10 Abisi and British Indirect Rule


Magical Power and Gun Powder

By 1900, the British penetrated Northern Nigeria and occupied the city of Zaria in 1901. The following year, they made their first forays into the South and created an administrative division in 1904, called simply the “Southern Division”.
The local populations were put under the authority of an itinerant District Officer (Political Officer on tour) (Arnett, 1908, p. 7). According to Temple (1967) the Abisi were subjected to colonial rule in 1907 but the first contacts took place before.
There are reports that, around 1905, a road linking Naraguta to Lokoja went through the Abisi territory and that the Rukuba had then tried unsuccessfully to convince Abisi to attack mining convoys passing near their hill.
The Abisi had heard of Europeans and their victory over Zaria before seeing them. It is said that British soldiers had deployed their weapons and fired into trees in Jengre. Abisi had then concluded that they had magical power and they were some kind of spirits (enus).

Oppression by a British Thick

Right from the first contact, the Abisi recognized a new form of oppression.
The first “political officer” was given a derogatory nickname “Dan Giwa”. It means “elephant son”, and is a prestigious title in Hausa hierarchy but used to ridicule him because he “was carried on people’s heads.”
Another one was nicknamed Dijiga which is the name of a type of tick that attaches under the nails and is hard to get rid of. He had a bad reputation because he pulled the beards of older men, a prestigious and exclusive status symbol.
A third one was given the name of “Goje” He probably was seen as a Hausa second fiddle because Goje is the name of a musical instrument made from a gourd covered by snake or lizard skin with horsehair strings.
He was stationed in Fadan Chawai and he used to stop at the resthouse near the hill when he went to Lere.
Abisi remembers that these British officers entered people’s houses and requested eggs, chickens and also sorghum for their horses. Convinced that they could not expel these invaders, the Abisi submitted without any military resistance.

Abisi Taking Advantage

At the beginning of the colonial rule in Abisi, it seems that peace was not attained immediately and that some predatory actions between neighbors were still possible. The Abisi Mogaji recounts a situation when some Abisi had taken advantage of colonial force to attack Rukuba:
“When Europen attacked Rukuba, Piti would follow them and pillage the abandoned houses. They were immediately looking for goats to eat .”
They would cut off the heads of Rukuba Uja people. Some Gallik and Kantin were putting fire to the houses and cut the heads of fleeing people. Young people would follow the lead of these “heroes”.
The warrior culture was still strong at that time and although it was neutralized rapidly, it remained a source of pride for men.
Indirect rule British control of the people of the Zaria territory of which Abisi were a part, was indirect as the ancient administration was reorganized and divided into districts, each under the control of a “Resident District Chief.”
According to Arnett:
“These District Chiefs were for the most part, the courtiers and holders of here hereditary office who resided in Zaria and administered the towns and villages assigned by the Emir to their charge by means of Jekada or messengers.Title and office existed from very ancient days.”
The administrative power was in the hands of the Hausa-Fulani hierarchy. British colonization neither intervened in the selection nor in the installation of the local administrators.
A Sarkin Piti who was the intermediary between the traditional Abisi chiefs and Zaria naturally became the representative in the new structure indirectly submitted to the colonial power.

Importance of Indirect Rule in Abisi’s Cultural History

According to Frank Salamone, a Canadian observer of Hausa history, the British “formed a very tiny minority’ in Northern Nigeria.
In 1931, there were 1,825 expatriates for an African population of 11, 434, 924 million and some colonial observers like A. H. M. Kirk-Greene called them “the thin white line”.
What is interesting in Salamone’s ideas is that he looks at both sides of the colonial relation. He writes that not only did the British influence the local Hausa-Fulani politic but, conversely, that their aristocracy manifested “political genius” in shaping the colonial perspective.
Salamone shows that when the British arrived, the Nigerian Emirates were in serious decline and they were upheld by them with new powers to impose their organization.
The reason was that the colonial cultural history of the “rulers, civil servants, missionaries, temporary workers, merchants, assorted businessmen, wives, and visiting anthropologists” thought of themselves as aristocratic and similar to the upper classes of Fulani society.
At that time, the European colonial imagined that people were at different levels of progress: some were savages, other barbarians and others of different degrees of civilization, their own being the best of all.
Assimilation of so-called “pagans” to the ” Hausa-Fulani culture, including Islam” was seen as a step in the right direction until everybody adopted the English values and social class habits.
Salamone thinks that Fulani together with the British defined a new cultural history path in that “superior perspective” where religious identity became essential.
As elsewhere in the world, missionaries got involved in these relations and Salamone says that since they usually “come from a strong anti-slavery movement”, they contested the “colonial view of the Fulani as “natural ruler” ideas saying they had “imposed their rule on subject peoples, enslaving them indiscriminately as they conquered.”
Salamone concludes that the “ inherent logic of Indirect Rule demanded that there be an innate hostility between Islam and Christianity.”
In Abisi, it seems that missions started in 1960 with the SDA (Seven-day Adventist) who converted some people of the Agurasin section followed by RCM (Roman Catholic Mission) in 1963 in Edanra patriline.
Abisi Cultural History is always shaped by this context of a power struggle from colonial times to this day. But some Abisi may think there is a third option to that binary view.
So-called “pagans” world views can be found all over the world and the vast majority of humans hold similar beliefs who gives Nature a preponderant philosophical importance in their lives.


Sir Pierce Girouard.JPG


Sir Percy Girouard, a French Canadian. In 1906, Winston Churchill, then Under-Secretary of State at the Colonial Office had him construct a railway and become Governor of Northern Nigeria (26 January 1867 – 26 September 1932).