Ijakoro, which lies within Tafa local government in Niger state recently marked its colourful Kuyye festival, a hunters festival which also functions as the annual New Year Day of the community. The story here is a simple one: hunters go out to hunt, and when they return successful, the festival holds. The festival represents the end of one cycle of experiencing and the beginning of another. It’s a rebirth of sorts, a time to plan, to pray and to reflect. Kuyye which means ‘year’ or has the sense of yearly occurrence in the local language, took place at the community playground which is the very front of the palace of the Chief of Ijakoro. If you raise your head in the playground, you have a clear view of various forms of traditional architecture used to beautify the numerous houses in the vicinity. The people dance, as the drums beat and a gentle song continues throughout the evening, creating fine hours of pleasant performances. Alhaji Awwal Musa Ijakoro II Emir of Bwari, Mallam Adamu Shagi, Village Head of Ijakoro, Alhaji Kasimu Zuba, Marafan Zuba, Mallam Mohammed Bawa Jadid, Hakimin Sabon Wuse, were some of the dignitaries who graced the occasion.
Ijakoro New Year
A document provided indicates that Musa Najaja founded Ijakoro sometime in the 14th century. Tradition reveals that he was a great hunter and regularly sacrificed the animals he caught. The chief of Ijakoro tells me “His people decided to turn what is now known as Kuyye into a yearly festival, in which people gather to partake of our happiness. This Kuyye is an event in which all sons and daughters of Ijakoro will return home once a year to connect with the festival.” He explains “this shows that a year has ended and a new one is beginning. It is the traditional new year in Ijakoro. We have to catch an antelope alive and bring it home. This is a very important part of the festival. If we don’t bring it home alive, then we haven’t acted in keeping with our culture. There will be no festival. When we catch the antelope we bring it home, and it serves as the festival meat.” The presence of the antelope is key to the commencement of the festival.
Wearing a nice hat, Salamatu Yakubu, the Magajiya or leader of the women in Ijakoro, dances regally, and leads a group of women dancers. A soloist holds a microphone and sings in front of her, and dances alongside the Magajiya.Then there is Musa Aboki, the head of hunters who cuts an amazing sight with his tireless dance, dress and antics. At a point the chief of Ijakoro comes out to dance, alongside some of the titled men of the community. The drums are beaten from about 3.00pm till well past twilight. A huge crowd of locals and people from other Koro communities within the FCT as well as Niger state, were present.
The space for the performances was quite small, but the locals managed the arena well. It seems the Ijakoro people can teach other communities a thing or two on how to manage space. They danced and turned skilfully within a small space, and nobody bumped into another dancer, or fell down.
The document referred to earlier states “ The antelope is very symbolic among the people of Ijakoro, and its skin is used to make the three drums which are beaten during the festival.” In the course of the festival a fire is lit and the drums are held above the fire. The effect of the flames on the drums, is to strengthen the drums and to improve the sound, one of the organisers says.
Aboki comments on the background to the festival. His words “ The hunters go out on the tenth of march, and they begin the hunt for antelopes. They keep searching for four to five days, and they bring back a live antelope.” He adds that more than a hundred hunters take part in the hunt. In the course of the festival, the skin of the antelope that was caught in the run -up to the festival, was presented to the community amidst applause. Many Koro communities were present at the event, and these included Zuba, Dogo Kurmi, Dutse Alhaji, Shere, Jiwa , Idu, Bwari and many more. The Kuyye festival takes place on March 15 every year. Though the festival is over, in my mind Magajiya still dances and moves elegantly to the inspiring lyrics and the drums. She dances and turns as the soloist sings, and the people cheer as she moves with the nice hat on her head.
Ujorha, a Freelance Journalist, has reported on culture for many years.