Seriki Adinoyi writes that Jos, the capital city of Plateau State, came alive recently with the 2017 Nzem Berom festival
As many still think Jos, the capital city of Plateau State has been robbed of all forms of human existence and social life because of the crises that had bedeviled it in recent past; the city once again came up alive recently with a rich, proud cultural festival, the Nzem Berom.
The Nzem Berom festival, which was suspended for sometimes before last year’s edition due to the security challenges affecting the state, witnessed a massive influx of the Berom people and other Nigerians from both far and near.
The Berom are the largest autonomous ethnic group in Plateau State, a state that has been jocularly described as being notorious for its extreme diversity of cultural and linguistic groups. They are an indigenous ethnic group of the Jos Plateau in Nigeria. They are concentrated mostly in the local government areas of Jos South, Jos North, Barkin Ladi, and Riyom. They speak the Berom language, which belongs to the large Niger-Congo family of languages. It is not related to the Hausa language, which belongs to the Afro-Asiatic family.
Interestingly, the Berom, Fulani and Tarok, are linguistically more similar to one another than other groups. Although the Fulani and the Berom of Plateau State see themselves as belonging to the furthest poles of northern Nigeria’s political and cultural divide, especially in light of the recent past internecine ethnic conflict in the state, they not only belong to the larger Niger-Congo language family to which many languages in central and southern Nigeria belong, they actually belong to the same Atlantic-Congo subfamily of the Niger-Congo family.
The Berom have a paramount ruler called the Gbong Gwom Jos. The traditional stool emerged from the realisation by the colonial administration of the Northern Nigeria, of completely different linguistic and traditional features between the Bauchi Emirate groups and the ethnicities on the Plateau. This misconception had initially encouraged the formation of vassal traditional heads to oversee the created Jos Native Area, which proved tumultuous due to conflicting views and interests.
In the pre-colonial period, the Berom were divided into autonomous political groups based on regions, but the colonial period merged them under the Gbong Gwom to help coordinate the activities of the Natives. The first chief Dachung Gyang assumed leadership from 1935 to 1941.
Under Dachung Gyang, the traditional institution was designated as the ‘Berom Tribal Council’ composing of local chiefs within the Jos Native Area. Its authority then, only included mainly the Berom, and excluded the chiefs of Buji, Naraguta, Jos and Bukuru.
Mandyeng was a major festival celebrated in Berom land to usher in the rainy season. The festival normally took place between March/April. In the past, the Berom regarded Mandyeng as the most vital festival which ensured a good farming and hunting period and harvest, but not all Berom communities celebrate it. Those that perform ‘Mandyeng’ claim their roots from Riyom, they include; Vwang, Kuru, Zawan, Gyel, Rim, Bachit, Bangai, Lwa, Sop, Jol, WerengKwi, Gwo, Kakuruk, Kuzeng, Kurak, Kuchin, Rahos and Tahoss.
Nshok slightly varies from Mandyeng seeing that it also associates hunting with the rainy season farming. It is also held once a year around the months of April and May, to usher in the new season just as the Mandyeng.
In the pre-colonial era, the Berom regarded hunting as both an occupation and a sport; it was regarded as a show of skills and bravery. So much so that most Berom names are derived from game animals, most importantly duiker, not only because they are smart, fast or strong but because they are beautiful; names such as Pam, Dung, Chuwang, Gyang, Badung etc for boys, while girls answer Kaneng, Lyop, Chundung, Nvou, Kangyang.
These are names for different species of duiker. Other names such as Bot (frog) Tok (fish), and Tsok (toad) are names for other animals that are non-domesticated, but not game. These names clearly typify how important a game was in pre-colonial Berom society. Nshok was not the only hunting festival in Berom land. Festivals such as Mado and Behwol also existed but were not as important as Nshok.
