Historical Overview of Gbagyi
The Gbagyi people are found in the middle belt of Nigeria. The word ‘Gbagyi’ is used to refer both to the language, while ‘Gbagyiza’ is used to refer not just to a person who speaks Gbagyi as his mother tongue but to the entire human race or as a reference to mankind generally.
Although there are different meanings given to the name ‘Gbagyi’, the word ‘Gbagyi’ is said to be derived from two word ‘Ogba’ and ‘Gyi’ ‘Ogba’ has defferent meanings depending on how it is rendered. If the word is rendered in a low tone ogba it means some kind of wild apples; but if in a high tone-Ogba it means wisdom, knowledge, cleverness, and intelligence while ‘gyi’ means to eat, to win, to internalize, to succeed, or triumph. Therefore, bringing the two words together, “Gbagyi” means: “eaters of wisdom” or “eaters of apples”.
There are various names used to refer to Gbagyi people. These include ‘Igbagyi;, ‘Gbagye’, ‘Gwari’, ‘Eastern Gwari’, ‘Gbagyi matai’ (Crozier and Blench, 1978). Other names are ‘Goali’, ‘Gwali’, ‘Gbari’ and ‘Gbagyiwyi’ (Shekwo, 1986). The Gbagyi generally detest the use of the name ‘Gwari’ because it is regarded as the name of the ‘Banza Bakwai’. The word ‘Gwari’ is also used by the Hausa to connote paganism and this usage the Gbagyi people detest (Gunn and conant, 1960). In Gwamna (2005) note that the word ‘Gwari’ was used to apply to a variety of non-Hausa people often seeming to denote pagans or slaves. This Tyoden (1993) in Gwamna sees as “a deliberate ploy by the Hausa to submerge indigeneous identities”. The word is still used today in some expression in Hausa. For example, the use of the term: “Gwari-Gwari” to mean “explicity”, although is an apt description of a true Gbagyi man because the Gbagyi man loves clear and straightforward dealings with others, it does not however represent the true name of the people. The spelling, Gbagyi, is more acceptable by the people as this is the correct word. The National Union of Gbagyi Students (NUGS) in a public announcement in New Nigerian (Jan. 30, 1979) corrected the general public on the name accepted by the generality of Gbagyi. The plural form is Agbagyi.
Gbagyi people are found in four states of the federation (Niger, Kogi, Nasarawa and Kaduna) and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Abuja. Gbagyi land is situated in the heart of Nigeria and has served and still serves as the national seat of Nigeria and has serve and still serves as the national seat of government (Zungeru as seat of colonial government and capital of Northern Nigeria in 1917 and Abuja the present capital territory (Gwamna, 2002). He adds that citing of these cities should have served as impetus for the development of the Gbagyi but alas, these developments have pushed them to squatter status in their fatherland. Their case is pathetic not only because of the dispossession of their land but also the deprivation of their fundamental human rights of participation in the affairs of the land. They are technically secluded from the governance of their lands blatantly refused a place at the national level and politically maligned. Gwamna opines that the Gbagyi have been predestined through destiny to play host to Nigeria’s Capital cities but instead of the Gbagyi “emerging as a great power” by their sheer “advantage” location they “have emerged more traumatized, harassed, despised, intimidated and even dislocated”. This injustice is more pronounce in the FCT, Abuja which has been described by Igidi as “precious gold” where in “the scramble to grab the new gold, little thought is given to the plight of the poor indigenes, who once inhabited the vast lands at the heart of the giant of Africa’s Capial City but are now pushed to the fringes” (Igidi 2003).
Gwamna describes Gbagyi as being on the “crossroads” not just by location but by their socio-economic status,\. By location, Gbagyi land occupies the very heart of Nigeria and serves as the major roads] networks linking the North and Southern parts of Nigeria (example, Kaduna cuts the lines fron Kano-Abuja-Lokoja, Kaduna-Keffi-Nasarawa-Lokoja) and so on. Some of the states have traditional political system such as in Nasarawa and Niger state and the FCT.
