Abisi ancestors structured their society from the bottom to the top: extended families and lineal groups, sections with cross-cutting strong ties from plural marriages , women circulation both for their family’s interests and their own choices, age groups, associations and work groups of many kinds.
In such a strong social frame, doe the individual disappear under all these social constraints ?
On the contrary, it seems that among men, there is always a search to become outstanding: hoeing contest, war and hunting rivalry, arguments among elders, marriage competition…( I do not know about women’s ways in this aspect)…
In Abisi, individuals who have achieved some extraordinary task are called /berdje/ which is translated by “heroes”.
Some of these people, especially hunters and warriors, face threats, possibly exposing their own existence for the good of others. Their courage and high achievement are celebrated. How is such a heroic behavior recognized in Abisi ?
For Abisi hunters, certain animals have a special value because they are considered the sources of heroism, they are prestigious and dangerous to kill not only because they are fierce but also because they possess some supernatural forces.
A hunter once said: “Dangerous leopard eats children and throws its dangerous hair that kills people.”
Killing such prey and bringing it back home as a trophy is a great honor that is celebrated.
Capturing a large animal brings prestige and their heads must be brought to the Mogaji, the chief of hunters, the /ubar ures/.
Leopards are brought to the hunting chief who keeps the skin and skull and distributes the rest to some other headmen and to the hunter.
For example, a successful igallik hunter and his headman each receive a hind leg while the chiefs of ekantin and agiram received a foreleg. The meat of the head and of the body is distributed in small share to the other hunters.
Women do not consume the products of a collective hunt except the heads of small wild pigs. In the evening the women of the hunter’s kinnokirat will organize a victory feast dancing the /u∫ara ku∫èk/ and singing /ugada/ songs of praise.
Men eat almost all other hunt meat and the older men get an even bigger share.
A hero hunter or warrior had some privileges, he could use the best horses and take from others, the best arrows when he needed it.
In war, if they captured enemies, they could keep one and give the others to the Mogaji. They would be kept as slaves for a while and exchange for horses : Amo could be ransomed for “even 2 or 3 nice ones”. A captured Fulani was given back for a cow.
At the end, they would pay their slave tribute with captured enemies.
The celebration of Heroes
The capture of wild pigs, leopards, hyenas, and in the precolonial past, the head of enemies were marked by victory celebrations where hunters or warriors officially acquire the status of hero.
The ceremony takes place at the Mogaji’s kirat which is a kind of shrine for animal spiritual selves.
Killing a leopard
No leopard was killed while I was in Abisi and I was told that if one was, probably there would not be a ritual for the hunter who would prefer to sell the skin in Jos.
Since one leopard was killed 10 years ago, I could get historical description of what happened.
«This leopard was a big beast. He was killed around 1960 by a Rukuba hunter who lives among us near /ut∫ele upon/. He hunted alone and since he wanted to prove to Abisi he was a great hunter, he gave the leopard to the Mogaji. » He shot it with an arrow. When the leopard was injured, he left it on the spot and came back to his home. He told the people: “I lost my arrow will you help me find it.”
Everyone understood that he had injured a leopard. It was too late in the evening, and the hunters went back for it early the next day.
Once spotted, they found out it was still living. They killed it with a very heavy poisoned arrow with a special “medicine” for leopards. »
Immediately after his feat he has to return to his father’s house and must overthrow all water containers which will be refilled with new water by an ukoriner wife. After, he has to go to his maternal uncle’s house for seven days during which he is forbidden to eat after sunset.
This woman, the riner, is very important in all these rituals, she is the preferential wife, the one given to him for his first marriage arranged by his father and the women’s father. Riner marriage are at the heart of Abisi social and economic organization. That is why the riner wife as such a high status.
The Mogaji provides the hunter with medicines to bath with and he is required to use it for a whole year and more. The Mogaji himself wears a leopard skin and to be protect from its dangerous hair that could get under his skin, he must take a counter-poison medicine called /oburgu/ made with special roots.
The hunter has to stay 7 days at his mother’s brother’s house after which he is brought back to /upaŋ asa/ the “girls rock” where they do the /miek/ dance.
