The school trip to the wildlife park went well but I didn’t take any digital snaps ( as they call them here) as I recorded it on my video camera in the hopes that I will be able to work out how to put it onto a dvd some time!! I might have to make use of the contact I made at the Nigerian Film studio down the road …someone I met on the road to Abuja. But it was great to see the children getting so excited about seeing the animals, despite the less than perfect conditions. Some of the animals roam about as you would expect in a wildlife park, but the majority are kept in cages near the entrance; the sort of cages you expect in a run down zoo to be honest. The greatest entertainment seemed to be in giving the gorillas a carton of drink as they are able to drink through straws it seems! Oh yes, and the moment one of them hurled a rock through the cage seemed to cause a bit of a stir amongst the kids…not sure health and safety regulations back home would cover that kind of thing happening in a children’s zoo!
I have just got back from an Easter trip away to Sukur, a UNESCO world heritage site up in the Mandara Mountains on the border with Cameroon. Kevin, another VSO volunteer, visited it last year and told us all about it…it’s somewhat of a hidden secret in Nigeria and it must be one of the least visited UNESCO heritage sites in the world!
Quoting from the first tourist magazine I have seen on Nigeria, Sukur is the “extensive remains of a former flourishing iron industry and a cultural tradition that has endured for many centuries”. It is still a kingdom in its own right and is home to over 3000 people, with 27 clans and 13 elders with regal titles. The king himself , Gizik Kinakakau, is the 13th Chief of the kingdom as it is today, and the royal palace he lives in was built over 500 years ago. Something about the place reminded me of the Inca trail near Cusco, Peru. For a start, the track up the mountain is paved with stones and there are stone gates to the kingdom, again all dating back to the 16th century, around or just after the time of the Incas I think . And the structure of the society, based around worship of gods associated with the natural environment who only the king can answer to, has similarities with the Incas too…But that’s just my observation, I am no anthropologist! If you are interested, there is a website at http://www.sukur.info/ which tells you more accurate info!!
I will get back to describing the trip and explaining the photos!
It took 11 hours of travelling, but as there were 6 of us (all VSO volunteers), it was easy to charter a “bush taxi” for ourselves rather than wait for them to fill up with other passengers as you have to do if you are travelling on your own. The others came to meet up with me in Jos, and I put them up for the night, before we all continued on the next day to Madagali in eastern Nigeria.
People are so friendly here. When you arrive in a village and ask about accommodation, everyone tries to help out, and even if there isn’t a guest house, you know you will be able to stay with someone. They are also very curious to see you as oyibos/ baturis ( as foreigners are known) don’t usually venture out of the major cities. So we ended up staying in the spare rooms at the Priest’s house next to his church , the first night. Very appropriate for Good Friday! Some of us went to some of the mass too, but as it was in Hausa and was stifling hot in the church, we didn’t manage to stay for the whole time!
The next day we got up early and the priest drove us to the foot of the mountain ( after a minor puncture incident) and found us a guide/ interpreter for our expedition. This involved the usual rituals of greetings with the local village chief and chairs being found to sit us all down and find out what on earth we are doing there and for us to seek permission to visit the kingdom, before we could continue on. Siv, the only male amongst us, was always assumed to be our “leader” and all negotiations had to go through him; something we just had to get used to despite my feminist instinct!
After a steep and stifling climb up the mountain with enough food and water for two days, we arrived in the kingdom and the King was asked to come out and greet us. People rushed to find plastic chairs for us to sit on, and I have to say I was very glad of it, especially in the shade! Our arrival definitely caused a stir, and swarms of children surrounded us, clearly intrigued! Then we went through a series of ritualistic greetings, thanks and procedures, via Raphael, our guide from the local village who could speak English and the local language of the Sukur people. Every time he spoke to the king, he had to bow and bend on one knee. We presented him with a gift of photos that Kevin had taken when he had visited. You can see a photo of some people looking at them, and they were clearly pleased. We said we may return for the festival next year and bring back more photos from this visit. We were shown round the royal palace, which is partly ruins now, but there are still living quarters for the present king and his family. The iron smelting tradition lives on as you can see in the photo. Later on we wandered around the main village, visiting the school and church ( a recent addition but the elders still believe in traditional worhip). I felt like the Pied Piper of Hamlyn , as everywhere you walked a trail of small children would follow after you! They loved it if you chased them though!
There was even a local bar with some beer imported by foot from Cameroon ( the other side of the hill) and everyone was very keen to chat to us, via Raphael and lots of gestures! Later there was some sort of festival involving drums and lots of marching, but it meant we could dance ( well wiggle our hips) much to everyone’s amusement!
Anyway, I will finish before this turns into an epic novel or something, but it was one of those trips that I really had to write about. Although I have been on treks elsewhere in the world, I have been to few places so untouched by tourism and it made the place so real, and so genuinely friendly.
I can see a place for tourism there as the people are very hungry ( the way the kids went for our pasta leftovers was heart wrenching) and the small kids are very malnourished, Tourism may even help to preserve their traditions, but I hope its done right, and doesn’t ruin the magic of the place.