I was in Nigeria in 1973 as a student of Professor Jean-Claude Muller in Canada.
In the sixties, my teacher had been for 4 years a curator at Jos Museum and Zoo sent by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to help with this growing institution. Later, he became a student of Walter Sangre of Rochester in the U.S.A. who wrote about Irigwe people.
Jean-Claude had many Rukuba friends with whom he studied their cultural history.
He had met some Abisi who told him that it would be great if they also had someone like him to do this task for them. A few years later, when he told me about it.
I was willing to do the job and so was another student, Miss Louise Grenier. We went together, she later became a Museum Curator in Montreal, Canada, and I , a now retired, professor of anthropology in Quebec City Canada.
My name is Jean-Jacques Chalifoux. It’s a French Canadian name that was difficult to say and turned out Nigerianized as Mr. Salifu just like Professor Muller became Mr. Mulla.
Now , as you will discover , if you have not yet done so, I have a working knowledge of English but no more.
One would think of Canada as an anglophone commonwealth country but, being part of the large French minority of many millions of people, and with my personal background, I was never educated in English before that year in Nigeria!
As I stand now, nearly 75 years old, I have not spoken English for years. But I do read a lot and use all media in English every day. That is to confess that the following texts are written with humility and hope of tolerance from all readers.
I decided to get over my timidity recently, on the day I discovered by chance, young Nigerian people named Piti on Facebook. Some would speak about their Abisi History and Culture and the lack of knowledge they could gather about it. This has stimulated me to write for them what I had learned in 1973.
In Abisi, I was identified by my European looks, a young white man with glasses and long hair who was going around with his Abisi friend.
His own identity happened to be complex because he was also Christian and Muslim. Raga John Ibrahim got his first name from a Ribam man who was at his house at the time of his birth, John was a name taken at 10 years old because of the Christians who had a church near his house and Audu Ibrahim because his father became Muslim in 1965.
He also had a first personal Abisi name, Dawa which means Guinea Corn Provider, a good luck name who shows the best wishes of his parents. But to keep it brief, I will relate details later, with John’s help, I have learned many stories and seen many situations through, documents, conversations and observations during this year I spent in Abisi.
Since Abisi’s younger generation is in the mist of colossal social and cultural change and complex multicultural encounters, maybe my own memory of what I witnessed in 1973 will contribute to help them better understand who they are, their identity.
Writing Abisi Language
I have spent a lot of time learning Ibisi but I really did not become a speaker. This language has tones that give different meaning to word with the same pronunciation.
To learn these tones , we knocked on glasses of water that resonated with high, middle or low sound which was transcribed on the written syllables.
After six months, it became a joking relations for people making me talk and trying to guess what I was talking about. It seems that my pronunciation had not reached that of a child!
In these texts, I did not write the words with their tones ( I am not a linguist and I have forgotten most of what I have learned!) but only basic English linguistic sounds, some with a phonetic sign.
ɲ gn ŋ ng ʃ ch or sh ʒ dj like job ɛ e ɜ oe ɔ o like October