Abisi Dodo and Social Protest of Ayira
The Dodo association recruited /ayira/, young men from 15 to 30-35 years old, that belong to the generation that suffers most from social pressures on their economic autonomy, their work and their relationship with women.
Power in Abisi was held by the triumvirate of chiefs who, with house heads (uyikirat), were united in a political chiefdom organization.
In front of this united generation, the /ayira/ were divided by sections and patrilines, each competing for the favors of women and during collective hunts.
This division of the young men’s age class was dictated by the logic of the matrimonial system that promoted competition and antagonism between the youth of different sections.
It seems that the first social consequence of the dodo associations was to bridge this separation with networks of relationships that even went beyond the boundaries of Abisi to foreign groups.
The circle of these relations expanded each time a new offshoot of a Dodo Club was created. The networks were continually consolidated through mutual invitations to ceremonies.
One or two dancers from other houses were present even if some circumspection was always a concern because some guests could woo their wives.
These networks helped reduce social tensions between youth groups of different sections.
They were also useful to find information about available girls in their friend’s section and, perhaps, begin to a new courtship for their “girl’s marriages” without compromising their alliances with “ theft” of wives.
Men vs Women
The last message of the “voice of the dodo” clearly intended to intimidate women when it says:
“Something could happen if you leave your husbands.”
These threats are addressed to all women but mainly to those who are obliged to leave their husbands for a new one as the secondary marriage rules imply.
Departures are inevitable since they must stay in succession, at least a few months, with each of their three husbands.
The Dodo tries to delay as much as possible their departure until the useful farm work like weeding and harvesting is done.
But, by doing so, the Dodo opposes the woman’s parents, with all the potential of generation conflicts it entails, who are eager to receive their bridewealth and work.
These tensions are obviously experienced by young women who, despite the Dodo, still have to go with their new spouses in time for the bride work to take place at the right time.
Young Dodo members try to get some share of the collective resources of which they are mostly devoid. For this, they use their secret organization to force some redistribution.
First, the Dodo intimidation coerces women to provide them beer and food.
Every married woman is asked to contribute two to three times per year, a pot of beer or a gourd of beans or meals of grain and chicken.
Each rainy season, women collect leaves of the plant abak (unidentified species) that they keep in their room until the dry season. They use them as lids for the meals they give to the dodo and to identify their contribution.
In fact, this is a sort of forced redistribution since a significant portion of products controlled by women were produced with the help of young men who worked their fields without much immediate compensation.
Each Dodo House meeting is supposed to be a meat feast. Members have to get a goat and some chickens to be able to celebrate properly their reunion.
Goats can be obtained from those who had gotten one for doing Sauri, collective farm work. They may decide to leave it with the group promoter’s house and get it back later when the Dodo needs it.
In case they do not have any meat, the Dodo chiefs may force a member to get what they need.
A former member describes the treatment he was subjected to.
“We sat in the hut and were discussing where we could find the meat. One of us said, “I know where. I know a man who has a nice big goat. ” “The dodo chief chose four boys to accompany me while the “dodo police” tied to my wrist with a goat’s halter. That evening, he pulled me with this rope and led the small designed group to the goat’s house. I entered the goat pen with a flashlight. I tied the halter to the neck of the goat and walked out of the house without awakening anyone. I returned to the Dodo house and with the other boys we killed and ate it.”
This kind of forced redistribution concerns the relations of Dodo youth to house heads who own these animals!
Repression against Dodo Abuses
In April 1973, the local government recorded at least three complaints of theft against the Dodo groups.
For example, one charge was for stealing baskets of germinated grain put in a river to prepare the beer for a ceremony. Another was for a stolen goat and the disappearance of a Fulani cow.
The administration conducted an investigation but no charge was brought against the accused on the ground that :
”to keep its secrets, Dodo members resisted to the pressures of the administration.”
An old man’s testimony shows that the Dodo Club have changed their relations with the young men:
“Before, Abisi did not know what was that the dodo, but now most have one. Before, someone who lost something like a goat or a chicken, it was easy to find them.
Whoever found a lost animal brought it back to whom it belonged, even if it was a Fulani cow! Now that we have the Dodo if something is lost, we cannot find it. The ayikirat (house heads) tried to stop the Dodo, but young people do not want to.”
The administration had to intervene repeatedly because of disputes and abuses among Dodo members. The most case famous occurred in 1965 and is commemorated at Dodo ceremonies while the chorus girls sing :
“You, the Red Man, son of Garba, you burned the house of the dodo, do not burn others.”
“Garba Ujatau dan koma gida kana” (Hausa)
The son of Garba was then the Makama, the judge of the administration of Sarkin Piti. The term “Red Man” refers to “red” skin color” of Fulani who controls government administration.
It is a clear reference to Abisi who considers the state administration as a foreign domination.
The judge had to intervene against a Dodo Club because a disobedient member was fined for breaking the rules.
Sometimes it does not take more than sitting by an error on the Dodo chief’s chair and be fined a goat!
A fight broke out when he refused to pay. He was punished and tied to a hot bed heated by a fire while his screams were covered by drums and loud songs.
When he was released, he immediately went to complain to Sarkin Piti despite threats from his colleagues of the Dodo club.
In response, the Makama recruited young men of his section who were the only ones forbidden to participate in a Dodo club. One night, when the culprits had a private meeting, they set fire to the house and burned the Dodo mask.
This repression was bitterly felt by cultists whose suspicion grew against the administration.
In front of these disorders, the Sarkin Piti wanted to maintain its control of force and could not allow others to administer a parallel justice.
But it kept on happening from time to time.
In one case a fight broke out among five boys at the Dodo Club in Dandura place. A subaltern in the Dodo hierarchy claimed to be a chief even if he was not chosen for one the offices.
He took on himself to command the Dodo Mogaji to go find beer and that he would be punished if he did not.
The Mogaji Dodo refused to take orders from him and a fight broke out till a strong man was sent to take them to Sarkin Piti.
Another case occurred during a public ceremony.
On these occasions, the overexcited dancers threaten spectators with their staff if they do not obey his orders. When a young spectator was hit hard and seriously wounded in the face, the boy’s father lodged a complaint to the administration.
They sued the five leaders of the Dodo club and condemned them to be attached and left in the sun all day.
In 1973, two examples of Dodo conflicts show how, from the perspective of the administration, Dodo Clubs revitalization of Abisi ceremonial life can rival the goals of “economic development”.
Since 1971, the administration attempted to establish local markets in some localities, particularly in Warsa, where are the Sarkin Piti and a small Hausa colony.
But when there is a Dodo coming out on the same days as the markets, people and itinerant sellers, flock to see the Dodo instead of the market. At least two ceremonies took place on a market day in 1973.
Sarkin Piti could not use strong men nor regional police against them because the secret ceremonies happened without his knowledge, all he could do was to bully and berate the section chiefs of the various Dodo Clubs.
From all these situations, it’s evident that in Abisi context, the secrecy surrounding the Dodo does not, as elsewhere, serve to maintain the domineering powers in place but to challenge the established order.
However, the secret is quite relative because many uyikirat house heads were themselves members of the Dodo and therefore know the secrets.
Women are not necessarily more dupes of the Dodo threats.
One woman friend said :
“People say that the dodo is a Ibik spirit, but I know when it’s my husband who is hidden in the suit. For five years I have lived with him and I see that the dancer limps like him.”
This assertion does not allow us to deny that some women may accept the interpretation given by the Dodo members, but it simply indicates that some women are not duped but are willing to play along.