The Story of the Origins of the Bura/Pabir People of Northeast Nigeria: Language, Migrations, the Myth of Yamta-Ra-Wala, Social Organization and Cultu

The Story of the Origins of the Bura/Pabir People of Northeast Nigeria: Language, Migrations, the Myth of Yamta-Ra-Wala, Social Organization and Cultu

by Ayuba y. Mshelia


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The Story of the Origins of the Bura/Pabir People of Northeast Nigeria: Language, Migrations, the Myth of Yamta-Ra-Wala, Social Organization and Cultu by Ayuba y. Mshelia

A Synopsis of the Bura Project The three major rationale for writing this book are primarily to: through the study of African language family groups trace the origin of the tribe to a more specific location rather than the diffused response of ?from the East?; secondly to investigate why and how the word ?Pabir/Babur? came on the scene referring to a separate ethnic group different or the same as the Bura and thirdly to document some of the vanishing Bura cultural practices and deeds. For example what their beliefs are, their marriage practices, local industries and what they do to pass time. It is my strong belief that the first objective is accomplished through our analysis and presentation of the Proto-Afro-asiatic linguistic family classification group and its subgroup the Proto-Chadic of which the Biu-Mandara forms a sub-branch. Through a systemic and vigorous study of the classification of the different languages comprising this Proto Family of languages and its sub-branches we are able to assert that the Bura people were among many other ethnic groups part of a group whose origin can be traced to the Levant region of south west Asia and the Middle-East. They belong to the group that forms ?back to Africa migration?. This is because modern genetic studies of languages indicate that they?re the only group that have traces of Y chromosome belonging to haplogroup R1b R-V88 in Africa but found mainly in Asia and Europe. After tracing the influences of the powerful Kanem (ca. 700-1376) and later Bornu-Kanem (1380-1893) empires around the Lake Chad region as well as the kingdom of Mandara (founded in about 1459, i.e. end of the 15th century), in what is today modern Cameroon on the inhabitants of the region, we conclude a chaotic period of migrations and wars, including trade in slaves. It is through this prism that we notice the emergence of the founder of the Woviri dynasty of Biu. Through his failure to win the Maiship of Bornu, he moved to Mandara and then the Plateau of Biu with some of his followers or relatives. Being a student of History Abdulahi or who later became Yamta-ra-wala attempted to replicate what the Kanembu were able to do among the local people they conquered some centuries earlier; they created an ethnicity and language called Kanuri. Yamta-ra-wala succeeded somewhat, but wasn?t able to completely conquer the Bura people and turn them in his new ethnic vision. Instead the Buras went to the hills to fight him the next day. The new breed he created he called ?Pabir? or Babur as the Hausa would call them. The myth of who Yamta-ra-wala is has for the present eclipsed historians and would probably continue for some time to come. As for the Bura (Most have down the hill-tops and mountains!) and the Pabir they have never been closer than today. Today for all practical purposes they are one and the same ethnic group, they?ve intermingled more than any two previously separated groups. Their vocabulary, phonology and cultural practices have fused into one in most instances.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781496904324
Publisher: AuthorHouse
Publication date: 05/16/2014
Pages: 252
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.57(d)

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The Story of the Origins of the Bura/Pabir People of Northeast Nigeria

Language, Migrations, the Myth of Yamta-ra-wala, Social Organization and Culture

By Ayuba Y. Mshelia

AuthorHouse LLC

Copyright © 2014 Ayuba Y. Mshelia
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4969-0432-4



I was always intrigued as a child by Aunt Yakaru (Karu), who still lived at Galdimare quarters in Biu whenever she visited her elder sister, my mother, at Garkida. The two sisters always sounded to me a bit different in their pronunciation,—for example, they would say wajiri instead of the Bura wagiri—and even in their mannerisms. The reason for these subtle differences were, in part, due to the fact that, my mother, being the elder daughter, was given to the 25th Emir, Ali Gurgur (1935-1951) as a wife; a year after the Emir had bestowed my maternal grandfather the official royal title of Birma (Vizier). However, when it didn't work out for my mother in the royal household, she left and moved to Garkida, where she met my father. The subtle difference in their speech and manners, besides their religion was, I surmise, due to fact that my mother had been away from the Pabir customs and mores for most of her adult life. This simple but dynamic circumstance that I encountered in my immediate family during the formative and most impressionable period of my development, helped captivate my attention and sparked my curiosity to search for the fundamental reasons why the different ethnic or tribal groups within my immediate background might differ so in their phonological patterns (their languages and dialects), and how—or why—they arrived and settled at their present particular locations. The two tribal groups I'm specifically interested in are the Bura and Pabir of Bornu and Adamawa States; both of which I inherit in my gene pool.

