By Marie-Therese Nanlong
Dog meat suya (barbecue) is a common delicacy among the people of Plateau State. It is eaten with burukutu (a local brew), beer, or any other preferred drink. A formal or informal gathering is incomplete without dog meat suya. However, among all the ethnic groups in the state, only the people of Afizere stand out as those who forbid dog meat.
The Afizeres, also known as the Jarawa people are mainly found in Jos North and Jos East local government areas of the state as well as in the neighbouring Toro and Tafawa Balewa local government areas in Bauchi State. The peaceful ethnic group whose major sources of livelihood are hunting and farming traces its origin to the Nok culture in the Southern part of Kaduna State. They are neighbours with the Beroms from Jos South and Barkin Ladi, Mwaghavul in Mangu, Anaguta in Jos North, the Irigwe and Rukuba people in Bassa local government areas of Plateau State as well as with Bauchi State.
Though as farmers and hunters, the Afizere people do not have many taboos in terms of what they eat, most of them abhor the eating of dog meat, unlike other ethnic groups in the state, especially their immediate neighbours, the Beroms, who consider it a delicacy.
Speaking with Saturday Vanguard on why the Afizeres do not eat dog meat, the District Head of Furaka, one of the districts in Izereland, Ada Isaac Isha explained: “We don’t eat dogs in Afizereland because we believe dogs are security to us, so you can’t turn against them and start eating them. Dogs guard your house even while you are sleeping, so why turn your friend into meat and do something that will harm them? If our dogs are sick, we treat them and if they are old, we stay with them until they die and we bury them.”
Plateau State, apart from being the “Home of Peace and Tourism” is also known to be home to about 50 indigenous ethnic groups, each with its distinct culture, dialect, and ways of dressing among others hence the adoption of the Hausa language by the various ethnic groups as a language of communication in the state. Even with the adoption of the Hausa language, these diverse groups still hold affiliations to their culture as seen in the annual celebration of cultural festivals, promotion of indigenous dialects to save them from extinction and conducting their marriages, burials and other rites in line with their ancestral beliefs. There are distinct features which make the Afizere people unique such as the Asharuwa dance steps, the ‘gote’ (local meal) served in prominent Izere festivals and eaten as a staple food as well as the conduct of marriages and other cultural events.
Despite the interaction with the Western and other cultures around them, a number of the Afizere customs still remain in practice, and prominent among them are the annual Igoon-Izere Festival celebrated every January 1, and which attracts thousands of Afizere sons and daughters who come together to exhibit their cultural heritage. The Uwreng-Izire is a traditional customary marriage rite where a young man who falls in love with a girl mobilizes his friends to ‘abduct’ her to his house. The parents of the boy go to inform the parents of the girl that their daughter is not missing but going to be married by their son.
Speaking on the Uwreng-Izire, however, the District Head stated that before a girl could be taken by her intended husband, there has to be an agreement between both families on the proposed marriage and whatever action is taken has to be with the consent of the would-be bride’s parents.
According to him, “When a young girl is ready to marry, her family and that of the boy must agree. When the daughter is taken by the boy, the boy’s family will just go and inform their in-laws that if you did not see your daughter, you should not be afraid; she is with us.” The District Head continued: “Before now, we were not paying dowry in our culture but would just go and farm for the girl’s family. But the modern way of life has made us to turn the farming culture into collection of money and items referred to as dowry and bride price; and if you give birth to your first child, you give that child to your in-laws to stay with them and become part of that family but the second child belongs to you the real father.”
According to the District Head, the Izhak Festival is the customary form of circumcision where boys are taken to the bush to stay for seven days and certain rituals are performed on them. Upon their return on the set day, parents and well-wishers celebrate with them as they now become men. He however added that this “is scarcely celebrated these days.” Though the Afizere people believe in the existence of God and his supremacy, they also traditionally believe in the existence of local spirits who concerned themselves with the welfare of mankind through their supernatural powers. Some of them also believe in the souls of the ancestors and the dead generally.
In their quest to appeal to ancestral spirits, Afizere people engage in expensive ceremonies of sacrifices or libations; for instance, during circumcision (“Izhak”) and puberty (“Igasang”) ritual festivals.
On ancestral worship, Ada Isha, the District Head added: “Afizere people worship according to tradition in the sense that all that you do, you do with the fear of a supreme being. Some of the ways we worship for instance during the farming season, we gather ourselves as a community to appease the gods, and we pray that the season should be well with plenty of harvest.”