34 Abisi Work Groups

Labor exchange

Abisi rely only on their own manual human energy to produce their crops.
While working, anybody passing by can stop to give a hand, this is a sign of politeness.
Farming is like eating, if you pass by you can stop and eat a little, so when you pass a workgroup, you stop and hoe…
When rain is coming, the sooner the cereal fields are tilled, the better it is.
For these tasks, Abisi organize work groups of young people for the benefit of a farm owner.
Some are based on large age group organizations; others are small clubs of friends who exchange labor days in turn.
In each case, workers compete with each other to show off who works better and faster.

Types of Work Groups

In 1973, the drought postponed all farm work. In an inventory of 90 different work groups, used by 24 men and 22 women, we can see that some are more popular than others.
Types of work groups and % in 1973
Some groups like Gayya, Emari, Sauri or Riner are more formal and organized but others are more individualized like family members working together.
Clearly, an individual working on his farm is not a work group but it shows the importance Abisi give to work in collaboration as they counted only for 5% of observations.


The Gayya, said to be borrowed from Hausas, is a group of men who do a task in exchange for a meal. It is called /ugaya niwons/ when they are a group of boys of the same age class of 15-18 years old.


The Emari is a few friends that exchange a day of work. Their size is limited by time and reciprocity.
Considering all the other groups these men have already joined, if they are too many in a emari group, they will not have time to work for each other during hoeing season.
Such a group may start with 6 persons but can split later into 2 smaller three-person groups to shorten the exchange cycle.

Iɲani or Sauri Work Groups

The Iɲani or Sauri in Hausa means “speed working”.
It’s a working group that recruits young people of a whole section (the big ignani) or of a patrilines (small ignani). They are organized by youth associations.
Some say Sauri were borrowed from the Janji people because the drumming style used during work is called /aganga/ Janji.
They can be made up of boys of four age classes, up to fifteen young girl singers, three or four abiko drummers (1 large and small drum), dancers and some coaches (adamaba).
The iɲani are done in favor of a househead who must make arrangements with the youth chief of his section or patriline.
They must be planned two to three months in advance to find an available date for workers that have many duties in this period of the year.
These may also refuse a proposition if they consider that their employer had not fulfilled his commitments on a previous occasion.

Riner Work Groups

Riner work groups are organized to give bride service for young men to the benefit of his spouse’s father.
They were mobilizing all age groups of a section or patriline but those I observed were smaller, one had only boys of 6 related houses , probably because of the drought of 1973 which had postponed all farming activities.
The size of these working groups varies, they can gather about thirty workers for a small job and over sixty for the biggest.
A small Riner is usually done to hoe sorghum fields. The big ones are the most difficult of all, it has to build a upↄnu, the type of soil preparation used for transplanting late millet or sometimes today, the construction of large mounds for growing yams.
The riner work organization differs from other bee party work groups.
They are executed very seriously, without any joking and at the fastest pace possible. There are no beer gifts or whatsoever by the receiving family, they have already committed their daughter to these people.
Workers cannot stop to drink or rest until the father-in-law or the abiko have given the order. They cannot leave work until the job is completed. The participation in these riner groups is coercive and are based on several rules.
Youth chief may even impose fines from 2 to 20 kobos to late or absent /aberje/. More informally, the girl singers can ridicule a worker who can loses prestige that can result in ostracism by his friends and harm his reputation as a good worker.
They are afraid that some women’s brothers may eventually use this bad reputation to influence their sister decision against them in case of courtship.
However, the most important constraint on all these task is the reciprocal nature of the participation in the riner work group.
“Next morning you should be giving time back.”

A Beer Work Group in Progress

A few days before the task, women of the workgroup master’s house prepare beer for everybody and, in the morning, they cook “field porridge” /ujaka/ to feed the workers.
Around 6:00 o’clock in the morning, the drum sounds and call the participants to meet at the field at 7 o’clock.
Each age group hoes adjacent parcels of about 15 by 6-meters.
They are placed in adjacent rows, moving backward to open parallel furrows.
Hoe strokes are coordinated and at each hit, workers knock their hammer ring on the tail by laterally moving the thumb in order to bring down the earth stuck to the blade. This metallic rhythm adds to the beating drums.
To further stimulate the hoers, girls sing praise songs for each aberje or tunes otherwise reserved for bride service but the drum style is borrowed from Janji (aganga tijanji: Janji drums) to mark the difference.
Reaching the end of the field, the hoers raise their hoes at arm’s length and shout “KIWO” (“let’s rest!”).
If the abiko continue to play their drum, the workers have to turn backward fast to continue on the other side of the groove and return to their starting point.
The abiko and the singing girls follow the workers step by step and as soon as they have finished hoeing, they rapidly move to another area.
Workers stop only a few minutes, just enough time to catch their breath.
If an aberje is unable to follow the group’s movement, he will be ridiculed by a song composed spontaneously by abiko.
Around noon, women bring them the food: porridge, water, goat meat or chicken and beer. Each age group eats separately.
The hoers only eat the porridge and drink water but the adamaba and abiko share the meat and the beer.
The girls are sitting apart are also given porridge and water.
The presence of beer also attracts curious and old men who come to beg a share.
After lunch, the work continues until dusk and even if it rains, except in cases of very severe storms. At the end of the day, participants go to the house of the master of the ignani to drink beer, eat and dance.
This evening ends early because work has to resume early next morning at 8 am and ends around one o’clock in the afternoon.
But the next evening, they all return to the ignani owner’s house for a great evening beer party.
How much are they paid? Here is a summary of a dozen work groups in 1973.
The work groups are fairly large but it’s interesting to see the variations recorded.
The largest groups seems to receive less but usually, it is because they are promised a whole cow when the Fulani herders will be back in the area.
Youth chiefs claim a leg of each given animal while girls receive no compensation at all for their participation, being daughters of the house receiving the benefit of the work.
Previously, only important house heads had access to this type of collective work and they were uncommon because they needed quite an important investment.
But in 1973, anybody who could pay was be able to order an ignani, that is to say, the richest farmers.
The status of Elder is no more a guarantee to obtain the benefits of collective work and they are left with only with their complaint that young adults can get them without having the Senior’s prestige..

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