I became enthused since early childhood with a powerful cognitive curiosity, or what can be described as "an insatiable need to unravel the roots of these subtleties. Putting aside my inadequacy in history and the concomitant fear of failure that this engenders, I nonetheless decided to search for such subtle but dynamic differences as exist between the two tribes through migration and proto-linguistic patterns (in Africa in general, but West Africa in particular). Thus, in pursuance of my stated goal, I decided to examine the broad spectrum of language families/phylum or classifications and their origin and patterns of migrations in the different regions of West Africa, especially the Mandara and Lake Chad regions. A second rationale (in conjunction with, and duly related to, the first) for producing this work is to make an attempt to understand the origins and dynamics of those proto-languages that eventually led to the production or classification of the languages into the different language family groups that we have today. A third, but equally powerful, rationale for this project is to make an attempt to explain the existence, or non-existence, of some social and cultural differences that may or may not exist between the two ethnic groups, then and now.

However, before we continue in our search for the sources of the subtle differences between the two tribes, I would like to take a brief diversion, and examine the environmental milieus in which the two tribes live, the milieus that sustain their existence.


Topographically, the dominant feature of the district, as stated by Davies (Davies 1956), is the Biu plateau (and the Biu plateau and plains can be regarded as a unit on its own). Davies observed that the plateau has a scarp all round it which, in places, slopes gradually off to the north and has steep precipitous escarpments to the south. To the east and west, it falls down in steps, and to the west around the Tera district, it falls eight hundred feet lower than the Biu highlands.

The most distinctive precipitous region, according to Davies, is the southern part, especially from Buma to Kwajaffa where the precipitous escarpments and hills produce a fine rugged landscape around the river Hawul. South of the division, on the other side of the river Hawul, is the majestic Adamawa State Inselberg landscape. To the west is the river Gongola, one of the Largest Rivers in Nigeria. However, to the north and east of the division lie the dull and monotonous plains of Bornu proper.

The plateau is a volcanic one, and in the south are many flat-topped hills showing its previous level. Some of these have well-developed craters with breached rims and steep sides, but the best known, and an attraction to visitors is the Tilla which is notable for its crocodile-infested lake. Throughout the division are a number of prominent hills that can be seen for some distance, such as Walama, Marama and Vidau.

Vegetationally, the plateau, including the area of Garkida, is orchard—orchards and bush on the boundary of the Sudanian Savanna and the Guinea Savanna. A good deal of the division has been denuded of thick forests as a result of moderate erosion and by a moderately dense population growth.

Geographically both Nigeria and Cameroon, according to The Biu Book by Davies, are estimated to be around three hundred and seventy three thousand square miles, (out of which Northern Nigeria is comprised of 281,782 square miles). Biu Division lies between latitudes 10° and 11° 15' N and longitudes 11° 30' and 13° E, with Biu Township being on latitude 10° 36' N and longitudes 12° 13' E. The official area of Biu division is 3,764 square miles, (compared with 32,855 square miles for Bornu and Dikwa which is 5,045 square miles. In brief, the geology of Nigeria as a whole, including Bornu, but most specifically that of the plateau, was formed mostly during the Archaean (Pre-Cambrian) period of a base complex of granites, gneisses, and schists. These were probably formed about six hundred million years ago and then developed through three periods of submergence—firstly the Cretaceous period, (about ninety million years ago, much of which was later eroded), secondly, the Eocene period, and, last but not least, the Chad group of sediments, which do not extend as far as Biu.

The pre-Cambrian basement complex rocks form the oldest rocks in Nigeria, and cover about half of the country. These ancient rocks cover about thirty-five percent of the whole Biu Division, appearing in Shani (now independent from Biu) and in the Tera districts. Some outcrops appear, for example, around Walama, at Kwaba or near Kwaya Tera.

