ENJOY THE MUSEUM, 4 GATES AND ANCIENT WALL IN THIS TOWN NAMED FOR A FRUIT
Though much younger, compared to Kano, Katsina or Maiduguri; the Niger State settlement of Wawa also boasts an ancient city wall and gates. In fact, Wawa has four city gates, which the natives who took me around, said were erected over 400 years ago. In the locals' tongue, gate or Kofar (Hausa) translates as Bini-Ze; and, Wawa's four gates are Kale, to the West; Bussa, to the East; Fakun, to the North; and, Lesu to the South. Kale Gate, we were further informed, leads through other Nigerian villages into Benin Republic.
Interestingly, Wawa's so-called gates are not gates at all, but passage-ways along a wall built around the settlement's perimeters for security. It is also worth nothing that the wall around Wawa is evocative of the Benin City Moat and that it probably served as a dual defensive structure, simultaneously featuring a rappart and fence.
After a visit to Kale Bini-Ze (Kale Gate), we stopped briefly at Central Primary School before moving on to Fakun Gate, which suggestively leads to Fakun Village. It was here, we met a group of seven boys heading home with kpongkpono, a cherry-like fruit also used as natural laxative or digestive.
Wawa's ancient wall and passage-ways are prospective attractions for archaeologists, in particular and tourists, generally. The presence of Kainji Lake National Park in these parts is also a plus as regards the potential for attracting visitors. It is also note-worthy that this sector, called Borgu Sector, of Kainji Lake National Park boasts a museum.
Although Wawa museum is unknown to a staggering majority of Nigerians, even museum afficionados; this repository could, given proper handling, morph into one of the nation's most visited museums.
Inside Wawa Museum
Wawa Museum is housed in a cute cylindrical structure and boasts dozens of specimens. Wawa Museum is a specialized one dedicated to Natural History, and truly, this repository throws up dozens of interesting objects. Did you know that biologists world-wide do not all know the elephant by this English name?
But, mention Loxodonta Africana; and viola! Thanks to taxonomy, every biologist immediately knows what you are talking about! Did you know that an elephant can live for as long as 70 years? Did you know that the African elephant can weigh as much as 7,000kg? Did you know that one ostrich egg is the equivalent of 25 to 30 chicken eggs? All of these and more one can learn from a visit to Wawa Museum of Natural History.
Although, most of its exhibits are skeletons or remains of dead wildlife as well as guns and traps used by poachers, Wawa Museum boasts at least one live ostrich (Struthio camelus). Parts of the head of an elephant, a hippopotamus and the skeleton of an ostrich are among the bones of some animals on display, here.
From the literature inside this museum, the viewer would learn that the life-span of a hippopotamus is in the region of 30 years; that this amphibian only bears one baby (litter) at a time; and, that this animal can weigh as much as 3,000kg. Furthermore, a crocodile (Niloticus crocodilus) can lay as many as 20 to 50 eggs; and, though its weight is nothing compared to that of a hippo, the 60 to 80 years life-span of the reptile called crocodile means that it usually outlives a hippo.
Mr. Taiye Alabi works as Park Interpreter at Wawa Museum. A park interpreter would be called an Education Officer, and; in the course of work we have met dozens of such employees in various museums across Nigeria and in other parts of the world.
However, Alabi would remain one of the most impressive for us; for, he came across as one at home with his calling; and, someone determined to ensure that every viewer he took on a tour of his museum took in the lessons he sought to impart. Did you know that poachers are not only a menace to wildlife but also possibly the worst enemies of rangers and other conservation workers? Poachers come in various garbs; whether posing as hunters, herdsmen, loggers and fishermen et cetera; each represents serious danger to wildlife. Hear Alabi: 'These people are the most serious problem we face… They can cause serious disruption of park activities, and because of their desperation for money; they don't spare any plant or animal. Even if it was the last surviving piece of some endangered species, a poacher would snap it up to sell or to make juju'.
Juju ke? Yes, hunters; like other Nigerians/Africans rely on juju. In fact, your local babalawo or marabout could be a poacher. When he has to make some charm nothing would stop him. Interestingly, many hunters rely on magic to make their sojourn in the forest fruitful. Mr. Alabi again: 'We have heard that some poachers and hunters use charms for protecting themselves from wild animals'.
From Alabi, we also gathered that the African hunter would never have invented a compass. He has no need for it because he could never miss his way. Many a Nigerian hunter has special charms that help him locate his way through the forest. If this sounds incredible, how about the following: could a lazy hunter return home with a priceless game or trophy?
We were told that with appropriate charms this was possible. The trick lay in some incantations, we learnt. 'African hunters have powerful juju that make them invisible to certain animals. And, even when there was no beast in sight; with the right magic a hunter could conjure whatever kind of animal he wished to take home. Upon reciting the necessary incantation, that animal would appear and the hunter would kill it immediately', Alabi narrated. Now, we want to be wary of eating bush meat; don't we?
Such are the allurements of Wawa Museum. But, despite its rich collection; one could not enjoy the exhibition because the bays were dark due to power outage. Also, the tags or exhibits' descriptions left a lot to be desired. Moreover, the presentation was poor: imagine placing an object on window sill; which means you are viewing against lighting gradient. Admission to Wawa Natural History Museum is free.