Musical instruments among the Berom also make some interesting parts of the peoples’ lifestyle. Some of these include “Yom Nshi” a two string banjo made of calabash and skin as resonators, “Yom”- straw string instrument “kwag” or “Gwashak” a scraper made from dry cactus played with a stick slid across the sawed body of the dry cactus to produce a scrapping sound, and “Kundung” a xylophone made of cattle horns and cobwebs
However, the influx of Christianity and Western education paved the way for a lot of socio-cultural changes in Berom land. The changes devalued the rich culture of the people bringing serious predicament of a severe social and cultural crisis. In order to avoid the danger of completely losing the socio-cultural practice of their ancestors and the overall pre-colonial activities such as the Mandyeng, Nshok, Worom Chun, Vwana ceremonies were brought into a single umbrella festival known as the Nzem Berom.
The Nzem Berom festival is celebrated annually between March and May. It is one of the major aborigine groups in Nigeria that “totally” looks to or trust God (Dagwi) for its existence, sustenance, and history.
The 2017 edition of the festival witnessed unprecedented performances by the various cultural groups that lighted up the occasion that witnessed a mammoth crowd at the Rwang Pam Township Stadium.
At the festival, where guests were thrilled with ancestral dance and other cultural displays, the custodian of the Berom culture and chairman, Plateau State Council of Traditional Rulers, Da Jacob Gyang Buba, poured out passion in calling on the sons and daughters of Berom land to join hands together to sustain their culture.
The monarch advised Beroms and their friends to key into the efforts of his council and all Berom district heads to ensure that peace and unity reigned among them and their neighbours.
He said, “We fought hard to get to where we are today, and God has made it possible through His grace to restore the glory of our land. We must not forget to till the lands and take advantage of every opportunity to encourage both Nigerians and foreigners alike to visit Jos-Plateau again. Ours is the home of peace and tourism and all hands must be on deck to keep that pride.”
Warning trouble makers to keep off the Berom land and the Plateau landscape in general, the monarch stressed that anyone or group of people caught in the act of cattle rustlings or farm destruction would not be spared by security agencies.
On the gains of the festival with the theme ‘A Culture Brand for Unity, Peace and Progress’ the monarch encouraged his subjects to revert to farming and hospitality enterprises which are the mainstay of Berom economy.
Also speaking at the event, the former governor of the state and now senator, representing Plateau North senatorial zone, Da Jonah David Jang advised the Berom not to allow politics to divide them.
He stressed, “Never again must we allow politics to divide us. All our traditional leaders must keep out of politics and help bring our people together to sustain the peace which we enjoy today and forever.”
Jang called on the entire Berom nation to support the education of their children towards actualising the noble cause.
“Against this backdrop, on behalf of my family and the entire people of Plateau North Senatorial District, I wish to felicitate with His Royal Majesty, The Gbong Gwom Jos, Jacob Gyang Buba and the entire Berom nation as it celebrates this year’s Nzem Berom.”
The Senator said that he wished and prayed that the celebration will bring more unity, love, peace, friendship, togetherness and progress to the Berom nation, to the glory of God.”
The festival which was witnessed by an unprecedented crowd, and a display of uncanny aspects of the Berom culture, where the stakeholders brandished series of locally made weapons to entertain visitors and spectators at the event.
On his part, Director General of National Centre for Arts and Culture, Mr. Segun Runsewe, who represented the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, eulogised the Berom tradition and noted that “you are the custodian of culture in the history of this country. Don’t forget that the first hotel in Nigeria resides here in Jos, The Rest House. The white man in 1915 said, “I will come back any day to Jos because Jos is my home.” This man was buried in Jos, but the families are still asking questions: “Where is our man? Come to the best city where you find the best weather and find your man.
“I went to South Africa, they said to me they have the Zulus, and they are not as beautiful as the Berom people. I want to tell Gbong Gwom Jos that this is the original culture of Nigeria. I believe that if any white man comes to this place, he will be so happy to see the true traditional culture of our great country,” Runsewer noted.
Felicitating with the Berom citizens during the festival, the governor of the state, Mr. Simon Bako Lalong described the celebration as another eloquent show of the spirit of cohesion that has strengthened the bond of brotherhood of the Berom nation, “and will go down in the annals of history as a celebration worthy of preservation and promotion.”
