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stories and histories MAFA PEOPLE OF NORTH-EASTERN NIGERIA

Mafa also called Mafahay, is an ethnic group localized in Northern Nigeria, Northern Cameroon and also scattered in other countries like Mali, Chad, Sudan, Burkina Faso and Sierra Leone.

Northern Nigeria: Adamawa & Borno State (Madagali, Mubi, Monguno, Bama, Konduga, Hong & Gwoza LGA's).

Religious beliefs:

The isolation of these ethnic groups has determined the persistence of their original religion, linked to the cult of ancestors and spirits. The Mafa believe in a supreme deity they call “Zhikile”. In each hut are kept the “vray”, jars that contain the souls of the ancestors and to which frequent offerings are made: even the blood of sacrificed animals. Alongside the “vray”, there are also the protective fetishes of the house and the court, simple objects: a broken vase, a pile of stones, animal bones.Among the Mafa there are also individuals capable of knowing future events. The most widespread horoscope is that of the “crab”: man draws auspices by interpreting the arrangement of wooden symbols that the animal, placed in a container full of wet sand, moves randomly.

Clothing:

Mafa men cover their shoulders with a sheepskin. Sometimes they carry leather bags, called “goajem” which are used to keep the steel and other small objects. The women wear, at the height of the pubis, a triangle of cotton or metal and, depending on the groups, metal bars that have an ornamental function even if the Mafa believe that the metallic clink serves to ward off and prevent malevolent spirits from entering female genital organs causing miscarriages or the birth of malformed children.

Nutrition:

At the base of the diet of the Mafa are red sorghum and millet grown in small plots of land supported by dry stones to prevent the land from being carried downstream by the rains. They raise farmyard animals: lean hens and a few goats and sheep. They also feed on everything that the environment can provide them: berries, wild fruits and do not disdain termite larvae and small mice that live among the stubble and that children capture with straw traps in the shape of pots. They also grow tobacco leaves which they smoke (even women) in iron or clay pipes. They consume an alcoholic drink the “zoum”, a kind of beer obtained from the fermentation of millet, with an acrid taste.

Houses:

The huts are circular with a conical thatched roof and the entrances are protected by fetishes. There are numerous granaries, sometimes large, similar to jars of mud. The houses have no windows to the outside, they have a single low and narrow entrance to prevent access to malevolent spirits. Each environment has its function. There is the hut of the head of the family, the “zao-zao”, then the guest hut, that of the wives and children. There is also the kitchen, the stable for the goats and the chicken coops. All this gives rise to a kind of semi-dark labyrinth. The furniture is non-existent except for the beds: simple wooden planks. In a clay tank they keep the ashes of the hearths. It is wetted with water that dissolves the salts contained. The dark liquid produced is used to flavor foods.

Music and musical instruments:

The Mafa use musical instruments, such as the “ganzavar”, the five-stringed guitar, the flute (Shinglek) made from an antelope horn and the tam-tam. The pastoral melodies played on a clay flute and the funeral songs accompanied by the slow rhythm of a large drum are significant. Also noteworthy are the Mafa war songs, where men dance showing the “Zhenga zhen”, a long curved throwing knife, a war and hunting weapon. During the festivities an hourglass-shaped tambourine is played, the “deleleo”, which the player holds tightly under his arm. The blast furnace and iron To obtain the iron needed to make agricultural tools, hoes, harvesting sickles, “goaza”, arrowheads, etc., the Mafa use magnetite, an iron oxide. The blast furnace, a clay tower often over two meters high, allows the iron and steel process to be carried out, which begins by introducing, on a charcoal fire, the iron oxide then brought to maximum temperature by the pressurized air introduced through goat skin bellows. A metallurgical activity that lasts for hours and contemplates the performance of numerous magical acts. When the blast furnace is opened, the melting slag comes out, among which pieces of iron are extracted and subsequently melted and processed to produce the final tools.

Birth:

Birth Among the Mafa, the blacksmith’s wife is usually the village midwife. When labor starts, the pregnant woman sits down on a dark granite boulder. It is a sacred place full of positive values. Sometimes, when the birth is prolonged, a chick is killed and the blood dripped onto the woman’s belly. The midwife believes that the chick’s blood will recall the birth blood. The mother gives birth sitting. Then the puerpera, by sucking, clears the mucus from the respiratory tract of the newborn and bathes it with a trickle of water which she sprays after having kept it in her mouth to warm it. A particular rite concludes the birth: the placenta, collected in a vase, is buried away from prying eyes. For the Mafa, the placenta is twice the size of the newborn, a kind of twin. Taking possession of the placenta also means possessing the body and mind of the baby and being able to act negatively against him. After the birth, the mother will remain in her hut for four days assisted by the midwife. At the end of the segregation period the newborn will be taken outside, shown to the villagers and given the name.

Death:

Death is always a traumatic event for the Mafa. The deceased placed on his wooden bed is visited by the villagers. Then begins the dressing of the body with cotton bands. This is followed by a funeral meal which is eaten by those present in front of the deceased. Finally, the body, placed astride the shoulders of a man, is carried out of the hut. Surrounded by the weeping and the sound of the funeral drum, she is carried to the top of a hill and is interred in a well tomb, composed in a fetal position.


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