Since this museum's attendants are federal civil servants, their working hours run from 8am to 4pm, Monday to Friday. Therefore, viewers are advised to visit between 9am and 3pm. However, tourists can also be received during weekends, provided the museum's authorities had been notified of such viewers' arrival days earlier.
To be candid, Wawa Museum desperately needs a museologist and museographer; but, when we put this to Mr. Yakubu, Conservator of Kainji Lake National Park; his response hinted at near impossibility of engaging any new employee. His explanation was that hiring new hands would translate into a heavier wage bill, and to get statutory approval for such an increment would take time.
However, it would seem that Kainji Lake National Park authorities have never explored the possibility of getting technical assistance from the National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM). In deed, one was tempted to believe that this park's management is unfamiliar with statutory mandates that empower the NCMM to guide every museum in the land.
Although there is a guesthouse within Wawa Museum complex, we had to forfeit the payment earlier made and escaped! From the damp odour and coat of dust on sundry furniture in the room, it was obvious no guest had occupied this space for ages; so, we fled back to Kainji Lake Hotel in New Bussa, where we had already spent five days since coming to these parts!
It is worth noting, however, that something very different made up our mind for us. One of the doors in my suite opened to the balcony of the two-floor building housing the guesthouse within Wawa Museum complex. Alas! This door had neither lock nor bolt!
And, about 8pm; I discovered the attendant had closed for the day and gone home! So, I would be sole occupant of the entire guesthouse located in a neighbourhood brimming with all kinds of wildlife? Count me out! What, if a chimp or even lion came knocking on one of the windows in the thick of night? That, in a nutshell, is why I seized my laptop and took off!
Early settlers and roots of Wawa Dynasty
Gbere or today's Wawa, we learnt, was founded by groups of the Kamberi people. As scions of the Kanuri, descendants of brave warriors of the historical Kanem-Bornu Empire, these early settlers probably spoke Kamberi.
It is widely held that these early settlers occupied Wawa lands long before Mallam Adamu, who would later sire the community's first king, set foot here. A devout Muslim, Mallam Adamu was also a learned scholar; who held tenaciously to the tenets of Islam.
For example, Islam forbids the consumption of alcohol; so, Adamu couldn't stand living among the natives, whose major preoccupation seemed to be the brewing and consumption of alcohol. Consequently, he had a large compound built for him to shield him from the noise made by people apparently rendered inebriate by alcohol. Subsequently, Mallam Adamu married a girl from the Bamarubere House of Bussa, which; according to one lore, was the only house where Islam was practised.
This union would foster strong social and cultural links between Wawa and Bussa peoples, and put Adamu in the position of royal observer, whenever a new king of Wawa was turbaned. This position is reserved for the Bamarubere folks: a man, who holds this position, performs royal duties for the King of Wawa. In the pre-colonial era, there were, frequently, wars between one chiefdom and another, and these conflicts spawned a feeling of insecurity across the land. This culminated in the quest for a brave, honest and confident leader, who would help restore peace and unite the various clans.
After much deliberation, Mallam Adamu was consulted with a view to installing him King of Wawa Kingdom. Curiously, he politely declined and went on to present his first-born, Mallam Abdullahi Toga, for the throne. Consequently, Abdullahi Toga was crowned the first King of Gbere; and, he reigned from 1715 to 1750. Thus, began the Wawa Dynasty some 300 years ago, with the appointment of Mallam Abdullahi as the first king of Gbere.
In the pre-colonial era, Wawa kings had traditional staff of office signifying their sovereignty. Wawa's Palace sources state that by 1903, this town's 9th King, Mallam Mamman Kantama, was recognized and graded as 3rd Class Chief by the colonial authorities. Sadly, the said recognition was later withdrawn on grounds of old age. However, five monarchs down the road, interestingly, during the reign of Usman Tondi, a son of Mamman Kantama, the throne was again recognized as 3rd Class. Unfortunately, by this time; other stools that were once of the same class as that of Wawa had been upgraded.
In the then Borgu Empire; Bussa, Wawa, Kaiama and Nikki (in Benin Republic) were prominent and autonomous kingdoms. In the beginning, Wawa consisted of three wards, Kosobi, Tandebi and Weregi. This trio is extant to this day, but Gbere would later be dropped in preference for Wawa. Among the locals, Ali stands for tree, so; in times past, Wawa was called Wawali (Wawa tree). Wawali, we were told, could be likened to a short form of let's meet at the wawa tree.
We also gathered that this town's current epithet, Wawa, just like the settlement's original name, Gbere; actually derived from a fruit. In the English language, what locals call Wawa goes by the nickname of wild biscuit. Mallam Ibrahim Bike is Seriki noma (chief farmer) of Wawa. A retired ranger, Mallam Bike said the botanical name of Wawa is Diphtarius macrocarpus. Diphtarius macrocarpus? Now, you understand why the locals prefer simple Wawa to some jaw-breaker!
In any case, Diphtarius macrocarpus is, to this day, a much cherished snack in this part of the world. 'After eating this fruit, and washing it down with water, you will not feel hungry for many hours'; is how one elder described Wawa's tummy-filling property to us.