Davies estimates that the Cretaceous formations cover about fifteen percent of the division, and can themselves be divided into three sub-groups—the Bima sandstone, the limestone-shales and the Gombe sandstone. The Bima sandstone is variable, but may be up to four thousand feet thick in some areas and is terrestrial in origin. They outcrop along the Gongola valley, where they form the Wangeri, Wadai and Bima hills, and extend north-east from Gasi to Bila. There's also a visible outcrop at Pieta which forms the rock bed of the River Moksa near Kimba/Gur. They are usually white and purple in color. The Bima sandstones merged into the limestone-shales, which are about five hundred feet thick in some places. Outcrops of limestone-shale can be seen in the Gongola valley west of Balbiya, Gasi, and near Kubo. These often appear yellow or grey. The limestone-shales pass transitionally into the Gombe sandstone, which is in most places about seven hundred feet thick.

The plateau itself Davies further argues is formed of basalts, which cover up approximately fifty percent of the rocks of the division. These rocks are similar in age and make-up to the basalts of the Jos plateau, and are about a hundred feet thick. The similarity in age and composition between the Jos plateau rocks and the ones in the Division was confirmed by digging two bore-holes on the Tilla road where the rocks thus derived were studied and compared to the ones on Jos plateau. Similar basalts cover a huge portion of the northern part of the division, i.e. the Pabir/Babur district, and also form the capping of the escarpment in the south, where long tongues of the basement complex, separated from one another by narrow basalt-covered spurs, project at such places as Gumburku, Pusda, Puba and Kwajaffa. A tongue of the basalt about eight miles long and only a few hundred yards wide extending from the main mass at Wandali, westwards to Kwaya Tera, and just south of Kuvair on the Buma road, is an excellent example of a junction between the basement and the basalts overlying it. In the east Bura area, the rivers Zurr, Lor and Shelanguwa have exposed basement complex below basalts. Further east the basalt forms the hill at Ngulde. There are also flat-topped basalt outliers in the Hawul valley from Shani to Garkida, as well as on the Gar Vidau hills which stand about two hundred feet higher than the basalt exposed in the river Hawul valley nearby. Possibly this and the Garkida basalt outliers were poured out from cones in Adamawa State, a few miles to the south.

Hydrologically, there are three main catchment areas. First, the streams rising on the Biu-Buratai divide, which flows north-east to the upper Hawul, secondly, the Biu-Buratai divide, which flows west to the River Gongola, and thirdly, the southern part, where the streams flow to the rivers Gongola and Hawul.

The two major rivers in the Division are the Gongola and the Hawul. The Gongola flows throughout the year, varying from a trickle to a depth of fifteen feet, especially in July and September. The river Hawul dries up in places where it flows underground. For example, at the end April, just before the rains, its surface flow at the sandy Garkida bridge is often less than one cusec (a measure of flow-rate—informal short hand for cubic feet-per-second), while at Buma, at the same time of the year, the discharge is about four cusecs. In some years during the rainy season the river Hawul near Garkida overflows its banks to a width of three miles, (for example during the rainy season of 1935). Another important river in the division is the river Pirkassa, west of Bwola. In general, most of the division has adequate water supplies—in terms of lakes there are two prominent ones—Lake Tilla and Lake Lesga, just south of Buma.

The soils of the division have great variety and may belong to two broad groups—alluvial soils of the rivers and the primary soils derived from the rocks.

The first broad group of alluvial soils is composed of fine-grained sands and silts. These soils are very fertile, rich and heavily-farmed, and are found between Shani and Buma and around Garkida. The second group of soils derived from rocks, are of varying types. For instance, the basement soils are gravelly, porous and erodible. The sandstone subgroup is also sandy, porous and erodible. The limestone-shales however form black clay, known as "cotton clay", which becomes sticky when wet, making the terrain impassible, either by walking, riding or even driving This type of soil has a humongous shrinkage capacity when dry, resulting in cracks several feet deep in places (such as around north-west of Gunda, Gulani, and west of Wuyo). The soils derived from basalts are either dark brown clay similar to the limestone-shale soils, or are red clay; this soil is locally known as 'Ngwana'. The later can be found in the basalt rocks along the watershed running north from Biu which give rise to brownish red soils.

The following is a breakdown of soil types and their location according to The Biu Book by Davies (1956):

Babur: deep clay, more fertile towards west. The grass is short and scanty, except in west where it is long and luxuriant.

Tera: As above but less soil flats. Fertile in south, the grass is long and plentiful.

West Bura: Rocky mixture of clay and soil, not very fertile.

East Bura: As in west Bura, soil seems very fertile.