The Miek Dance for Heroes
The celebrations starts at a place called /ugan tisin/ after which they move to /ekipↄrus / and finally, they end up at the Mogaji’s place where the whole abisi population join. Men and women participate in all these ceremonies and both are important for its success.
The leopard is taken to a place of the south side of the Hill called/ uparah or upↄrↄ/ .
There lies a red rock where elders go to discuss about drought and ask for rain. There, they communicate with Bare (father-rain), the ultimate Abisi celestial power. Every year in around November, Sarkin Dutse and San gari must bring two macarwa eggs ( Guinea fowl) to feed this stone .
It is called “going to upↄrↄ”.
After talking, they smash the eggs on the stone and a drummer plays the War drum.
A special Abisi stone were offerings are made
This is the sacred stone where human heads and big game were put. It has the power to move, it can be animated. It is said that once a Fulani women had taken it to use as a building stone but it went back by itself to the Abisi Hill and left the woman dead.
Men and women from the hunter’s lineal group dance in a line in front of the prey. They play drums that can be used for secular purposes like ceremonies ordered by Sarkin Piti, the administrative chief and taking place in front of strangers.
This shows that it’s a public dance but it will be followed by a more sacred one. After a few hours, they go back to their /kirat/ and prepare for the main celebration, the miek dance.
This dance is considered very seriously and takes place on Abisi Hill. It’s done only for leopards and human heads.
For this occasion, the big drum, /ibrah/ and the great horn the /unaak/, are played. This horn is very long, about 5 feet. The /ibrah/ is 4 feet high and it has powers, it can beat by itself when something important is about to happen, like killing a leopard.
The first time I went to the Mogaji’s house, I was greeted by the unaak’s deep and profound sound which protects his hunting hut and scares away spirits (enus).
“We started dancing at kirat kinↄk at San Gari in alaŋ patriline, then to kirat Nisa at ugantisin of kambare, then with kit∫I ribↄrↄk at Chino and at Mogaji house. Men and women dance around the leopard in the same line. It last around two hours and at noon they go back home to eat and after, they all go to the Mogaji house. Before they stop picking up their ukoriner and go to a house higher than the Mogaji’s, at a place called /ugan tisi/” Before the dance starts, the Mogaji declares: “we are happy a leopard was killed. Start to dance right away. We are even more happy than the man who killed it. “
First, the participants dance in two circles, one for men and one for women.
This phase begins with members of the agiram section which have the privilege to marry their daughters first during the marriage season and ends at the San Gari, the mystical leader of the community.
The dance is called upañi asa , dance with the ukoriner girl sitting on the men’s shoulder. Young men whose parents had arranged a future marriage have to go fetch their ukoriner at their in-laws’ house where sometimes, she can be hiding in the granary being too scared to go.
If she resisted, she had to be carried on his back over long distances up to Abisi Hill.
During this dance the leopard is already at Mogaji house where, after 2 hours they repeat the same dance.
The Mogaji sits on his lipaŋ gwon rock to watch these people dance in front of him.
For this dance, the ukoriner sits straddled on the shoulders of the men and carry a carob tree branch which makes a nice percussion sound when beaten. The men dance quietly in a semicircle turning from one side to the other.
They dance around the Mogaji.
Older women (called Kongo) sing while beating the leopard with carob branches. After the dance, the leopard is covered with carob branches. and pods.
Some talk of ukoriner saying, “the ukoriner comes from the bush.” It refers to the wild nature powers of this woman that is not easily tamed. Other songs talk about the “skinny women of the ubuzu man (the goat-skin men wear)” that has a goitre /arus/. This is said to be a Rukuba women’s sickness that can be transmitted if some other woman drinks in the same calabash.
Heroes as Elders
A war or hunting hero becomes an associate to the elders with whom he shares some privileges like drinking beer with them during ceremonies even if he is not a house headman.
His mains promotion is, if he dies, to have special funerals, regardless of his age, celebrated like a senior and to be buried in the cemetery normally reserved for the old and chiefs.
The heroes quality also brings responsibilities as they become the “strong men” used by the leaders to enforce their orders.