The Arts

June 24, 2024

Chronicle of culture in Bawa Amos’ U’Hola Festival

Chronicle of culture in Bawa Amos’ U’Hola Festival

By Chukwuma Ajakah

From the exploits of 18th century King Uhola K’Golo, master historian, Bawa Amos in this new book, “U’Hola Festival and Golmo Marriage Rite of Lelna Zuru People of North-Western Nigeria” tells a fascinating story of cultural practices, revolving around traditional marriage.

The story begins from the ancient city of Golono, where the Pani, Mangna, Havna, and some descendants of the king had lived on Pansi Hilltop prior to their migration to their present location along with the Umnu people of D’kube ancient city. Uhola as depicted in the non-fictional narrative is the legendary king of the Golono ruling clan, the first king to unify Lelna and Golono at lia Uti-Golono, and founder of most traditional kingship institutions in A’lela, including U’Hola.

The famous king has now been venerated and is celebrated annually as the unifier of Lelna and progenitor who still intercedes on behalf of his people, asking God to grant them good harvest, and protect them against evil through the year. Perhaps, this explains why the festival is organized every December to honour the legendary ancestor. Against this backdrop, his death is commemorated with rituals and songs of praise through “S’kuncu” proceedings.

The book published by Wadmaryamu Services Enterprise is a follow up to an earlier work that explores the history and language of the people of Lelna. It consists of 173 pages and sixteen chapters, including review questions. In the foreword, Lt. Gen. Ishaya Rizi Bamaiyi (Retd) draws readers’ attention to its rich content “The author takes us on a journey of discovering the origin of Golmo and the founding fathers of the traditional festivals, U’hola, and D’Bitti,” Bamaiyi remarks, pointing out that the book centres on King Uhola and the ceremonies held in commemoration of his memory as well as activities of the sacred day (S’cadatu) chosen for the festivities, worship and prayers.

The plot of this seminal piece revolves around Golmo, an ancient marriage practice in Lelna. Golmo (Gova Golomno) is akin to the practice that Jacob observed in serving Laban in order to marry the daughter, Rachael. The U’hola festival is held to celebrate the transition of adolescents to adulthood. The author narrates how the name of the ancient king, Uhola metamorphosed to this cultural festival just as Bitti transforms into another historic ceremony, D’Bitti which is held in honour of Bitti who is believed to have died in U’Taso, K’kaba. By extension, the D’Bitti is a pre-harvest thanksgiving event in honour of the gods for anticipated bumper harvest of farm produce. The occasion involves offering of prayers to the “god of rain” for sufficient rains, good harvest, and protection of the farmers all through the year.

Unveiling the kinship ties among the emergent clans, the author narrates that they collaborate in organizing the festivities as other communities participate in the events. Besides, the people of Pani and Zugarnu, the descendants of Bitti usually obtain permission from each other before scheduling their respective festivals, U’hola and D’Bitti.

The D’Bitti is celebrated from August through September with rituals performed to thank God through the god of rain, mark the graduation of Ya’Angolmo from their Golmo marriage contract, recruit a new set of young men into Golmo, and ascertain the virginity status of prospective Ya’Dato girls through screening. The U’hola Festival, on the other hand is a post-harvest event observed to consolidate the thanksgiving.

As recounted in the book, the U’Hola and D’Biti traditional festivals started in A’Lela with the Zugarnu tribes of Savna/Passno who as the custodians of the annual festivals celebrate the events ahead of other clans. Activities observed on the occasion include rituals which the chief priest conducts to appease the ancestral gods, Gomv nu’Copo and Gomv-menke who are believed to be mediators between spirits (aknu) and humans. During the thanksgiving ceremony, food, dog and goat meat, and the local gin, m’kya, are given to young and old men as they offer thanks and prayers to Ubangizi. Moreover, every household is led by the family head to observe a purification exercise on themselves and their harvested farm produce through certain rituals.

In this narrative, Bawa points out that most parents use the period preceding the Golmo celebration day to advise their children on marriages and the families spend time in investigating the background of prospective spouses. The author reveals that pioneer suitors used to say: ‘Tente I Gova Golomno’ which meant “Today is the day we farm for the royals of Golon clans” and that Golmo was initially Gova Golomno. He cites Sarkin Rumu as saying that “Golmo” is derived from the word, “Gol o v’moko” which literally means “strangle him by the neck”, an utterance meant to compel a loafer to work.

Explaining that Golmo had evolved from an ancient tradition that required intended suitors who wished to marry a princess or from the royal house, to serve the prospective father-in-law on the farm for seven years, Bawa writes that “The ruling house organized a farming institute in form of a marriage contract known as “Gova Golomno” which involves farming for the ruling house, Golono as in Golonac’Gomo before a young man could take a wife.” He narrates that Uhola’s brother, Bitti had been pioneered the establishment of the training institute into which the young suitors were enrolled according to their age groupsr. As time went by, the practice extended to other clans with some changing the name from Golmo to Gormoor or UGormo.

The festival is a twin event as it marks not only the commemoration of king Uhola’s reign, but also the period that girls of marriageable age graduate from spinsterhood to the marriage institution while their prospective suitors transit from adolescence to adulthood from Golmo. The book reveals that it is the customary responsibility of parents to ensure that their sons get enlisted into Golmo in order to get themselves wives because the traditional marriage contract is the acceptable dowry (GovaGolomnac’Gomo) among the people.