Thursday, 8 June 2017

Between the tortoise tales and the Hausa-Fulani

By MacPherson Okpara

In Igbo folk imagination, the tortoise is considered a brilliant and clever animal.

Over the centuries, Igbo storytellers and writers have woven many trickster tales around the tortoise, making it dominate animal or mixed tales in the folk narrative subgenre, in both oral and literate traditions.

The Hausa-Fulani of Nigeria living in other parts of Nigeria other than the North exemplify the ways of the tortoise in several fronts of their living conditions.

Highly principled, always calm and calculated, evidently peaceful, somewhat withdrawn and slow-going, they train their eyes on the object of their mission without disturbing their host communities. (This explains why I strongly believe that the troublesome number among the nomadic  herdsmen are not real Fulani of Nigerian descent.) This object is undeniably money-making, whether as mai suya, mai guard, cattle traders, well diggers, etc or staff of companies or MDAs.

I honestly respect their sense of frugality and commitment to success in their endeavours.

Whether they make tens, hundreds, thousands or  millions of naira, it hardly shows in their lifestyles. You don't see them buying land or building houses or going to pepper soup/drinking joints every evening to waste money in the guise of enjoying life as the Igbo do. Their Hausa Quarters is always sufficient a home and rendezvous  to majority of them.

I once lived in a flat in a property consisting twelve flats (two blocks of six flats each) in a town in Igboland. We had a Hausa mai guard (security man) we all cherished and pampered for his industry, contentment, humour, kindness and free association with all the tenants. We often told him he was an Igbo man in Hausa skin.

One day, he announced he was going home to the North to build a house. Within two weeks, he was back, a very happy man. I asked him whether he had already built the house in such a short time. He laughed.

"Na bery small house na im I gwo do. One room. I don pinis am," he replied, infectious smiles nestling on his face.

"So, you don own am por house now?" I inquired.

"Our own na small small," he told me, clear dimples forming on his cheeks.

That young man had one small kerosene stove he used to cook. I never saw him living extravagantly. He didn't smoke cigar neither did he drink alcohol. He often told us that he was a good Muslim and I believed him, even as I was already increasingly becoming disenchanted with religion.

After chatting with him that late evening, I 'dashed' him some money for Okada to the Mosque the following day being Friday as many of us tenants often did because I would still be indoors about thirty-six feet above his gate house by the next morning.

The experience made me think deeply about many of my Igbo brothers living in the North, especially one of them I know well who has lived there since 1975, but has no befitting house in his village! He surely has a house in the North! The image of the tortoise as a clever animal quickly came to my mind and I considered our mai guard a replica of brilliant tortoise, an archetype of his kith and kin.

Perhaps, this informs why some Northern youth groups recently threatened to drive the Igbo away from the North, knowing that the Igbo who have landed properties there can't go with them.

It happened before. And I want to believe it won't happen again. Never again.

Shame on ndi Igbo building every where in the world, but returning to Igbo land to sleep in their fathers' old houses. Learn from our former mai guard, learn from the brilliance of the people some of you think know nothing. They are surely cleverer than you are!

Aku ruo ulo...

Credit: Okpara's Facebook wall



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