An Appraisal of Cultural Festival of Afizere (Jarawa) People of Jos East Plateau State, Nigeria




Cultural festivals have been an integral part of human beings for a long period of time and have been practised in different parts of Africa. Such festivals are meant to celebrate some deities or ancestral gods to bring rain, prevent drought, bountiful harvest, to protect death fertility and among others (Banjoko, 2009).Despite the fact that, many of these festivals have religious origins they entwine cultural and religious significance in their practices. Christmas, Hanukkah, Diwali and Eid al-Adhaare some of the most prominent religious festivals observed annually. In some parts of Africa, the end of the harvest is also celebrated for joy and abundant blessing (Robertson, 1992).Cultural festivals started as a religious celebration and evolved into celebrations of a specific theme usually as repeated events in one specific time of the year or an agreed season in a community. African traditional art in the social set up in African society, is characterised by ceremonial activities such as dances and festivals, in which the mask, costumes and body decorations are featured prominently (Saliu, 2010).

In Nigeria, there are three ethnic groups which are regarded as the majority due to their evident numerical size and these are; the Igbo, Yoruba and Hausa ethnic groups. According to Sale, Barry, Mark and Umar (2011), studies have been conducted on the three major cultural groups (Igbo, Yoruba and Hausa), while fewer studies have been carried out on the minority groups like the Tal, Gwari, Pyem, Ngas and Afizere of Plateau State. Oral tradition has it that, the people of Afizere are dispersedly settled on the Plateau.

The tradition of the ethnic group can be viewed in the way they live in the community and need to be documented.

In Nigeria, festivals date back to the period before the coming of the two major religions (Christianity and Islam) in the eighteen century (1800C). These festivals display dance, masquerades and beautifully adorned costumes, all which possess visual artistic features. The festivals cover enormous range of events from harvesting of crops, initiation, hunting, fishing, coronation of chief and funeral ceremonies. Most of these festivals are celebrated annually, while some have intervals of four to five years as the occasion or tradition may demand (MacDonald, 1992). Some of the most celebrated cultural festivals include Argungu fishing festival, Eyo festival, Osun festival, Sharo and Shadi festival, harvest festival, Durbar festival and many more. Despite Nigeria‟smany ethnic groups, there are similarities in the practice of traditional dance. There are however, stylistic differences between one ethnic group and another. Language texts play an important role in dance as such tends to influence musical style and texts belonging to different ethnic groups (Omojola, 2006). According to Magaji in Samuel (2015):

…Atyap engaged in several ceremonial activities, some of such were social activities during the dry season believed to be resting period. This necessitated the production of various musical instruments used by various age grades, the young, middle aged, the palace praise singers and religious Abwai cult for diverse cultural events.

Cultural festival is a special occasion organized and observed by people to commemorate certain aspects of the culture of a community. Festivals which are culturally related are usually embraced by every member of the community, and are referred to as traditional or festival theatre. This is because it involves the employment of dramatic methods and conventions in achieving the desired purposes. Nasiru (2009) states that, such methods and conventions include rehearsals, use of costumes and props, dances, stylized movements, rituals, gestures and displays. For Banjoko (2009), he opines that “cultural festival is to create an opportunity for people to celebrate, worship as well as perform different cultural traits of the society”.

Nigerian cultural festivals, owned origin from the traditional religion, however, before any festival takes place in Nigeria, there are rituals performed by the chief priest, some of which are monthly, annual and seasonal. Various cultural festivals in Nigeria, are celebrated with reasons to meet the needs of the society. Drumming and dancing are common features in every ethnic group during such festivals. The Yam festival of Igbo of Enugu for example, is usually organised for one celebration or the other, the chief priest makes some sacrifices to the gods of the festival before any festival takes place.It is also around this time that the members of the community will invite friends and relations from other communities to come to the feast (Omojola, 2006).

Oshun is another festival that is held at the end of the rainy season at the Oshogbo sacred forest usually in August. The festival is a weeklong celebration in honour of the river goddess Oshun, which is an important Yoruba deity.During the festival ceremonies, the priest seeks protection for the communities through sacrifices to the goddess (Robin,Monica and Cole, 2008). Another Nigerian festival, according to Ademola (1970), is the Orisapopo festival dance that is held annually. The festival of Orisapopo is not only celebrated by the Orisa worshippers alone, as the non-worshippers too enjoy the glamour of the occasion.The author further states that, the festival brings about the assembly of many celebrants from different parts of the country.

Similarly, the cultural festival is a traditional festival of the Afizere of Jos East, Plateau State, which is celebrated with laid down rules and regulations of the customs and traditions guiding the people. Though the festival is not widely recognised as the other festivals mentioned above, the ancient tradition and culture of the people still plays a major role in the festival. The cultural festival showcases similar activities like dances, songs, display of masquerades and costumes of the Afizere.

Background of the study

The Afizere, like most African ethnic groups, do not have any written information of their migratory history. This as to when and where the people originated from to the present location, because most historical origins are based on oral traditions. These claims are backed with artifacts, religion, culture and customs of the people.According to Azi (1976), the name Afizere is derived from “Izere” which is a yellow flowery and highly scented edible herb that grows around their households, usually around the month of September. The people are called Afizere, while the Hausanick named them as Jarawa because of the feet dragging movement while dancing.

To trace the origin of the Afizere, Azi (1976) observes that, the people have links with the people of China and India, while Abok (1988) highlights that, there are three main myths surrounding the traditions of origin of the Afizere. The first claim of the origin is from Chawai in Zaria province, the second is from North East of Borno, while the third is from mysterious holes and lake in Afizere land. The most commonly acclaimed origin is from the Chawai in Southern Zaria in the ancient times (present day Southern Kaduna), in the area around Kafrigana. According to Abok (1988),the Afizere remained there for some time (about one to two generations).