Traditions of Origin
Some scholars have made tremendous efforts in delving into antiquity, oral traditions and colonial anthropological reports in order to correct maligned reports or beliefs about the Gbagyi people and their lands.
The dominant literature is interestingly ambiguous, in some parts elusive, while in others unfolding. But all are caught in the web of conceptual and methodological problem.
He adds that there are some European reports that were “apparent contradictions and misrepresentation of the Gbagyi” in their analysis probably because of their lack of survey and uncritical acceptance of sources of information. These misconceptions of the colonialists have served to perpetuate the claims of mediocre researchers and undemocratic administrators who would want to submerge the history of the Gbagyi for their own obnoxious goals. However, despite the questionable colonial reports, there still lies in them a part that alludes to realities. Filaba suggests that their accounts can be juxtaposed with oral traditions, field work and other methods of historical reconstruction to bring out some information about early Gbagyi life and settlements.
Bawa, 1999 is of the view that in concrete terms, Gbagyi land cannot be spoken of as an existing kingdom like Benin kingdom, Yoruba (Oyo) Empire, Kanem Borno kingdom and Hausa land for many reasons. The most common myth is that tracing them to Borno. The Borno traditions has it that the Gbagyi migrated from the Far East and settled in Borno (Shekwo, 1984) “they are said to have spoken Beriberi” the Gbagyi lived with the Kanuri until 1600 A.D. when they had to migrate in an attempt to resist forceful Islamisation by the Kanuri. Thus, some facial tribal mark are common to both Gbagyi and Kanuri people, moreover the claim that the Gbagyi people spoke Beriberi cannot be authenticated as there are no linguistic affinities that suggest such relationship, in addition, while Gbagyi belongs to Kwa sub-family group of languages under the Niger-Congo, Kanuri is of the Nilo-Saharan group.
In ancient times they were said to have lived on hill tops. Various reasons have been advanced for this: a defense mechanism against slave raiders and inter-tribal wars; the utilization of the fertile valleys for farmlands; and opportunity for hunting expedition on the hills where most animals lived. Today, they live side-by-side with people of other ethnic groups and their neighbors include: Koro, Gade, Bassa, Igbira, Ganagana, Nupe, Kadara.
Different figures have been postulated. However, there has been no known dependable or scientifically obtained and documented population census of the Gbagyi. Nationwide population figures are often disputed. In 1993 the tentative population of the Gbagyi was estimated at four million but due to population growth as accelerated by better condition of living it is postulated to have doubled to about eight million. In the federal capital territory alone, Gbagyi forms 68-70 % of the indigenous population.
Documentation attempts have been made largely on the people, their culture and their way of life. In some cases the history is distorted maligned, cornered and twisted to suit the purpose and the oustensible program of the so call majority tribes in Nigeria. Gbagyi belongs to the Kwa language group, which is classified under the Niger-Congo of the Niger-Kordofanian family. Nupe and Ganagana are the closest related language to Gbagyi. Other languages related to Gbagyi in the Nupoid group are Gade, Ebira, kakanda and Dibo.
Gbagyi has two major dilects with each having within itself some dialectal differences. The two major dilects are: Gbagyi matai (NgeNge) and Gbagyi Nkwa (Gbagyiwyi or Gbari) this major dilects have intra-dialectal differences with more differences among the Gbagyi Nkwa. Most of the Gbagyi Nkwa Dilect prefer the name Gbari e.g Paiko, Gawun, Giri, Lambata while the others like Maikunkele and Boso stict to the name Gbagyi Nkwa.
Gbagyi like all other ethnic group in Africa where traditionalist before the advent of Christianity and Islam. Some especially in rural areas are still practicing traditional religion.
