Colorized bad Black And white picture of Hausa guard during an official visit in Abisi in 1973
The Zaria Emirate
When Abisi talk about their history,they divide it between war time and peace time. War time was when they were submitted to the Emirate of Zaria.
Peace time was what historians call Pax Britanica, the period when the British Empire took control of Nigeria and imposed their ideas of law and order.
In the 11th century, Hausa-speaking people had founded centralized states in Northern Nigeria. The southern most one was the city-state of Zazzau or Zaria that had a frontier with the Plateau area where people were vulnerable to their cavalries.
Zaria was the main provider of agricultural slave workforce for the other Hausa states who controlled large unexploited savanna areas.
In the 15th and 16th centuries, Islam was introduced into these States but it is in the 19th century, that they became part of a Muslim revitalization movement fostered by Usman dan Fodio, their Fulani Muslim leader.
The Zaria Kingdom became an Emirate in 1835. For the Abisi, this had not really changed their political status, they were still classified has “pagan” or “arna” in Hausa and defined as potential slaves resources.
Attacking the Abisi
The conquest of the plateau populations, however, was not easy like other savanna inhabitants. According to Crowder (1966) Abisi were caught in a vise because they were occupying the foothills and suffered many assaults from the Emirs of Zaria. Most of the attacks occurred during the rainy season when the Abisi were farming their bush fields in the Zaria plain.
Abisi could survive during the attacks that deprived them of main food sources from their fields in the savanna by cultivating small gardens on the hill.
Abisi described offensive armies as /ukutapiti/, Piti Killers of horsemen and archers equipped with thick elephant skin shields.
During this period, the Abisi built stone and earth walls on the paths to the hill who were also hidden in Euphorbia mazes. These plants are giant cactus with spines that can stop any horse in its path. Each Abisi section also had archers watching these paths.
Direct attacks were repulsed. Abisi could throw down large boulders or killer bees beehives to stop the invaders.
Abisi blacksmiths would also heat arrowheads red hot to pierce the strong shields of the attackers and archers would also use poison arrows.
Nevertheless, the Abisi were finally submitted to the Emir’s control after suffering diverse military setbacks.
The Emirate rule
One of the first moves by the Emirate in the region was the establishment of Hausa villages around 1877 to 1888. Especially in Kurama, a community not far from Abisi Hill, where people had become dependent of Zaria at the time of the Emir Sambo.
Another step was the incorporation of the Chawai region just south of Abisi territory that led to the creation of an administrative area in the late 1880’s under the control of a Fulani leader with the title of Sarkin Chawai.
Oral tradition about the conquest of Abisi area was collected in 1929 by a British officer (Mr. Brice-Smith, 1927) from the local representative of the Emir who administered the Abisi.
He writes, speaking of Fulani nomads :
“Originally from Malle near Sokoto, they would come to Chawai area with their cattle. Some stayed at Zambina in Chawai during rains. Those in the north became Muslim when Musa took Zaria. Dabo, Fulani leader, also went to convert in Zaria. Musa said he should stay but he wanted to return because the cattle were in the south. Dabo got the title of “Mogajin Chawai”. The Chawai Habe turned against them. Then the Fulani, after-moving a short while to Piti went to Lazuru. The head of Lazuru is still known as Sarkin Chawai.”
Other colonial archives give a certain idea of Abisi submission. J.C. Drummond-Hay (1929), writes:
“There were no tribal chief organization when the emissary of the chief of Chawai came and gave them salt and told them that they were to be his fief and to choose a chief of their own. The choice fell on the Fulani of Lazuru.»
According to Abisi oral history this Fulani man was a great hunter. He had killed a ferocious animal, an “ibarka miniŋ” a “water horse” maybe a hippopotamus, that killed people.
Because of this feat, he was married to an Ekantin women and was thus adopted by the Abisi. He had many children and his descendants founded a new section called Igallik.
Since that time, the office Sarkin Piti ( Sarkin is the title for Chief in Hausa administration) the Igallik claim their right to the office.
Drummond-Hay adds that:
“Pitti ( sic) soon cast off the yoke of their Chawai overlord who, coming himself to demand the reason, was defeated and killed by them at the Mariri River. There were no more trouble from Chawai.”
But other text (M.G. Smith 1960) mentions that around 1890:
“Yero himself attacked the Pitti and Rukuba tribes on the western scarp of the Jos Plateau at the border of Lere. He failed to conquer them but seem to have made them pay tribute.”
E.H.M. Counsell (1934, 1936) relates a Rukuba version of this submission.
“The Rukuba of Kakkek say that their only connection with the Emirate was one, within living memory, where the Hausa were attacking Piti and Kumyen, the men of Kakkek mounted their horses and drove the invaders off with great slaughter.
This may have been the occasion when about 1892, Yero, Emir of Zaria while making war on the Piti drove them back to Kumyen in the fighting.
After this, the Kumyen group paid tribute to the Emir of Zaria in order to save themselves from other troubles when the Emir’s Jekada comes to Piti.
These Rukuba would collect their tribute and take it down to him. Apart from this, Zaria exercised no authority over any section of the tribe.
The terms of the agreement required Abisi to provide a fixed annual tribute. The Emir was collecting tribute through a messenger, the Jekada, who came to the western boundary of the territory, on the other side of the Mariri River where he had built a camp”.