By TIMOTHY OLA, Maiduguri
The Kanuris in Borno State cherish their rich cultural heritage. And they waste no time in showcasing this at any occasion no matter the nature of the event. Yelwa or Maiduguri, the traditional and political headquarters of the Kanuris, the home of the El-Kanemis, is also seen as the centre of Islamic knowledge, according to historians, since 11th century when the religion first came to the area.
So, for the Kanuris, their culture is not entirely subsumed in religious practices unlike many ethnic groups in the country. This was expansively demonstrated during the last Maulud Nabiyyi celebration at the Shehu of Borno palace. It was a day when the Kanuris in Borno reenacted a tradition, which is said to have been in existence for about 1,200 years.
Ordinarily, many would have expected the occasion to be the usually solemn one, being a religious affair which probably should be done in a mosque or a praying ground (eid), reserved only for the esoteric ones; Islamic scholars, students and religious leaders. Ironically, the last Maulud Nabiyyi in Borno was a confluence of religious rites and cultural ceremonies.
Despite the security challenge in the state, the entire stretch of the Shehu’s Palace was filled with guests from different parts of the state as early as 8a.m. while the palace band entertained guests with the Ganga-Kura ensemble exclusively for the royalty and senior titleholders in Kanuri land. Almost an hour later, the Shehu of Borno, Alhaji Abubakar Ibn Garbai El-Kanemi who is also the second in command of the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs in the country, accompanied by the members of the Borno Emirate Council, moved to one of the royal halls within the palace.
Among the members of the emirate seated at the left side of the Shehu included the Waziri of Borno who is considered as the prime minister in the emirate, Mai n Kinandi, Talba and Wali, both emirate judges, Shettima Malum of Borno, Imam Idani among others.
In the palace, there are some unwritten rules about conduct and comportment, especially when the Shehu is seated. For instance, a guest or anybody entering the palace must first pull off his or her foot wears from the last entrance to the courtyard as a sign of respect for the royalty and eminence, which the Shehu’s stool represents. Upon entering the courtyard, the guest is expected to salute the Shehu by clinching his or her fist and then bow with the salutation allah-ngubro! (loosely translate as may Allah gives you plenty life-time) while the title holders and Shehu’s aides respond ‘amin’ in coordinated manner on behalf of the ruler since traditionally, he was not supposed to respond personally.
“The Shehu utters no word to such greetings. He only watches as guests come in and in some instances, people come forward and he places his right hand on their heads for royal blessing,” a palace aide revealed.
Exchange of pleasantries and shaking of hands among guests are minimally restricted to honour the Shehu who is seated as everybody sat or squat on the Arabian carpet at the expansive royal hall in the palace in rectangular form facing the paramount/religious leader of the Kanuris. As soon as greetings were over, the council of Ulamas (Islamic scholars) who also arrived shortly after the Shehu was seated, kicked off their religious assignment with renowned Islamic clerics reciting some verses of Qur’an and Hadith (collections of Islamic traditions and doctrines) “in remembrance of the life, teachings and saying of Prophet Mohammad (SWT),” said one of the clerics. Special prayers were also offered especially for return of peace to Borno and Nigeria generally. The session was wrapped up with the demonstration of Kanuri culture of hospitality. You would think the five palace aides with cups in their hands were out to share hot tea or royal drink with the guests, especially as the morning cold was yet to dissolve into the sunny noon. But alas, in those cups was the local Kanuri scent, turari meant for the Shehu’s guests on such special occasion. “We serve the turari in the palace to make His Highness guests smell nice and flush out bad odour and evil spirit, especially in this special ceremony,” one of the aides who simply identified himself as Abba claimed as he takes a cup round while everybody scoop out some drops of the liquid from the cup to dab on their body.
Religious rites over, the Council of Ulamas departed immediately to wait somewhere within the palace for entertainment while the Shehu’s royal train moved to another part of the courtyard for real traditional ceremony. Here, the Shehu sat in his royalty and received more guests including the Sheriff descents who come to declare their support and loyalty for his reign.
According to the village head of Gwange, Alhaji Abba Ali, the Sheriffs in Borno are genealogically the progeny of Sheriffs, Prophet Mohammad lineage in Mecca. “They are believed to be from the lineage of Sheriffs in Mecca, the descendants of Prophet Mohammad. This is one of the best occasions to be reminded of the birth, life and teachings of the prophet. Through eid maulud, Muslims stands a good chance of understanding and appreciating the messages that were sent to the prophet,” Abba Ali explained.
Abba Kakami, Borno State chairman of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), in his comment said the event also underscores the cordial relationship between the emirate and other ethnic groups in the area.
His words: “For instance, history has shown that the Yorubas in Borno have a long-standing relationship with the Kanuris for more than 100 years now. There was even a time when a Yoruba man married a princess from the palace. So the tie between the Kanuris and the Yorubas and other residents from different parts of the country as well as neighbouring countries, has been there for a very long time and that’s why you see the Yoruba Community led by the Serki Yorubawa today who came to pay homage to the Shehu and the emirate council.”
Why different groups pay homage to the Shehu, a group of elderly women entertained guests within the palace courtyard. The ecstasy created by these royal dancers added another colour to the celebration and the uniqueness of the Kanuri social life. At the right side of the Shehu were another group of male dancers in a row holding the traditional Kanuri swords which they shake repeatedly in the air as they respond to the strong pitch from the Ganga-Kura ensemble which also include the royal (long) flutes. A typical royal flute for the Shehu can be as long as seven feet (height) with a wide mouth depending on the melody and rhythm it was designed to produce. “It is locally made,” says one of the royal drummers.
Speaking later in an interaction with journalists, the Shehu of Borno, Alhaji Abubakar Garbai also emphasized the longevity of the event and its renaissance.
“What you are seeing today has been happening for about 1,200 years since the Kanem Borno Empire.it is an historical and cultural thing where people come to pay homage to the Shehu on such special occasion like the Eid Maulud. Even when Lord Lugard came to the northern part of Nigeria, he paid homage to the palace,” the Shehu said even as he called for the return of the roles of traditional institution in the proposed amendment of the Nigeria constitution.
Kanuri delicacies including denderu (heavily spiced camel meat which is smoked in heated sand) as well as pankasaw, made from wheat or flour and other foods were served to all guests as the palace band kept the tempo of their beat till most visitors depart the palace. So, when next you wish to come to Borno, choose the Eid Maulud to enjoy the rich Kanuri culture and the hospitality.