Lalong commended the Gbong Gwom Jos and the Berom Educational and Cultural Organisation (BECO) as well as all Berom sons and daughters, for preserving the culture and history of the Berom people through the celebration of the festival of arts and culture.
He said, “This event no doubt epitomises the resolute commitment and determination of the Berom to sustain this cultural celebration because of the value it has on generations. For us on the Plateau, the richness of our cultures and peaceful traditional disposition has endeared us to many ethnic groups in the country and nationals beyond Africa. This statement has publicly been made by the cosmopolitan setting of the state as a miniature Nigeria.
“The Berom people are no doubt a privileged people with the gift of natural resource of land, weather and geography. Given that your ancestral land of heritage is the Seat of Government, the Berom nation remains the frontline projectors of the hospitability and conviviality of the people of Plateau State. You are the brand of the Plateau spirit and as an appreciation of this gift of nature, you must continue to dignify and justify the enviable appellation of our state being the Home of Peace and Tourism.”
Lalong observed that the crisis of the past decade notwithstanding, the renewed spirit of forgiveness, peace and accommodation that has been nurtured by the predominant Christian persuasion of the Berom race must not be allowed to be spirited away by any form of provocation, adding that “while the price of peace remains eternal vigilance, our vigilance will be lived through the virtues that have defined us as a people.”
While commending the entire Berom nation for her commitment to the peace building process on the Plateau, the governor noted that joining the wagon of peace has taken the state to its current destination. “Together with all your sons and daughters at home and abroad, we shall remain partners in the project of consolidating on the peace we are now enjoying, and we will continue to work assiduously to make the peace in the state enduring.
“I will not fail to quickly mention that government is aware that there are displaced villagers stretching from Riyom to Barkin Ladi amongst which are Jol, Kwi, Rim, Bachit and Gashish where inhabitants are experiencing threats and the trauma of resettlement and reintegration. Our current efforts through the peace building agency we have established will accelerate the post-conflict transformation and reintegration of the people.
“The humanitarian challenges in these areas have to a large extent been addressed through the efforts of government, the communities, humanitarian and faith-based organisations, the human security and state security component will continue to be addressed. We will ensure that we identify and isolate healthy conflicts over land resources from sheer acts of criminality and brigandage. This we will do through community participation and effective policing so our people can fully settle to a life free of threats and build our families in an environment of peace.
Having given this assurances on what remains of the embers of the post – conflict experience, the governor further commended BECO for focusing on culture and education as tools for unity and progress as the theme for the 2017 Nzem Berom.
He said, “The combination of culture and education must be such that it guarantees peace and provides the vehicle for progress. Education will light the path of ignorance, while culture will nurture the values and virtues of our lives as a people. Through our culture of industry, discipline, commitment, accommodation, courage and peaceful co-existence, we will enhance our socio-political and economic wellbeing. Education will in its own right enhance the application of this knowledge and cultural values which are central to the lives of the Berom for the good of the Berom nation and the state in general.”
The governor challenged the Berom nation to sustain the dynamism that has evolved in the Nzem Berom Festival by incorporating actions that tend to create more awareness, in critical areas of agriculture, health, education and economic empowerment. Lalong said such will serve the purpose of globally inviting the attention of investors to the multi-sectoral benefits of engaging the potential that reside in the Berom land and the state for greater economic benefit.
Reiterating that his government recognises that culture is a veritable tool to mirror the identity of the people and Lalong said such cannot be isolated from education and community development. He added that celebrating Annual Cultural Festival is therefore an avenue and a potent vehicle for keeping alive the rich cultural heritage and values that are now gradually going into extinction because of the misconstrued perception of globalisation which seems to pass for westernisation among the youth. “I dare to say a people without a culture are a people without a value and a people without a value are a people with a lost identity and infact a bleak future.”
To improve on this, the governor said the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Hospitality in collaboration with the various cultural and development associations will ensure the streamlining of celebrations of Annual Cultural Festivals and also ensure planned attendance by other ethnic groups in a complimentary manner to emphasise unity among the people. He said the Plateau Festival of Arts and Culture will also be sustained to showcase the rich cultural diversity and to prepare the state annually for the National Festival of Arts and Culture.