population to emerge in the region, speaking a language that others do not understand. Adoption and assimilation of strangers was a basic philosophy of Abisi.
Abisi are organized into various groups from households or hamlets to collective ones based on kinship and marriage. All these groups belong to five main section or /ijin/ as they call them, made of descendants of the first founders of Abisi community.
Sitting friends group or /anɔ kisɔ/
Unlike some other communities (like the Tiv for example), the Abisi do not think their origin from a single common ancestor divided into clans and lineages. Rather, they conceive the genesis of their society in terms of incorporation of various migratory flows from different groups: Amo, Birom, Chawai, Hausa, Kurama, Fulani, Ribam, and Rukuba.
These migrants established themselves on different sites of Ibisi hill. They had no generic names to start with and were referred to as simply being ‘’sitting friends’’ or /anɔ kisɔ/.
They were like one large household ( /kinnokirat/) referred as the “Hill House”, the /uŋma kirat/ but in fact, they remained socially separated. This criterion of strict separation of section residence was the basic rule of their social organization.
They had five sections with their own proper name: Ekantin, Emagan, Igallik, Agiram and Nigertin. Each was also identified by a hill or a big rock called /uŋma/ and / ripaŋ/. There was uŋma aban Kantin , uŋma aban for Gertin, Uŋma Gurasin, Uŋma Magan and ripaŋ Gallik .
Founders and Allied
Agiram are the founding section of Abisi. They derived from a small group who emigrated from the nearby Birom. This group was soon joined by people from the Amo and Janji people.
They are called /a∫e gow/ or people descending form Gow.
According to their chief, the San Gari, the name Agiram refers to two entwined trees symbolic of a strong imbrication of differences.
When they came at the hill, they found a place with those two tangled trees, /udurum /and /ugon/ and a standing stone.
The first San Gari told his people:
“You are all from different origins, I call you and myself, Agiram. From this day on, you cannot marry among yourself, because you are all brothers and sisters. You must marry elsewhere.”
Since then, every year at the harvest, they must first feed these trees and that stone as a sign of respect to their ancestors before consuming their crops.
Explaining the basic rules to be part of a section, the Mogaji chief says :
- You do not take their wives
- You do the Riner bride service with them
- You put a stone in their sacred pool /iŋmɜri /
- You build your house among them
These sections are not what is usually called “clans” because they take in people of various origin and not only those of common descent. The word /ijin/ means literally section in all Abisi linguistic context.
The second section at Abisi Hill was the /ekantin/ or Kantin (the /e/ means people, Kantin, peak). Some say that all Ekantin are descended from only one Rukuba of Kikala who took an Agiram wife. They are also called / a∫e kak/ people or descendants of Kak who could be the name of their ancestor.
Each of his sons separated to form different patrilines. But Sapon, an Ekantin wise man, says he descends from a Rukuba from Rishi.
That is why, he says, he can participate to important /aso/ ceremonies in Rukuba but he is only allowed to drink and eat with his friends showing thus that he is only partly a member.
Sapon says: “We left all Rukuba custom when we became Abisi.” and ads that is why Rukuba cannot come at his own ceremonies. He adds: “Maybe we got that name, Ekantin, because we lived on top of the hill “. They could see 6 miles away and see enemies arriving from far and tell the others.
Tradition has it that at the time of the arrival of this second group the members of the first one decided to stop marrying among themselves and to take spouses from the newcomers.
At that time, Abisi were divided into two halves for the purpose of marriage, each having to find its marital partner in the other.
The Nigertin came third from Srubu Hill and later admitted some Fulani, Rukuba and Kurama migrants.
Their name comes from /ugertin/, a small rabbit that they were always hunting.
An old man says: “Nigertin left Srubu Hill because there was not enough farm land. They saw that Abisi Hill was well protected and had enough farming place for all and was unoccupied. We were one of the first on the hill that is why we have the Mogaji chief office.»
The Mogaji ( one of the 3 main chiefs) says :
“When they were coming to Abisi Hill , they met a Rukuba on their way and adopted him as a son.”
Nigertin are closely tied to Agiram because, on the hill, they lived near and married each other’s daughters.
Nigertin were followed by the Igallik section which originally consisted of one Hausa man and his descendants from an Abisi women. They are /a∫e koru/, people descendants of Koru. They were later joined by another Hausa and a Fulani.
Agurasin and Emagan
Some Ribam joined with some Chawai and Amo people to make the Agurasin section. Part of the Ekantin group split off to form a new section, the Emagan.
Each section has prohibited marriages among themselves and preferred to stay apart from the others, even after the occupation of their bush farms in the Zaria plain. Hamlets members were always from the same section.