Another legend also says that, the Afizere came from Gobir in Borno as hunters and settled around the hills of Shere, Fobur and later left to settle at Kavambana, and then to Pengana (Afan, and Abus, 2005). From Pengana, the Afizere left for the valleys of Toro, and they later broke off from Toro section and retraced footsteps westwards, which seemed to be a more permanent and secure abode for them.This westwards movement, is said to have given birth to the Afizere settlement of Jos. They settled in Jos, on a hill at the very place where the National Museum is currently situated in Jos (Azi, 1976).The Afizere moved to the Eastern part of Jos and settle there, occupying a large part of Jos North. Presently, they dominantly occupy the Jos East which is 1200 square kilometers, with a population of about 124, 661, and a home to other ethnic groups as well, (Population CommissionStatistics, http:www.citypopulation). To the North-West are the Bujel, Ribina, Duguza, Anaguta and Buji; to the South-West are the Berom and Irigwe, the Rukuba lay out is on the West, and at the Eastern part are the Sayawa of Botto in Bauchi, and Pyem in Mangu Local Government Area of Plateau State (Abok, 1988).

Presently, the group that occupies the area of Pengana in Plateau State are called Afizere. The Afizere ceremonies are called “Izhak” for circumcision, “Igasang” for puberty, “Nyam” for hunting and “Unet” for burial. While the major annual festival in Afizere is the Igoon-Izere cultural festival, held in January of every year (Azi,1976).

Statement of the problem

In the Nigerian society, cultural festivals exist among ethnic groups.There is hardly any ethnic group in Nigeria that does not hold one form of cultural festivals or the other. The cultural festivals generally have important functions attached to them however, the gradual dominance of western civilization on most Nigerian cultural heritages and values is alarming. Cultural festival in Afizere have existed for decades, but are gradually mixing up with other ethnic groups. Again, civilization is part of what is affecting the cultural festival.This means that, if no adequate researches are conducted and made available for generations to come, the younger generations may not have historical records of their cultural festival, as some cultural festivals are gradually fading out.

Most cultural activities such as masquerading, dances, music, costume display and others which could have helped in sustaining these cultural festivals are being marginalized and not given adequate attention in recent times. As such, there is a missing link that has been created due to the non-promotion of cultural activities, most especially cultural festival practised by Afizere people of Plateau State. The non-explorations of these diverse Nigerian festivals have contributed immensely to the stagnation of the nation, against other western nations which have extremely benefited from several cultural festivals and carnivals. There is also, no or little documentation on many cultural festivals in Nigeria, and the cultural festival celebrated by the Afizere of Plateau State is not left out. The problem of this study is the insufficient information available on the cultural festival of Afizere ethnic group of Plateau State and the need to document the study for further scholarly studies and posterity.

Aim and objectives of the study

The aim of this study is to appraise the cultural festival of the Afizere, while the objectives are to:

1. document the historical events of the cultural festival of Afizere of Plateau State,

2. examine the roles of the cultural festival of the Afizere,

3. analyse the various art costumes and instruments used by Afizere ethnic group during the cultural festival and

4. assess the sustainability of the Afizere cultural festival.

Research Questions

1. What are the historical events surrounding the cultural festival of Afizere of Plateau State?

2. Find out the roles of the cultural festival of Afizere?

3. What are the various art costumes and instruments used byAfizere ethnic group during the cultural festival?

4. How sustainable is the Afizere cultural festival?

Justification of the study

There are quite a number of people in Nigeria, who have only heard of the festival existing in Afizere, but have not witnessed the cultural festival. This may be due to the current disturbances and crisis in Plateau State which have affected the official festival time which is meant to hold in January of every year. The Afizere ethnic group are known to describe their cultural festival orally, as such, there are limited literature kept specifically on the cultural festival of the Afizere ethnic group of Plateau State.This research is therefore meant to raise awareness on the cultural festival and artistic heritage of the Afizere ethnic group, and to document the basic elements enshrined in the cultural festival being practised. Looking at the trend of events in Nigeria, in the near future, there might be challenges in sustaining the cultural festival activities of Afizere, thus the justification of this study.

Significance of the study

Generally, cultural festivals have specific reasons why such are performed, and mostly serve as social and aesthetic functions in different societies. The research has found out the historical events of the Afizere, and suggests possible ways to revive and maintain the festival in contemporary times. The study is significant because it is necessary for the coming generations to have the knowledge about the cultural festival in their society before they become extinct. It also aids in reviving the Afizere cultural festival by elucidating its benefits. It is equally significant because it will help in correcting misconceptions held by individuals towards the masquerades performances and dance participation in the festival. It will also add to the body of knowledge on the cultural festivals in Nigeria and further help in documenting the history of cultural festivals, which will serve as bedrock for academic researchers and the upcoming generation of the Afizere and the indigenes of Plateau State.

Scope and Delimitation of the study

Afizere occupies Jos North and Kanam Local Government Areas of Plateau State, and are also found in Bauchi and Kaduna States respectively.The research is therefore, limited to the Afizere domiciled in Jos East, where their rich cultural festival are analysed and appraised.In cognizance to the fact that there have been studies on Afizere art practices, this research dwells on the cultural festival which involves most of the ceremonies of the Afizere. These ceremonies include circumcision, puberty, hunting and burial ceremonies of the Afizere in Jos East, Plateau State and the impact of the festival on the society with a population of about 124, 661 individuals (National Population Commission Statistic, 2017, http: The art costumes used during the festival were also sampled and analysed. This is purposely done to have a thorough investigation to reveal the aesthetic traits in the various elements used in the practice. Due to traditional rules and taboos, the researcher was not able to gain access to all important ritual materials used for the cultural festival. As a result, some important information on this festival is limited.

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