Shekwo posits that the Gbagyi religious beliefs and practices are about the most significance forces in their lives. They believe that there is supernatural being that is omnipotent and very great. They refer to this supernatural being as “Shekwoyi”. The three syllable word –Shekwoyi is derived from three word-“oshe’, ‘okwo’, and ‘eyi’. ‘Oshe” literally means ‘heaven’, ‘above’,’up’. ‘Okwo’ signifies ‘old’ or ‘Older’ ’strong ‘ or “stronger”, ‘big’ or ‘bigger’ ‘greater’ or ‘greatest’ and “eyi’ stand for ‘we’ –we the Gbagyi people/Human race. Thus the word ‘Shekwoyi’ means ‘the heavens or sky above which is older, stronger and greater than we are. A typical Gbagyi Man (especially the village traditionalist) would always refer to “a zakwoi Akala” (the powers of the ancestors) and libations often poured and sacrifice made to the spirits of the ancestors in terms of need or problems. During meals (especially evening meals) and old man will through a lump of food to the spirits of the ancestors before he start eating. Wishes or prayers are often answered: “na Zakwoi akalayi” (by the power of the ancestors).
The Gbagyi are traditionally farmers. They regard farming as “the most honorable profession and that a man is not a man and Gwari is not Gwari unless he is a farmer.”
Their soil is fertile therefore crops such as sorghum, millets, black eyedbeans, suya beans, groundnut, yams and other product were and still are cultivated. The cotton they cultivated was used for weaving traditional clothe known as Jeboje or Gbagyije. However cotton farming has become almost obsolete among the Gbagii as traditional clothe weaving has been over taken by the modern textile industry. Generally yam is staple product for both commercial and subsistence purposes. It is not surprising that the language is replete with lexicon for yam. Interstate trading in yams has also introduced other different species of yam to the Gbagyi farmers.
The Marriage System
Marriage is very important institution in the traditional Gbagyi society. Anyone which is unmarried is treated as a child and if one is old and still unmarried, one is never taken very seriously in life and may attract derogatory comments which may be spoken secretely or even openly to one’s hearing.
Marriage are conducted in difference ways depending on the cultural practices of the different Gbagyi community generally the Gbagyi do not belief in forced marriage but parents could make arrangement to get a suitable girl for their son from a respectable family to marry and vice versa they could also advice their children over the choice of wife/husband. When a boy get a proposed wife he is expected to carry a bundle of guinea corn to the in-laws to indicate his interest. thereafter he will be expected to farm for the in laws for a period of seven years each year he goes to the inlaws farm, he will be in company of ten to fifteen or more friends this he those three times in a year. This kind of farming is called yeyifwa or aye fwa. He is also expected to carry bundles of guinea corn from his own farm to the in-laws every year until the marriage is consummated.
In some communities when a girl start her monthly period, she is taken to her proposed husband house to take a special ceremonial bath if the girl become pregnant after the special bath, she will not be punished but the marriage ceremony will not be carried out in the same way as the girl who remains free until after the marriage ceremony. Any girl who gets pregnant before the ceremonial bath is taken to the bush where a hut is built for her and the boy who impregnated her. They remain in isolation until the girl delivers after which some sacrifes are made t cleans them and the society from the abomination.
In some other communities when parents delayed the marriage ceremony or are not consenting t the union of their daughter with the boy, a suitor could plan with his friends to “steal” (elope) the girl away. The girl is kidnap on her way to the river or market and her water pot or load is taken to her mother by her friends who could be accomplices or consenting parties to the plan. The ‘victim’ would quietly allow the friends but if she is not in agreement she is forcefully taken by the husband house by his friends. The girl remains there for some time (in some cases until she becomes pregnant) before she goes back to the fathers house for a proper ceremony to take place. In other cases where the suitor is patience to wait for the appointed time and elaborate marriage ceremony is organize for the people. It must be stated however that all this practices are no longer in vogue as modernization, religious beliefs and cross cultural co-existences with people have influenced the Gbagyi marital customs and vice versa. However in some typical village setting some of this practice are still ongoing.