Shani: Black clay and very fertile

Askira: East of River Hawul, sandy soil common to Bornu. West of River Hawul, as East Bura (The latter two are no longer part of Biu division, they're on their own, and not answerable to Biu; in fact they are now two of twenty local governments in the state, and are two of seven Emirate Councils in the state which advise the local governments on cultural and traditional matters).

No minerals have been found in the division on a large economic scale deserving of mining, even though one might expect the basalts of the division to have tin deposits like in Jos. The presence of limestone in the division has not yielded any mineral presence either. There is a speculation that mica is found near Kwaya Tera (for example at Wawa) but the plates are small and not very even and thus uneconomic to mine.


Biu town, being on a plateau, is some two thousand five hundred feet above sea level. Compared to some nearby towns like Maiduguri (too much heat) or Yola (too much humidity), Biu has an ideal climate. The temperature never gets really hot, and the dry season is short, so that when it's unpleasantly hot in, say, Maiduguri, it's cool in Biu, and there is always a mitigating breeze, making the weather bearable all year round.

The following is a short summary of monthly temperature variation provided by Davies (1956) for the division:

Jan.: Warm by day, too cold to sit out at night as usually a harmattan season (dry sandy wind coming in from the north). There is stronger breeze in the morning and evening from the east or south-east.

Feb.: Similar to January, but hotter.

March: A number of hottish days with rising humidity; occasional cloudy days. Occasional strong breezy Eastern winds. Hot enough to sleep outside.

April: Rains start making it cool again and cold at night; sometimes overcast. Rains come in storms or tornadoes from the east and south-east and are accompanied by thunder and lightning.

May: As April, but more rains and less thunder and lightning. Higher humidity and can be muggy after rain. Few hot days, but generally cool, especially at night.

June: Rains and high humidity. Usually overcast and cool.

July: Rain mostly in the evening or at night, but it is steady and doesn't come in storms. There's breezy wind as in June and high humidity. Overcast most days and the sun is seldom seen.

Aug.: Rain every other day without warning (no storms or thunder). Often it's overcast and the sun is seldom seen; high humidity.

Sept.: As August at the beginning, but by the end of the month like June. Humidity drops sharply; Slight breezy wind in the morning.

Oct.: Rains come to an end. Hotter and drier, few localized storms. Plenty of sun and the wind veer from west to east. The dry season has begun.

Nov.: Hot early on, but harmattan sets in and makes it very cold at night and in the early morning.

Dec.: Dry season proper; harmattan makes it very cold at night and in the early morning, as November. It is generally cool and pleasant all day long. No cloud. In terms of rainfall there is a significant variation between different villages within the plateau.

The chart below illustrates the variation

The earliest-recorded rain record in the division was in Biu (town) in July 1939, and records have been kept continually ever since. These records show that total annual rainfall varies between thirty-four inches and fifty-one inches, with an average rainfall of forty inches; (and, this time for most of the plateau, including Garkida). The period of high rainfall usually comes between the months of May and September.

To sum up, Biu has, after Jos, one of the best climates in Nigeria.

Migrations: Language and tribal/ethnic adaptability


Excerpted from The Story of the Origins of the Bura/Pabir People of Northeast Nigeria by Ayuba Y. Mshelia. Copyright © 2014 Ayuba Y. Mshelia. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse LLC.
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Table of Contents


Dedication, vii,
List of Figures, ix,
List of Tables, xi,
Preface, xiii,
Chapter 1 Prologue, 1,
Chapter 2 African Language Groups, 18,
Chapter 3 Afro-Asiatic Languages, 28,
Chapter 4 The Nilo-Saharan Languages, 37,
Chapter 5 The Kanem Empire, 42,
Chapter 6 Bornu Empire, 47,
Chapter 7 The Mandara Kingdom, 59,
Chapter 8 The Bura-Pabir {Babur} Origin, 63,
Chapter 9 Bura-Pabir Cultural Subtleties, 79,
Chapter 10 Tribal Household, 89,
Chapter 11 Native Industries, 99,
Chapter 12 Religion, 108,
Chapter 13 Witchcraft and Charms, 140,
Chapter 14 Marriage, 152,
Chapter 15 Children, 170,
Chapter 16 Social Organization, 176,
Chapter 17 Death and Burial, 195,
Chapter 18 Epilogue, 208,
Appendix A: Chronological List of Chieftancy of Biu Succession, 215,
Appendix B: Distribution of Kwararafa Peoples in Nigeria by Heriatage Magazine Jos 2005, 219,
References, 223,
Bibliography, 225,
Websites, 229,
About the Author, 231,

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