By Monday Dakulak
This documentary is presented on account of the recent ceremony of the formal installation of Nda SHINDWAAR in a new position of power and traditional importance in Dazen community of Məship Chiefdom following the demise of Nda Tobias Dapam in February, 2020 as the SHINWAAR DAZEN.
In that regard, Nda Ləman Timothy Dakulak was installed as the new Nda SHINDWAAR DAZEN’ at Kop Dazen on Friday 16th April, 2021 by 1600hrs.
This is a mark of a legacy of cultural and intangible attributes of the Dazen Family that is inherited from past generations.
This glorious event took place on Friday 16th April, 2021 at the Dazen Sanctuary (KOP DAZEN), Kəloot, Chip, along Shendam-Panyam Road, Pankshin LGA, Plateau State.
ABOUT THE DAZEN
The Dazen are an ethnic clan based in the North Central Region of Nigeria. The Dazen have a rich, intricate tradition that has allowed them to preserve their history and origins in the form of oral tradition. The traditional headship of the Dazen is the father figure of the clan. The chieftaincy is rotated within the royal families of the clan after the demise of the headship. The installation of a new headship marks an important event in the history of the Dazen. As is the case with many societies in Nigeria and throughout Africa, culture has an integral place in the ceremonies and oral tradition of the Dazen, and it is through their this that they remind themselves of who they are and from whom and where they came.
The Dazen inhabit a traditional kingdom known as Dazen in Kəloot, Chip District of Pankshin LGA of Plateau State, Nigeria and speak a language called Məship of the Məship Chiefdom. The Dazen speak Meship in Chip. Dazen is part of the Meship, a group that stretches across Chip from West to south western and northern parts of Chip. As of a census taken in the year 2006, there are over 8,000 Dazens in Mhishipland. Christianity was introduced into Dazen society towards the end of the 1800s, and while it has exerted a strong influence on their customs, they still retain many of their pre-Christian beliefs; Christianity can be seen in the way they practice their tradition and likewise their tradition is evident in the way they practice Christianity as some of their members became Priests of the Roman Catholic Church.
The story of the beginnings of Dazen is a long, complicated, and deep narrative, and presenting a comprehensive history of the Dazen which is not exclusive of Mhiship. However, it is important to provide some rudimentary framework about where the Dazen came from. According to oral tradition, the people who eventually became the Dazen did not originate in Plateau State, but rather in what is now North Eastern Nigeria, the Chad Basin. These people traversed the Sahel of North East, moving from Bornu Empire through the present day Pankshin and Mangu of Plateau State, before settling in the present day Chip. The two major dialects of Məiship Kingdom (Longmaar & Jibaam) migrated from same origin to their present abode. However, Dazen, is the ancestor who led the final southeastern migration from Jibaam, at Chip’s Western border, to present-day Dungwaan and later relocated to Keloot, at Longmaar, where they established their present sanctuary, named after the man who begat the royal lineage of the chiefs of the head of clan.
The Kingdom of Dazen
The modern-day nation of Nigeria is divided into six geopolitical regions and the Dazen live in the North Central Region, Plateau State, Pankshin LGA, Chip District. The traditional kingdom of Dazen in Nigeria predates colonialism, but in terms of today’s administrative boundaries, Dazen is almost at the central region of Chip district, Keloot, Longmaar. Families of Dazen are also found in Dungwaan, Mundung, Dimwai Khiduhum and Nadu in Chip of guinea savannah.
One of the major and most conspicuous features of Dazen society is chieftaincy enthronement. There has been a line of paramount chiefs that stretches back to the days of migration. Their system of chieftaincy is very hierarchical, with the Shindwaar, or paramount chief, at its head and family heads below him. In Dazen, chiefs traditionally transfer their throne to the next by virtue of death. For this reason, when a chief dies, a new one is enthroned. The chieftaincy is rotated within three families of the Dazen. When a person assumes a chief position, they take charge of the heritage land (Mar Kop). The Chieftaincy is generally associated with three families and is categorized by who is eligible for the stool. Royal chieftaincies are only available to those who can trace themselves through the male line back to the three families. If a man is not appointed to one of the three royal families, his descendants lose their royal status. The other family is the Nda grum, who are not considered “royal,” but are elders. These often have some specific responsibilities attached to them. They are referred to as the Father of the Dazen Family.
The (SHINDWAAR) is generally chosen by the SHIBEET of Keloot who is aided by a council of Chiefs (DASKAHAM LONGMAAR) and elders from around the kingdom. The SHINDWAAR is chosen by SHIBEET Nkeloot, referred to as the kingmakers. As powerful men, chiefs traditionally tend to have many wives. As a result, a chief can die with a large number of surviving siblings, children, and nephews, all of whom have a vested interest in who ascends to that position.
One cannot say precisely when chieftaincy institutions started in Meship land. It must have started since the creation of society. The creation of civil society for any reason presupposes governance. Certain people constitute the governing agents. Governance has to do with formulation and execution of rules and regulations for the benefit of society. One can assume that chiefs are governors of their respective societies. On this note, we can then argue that chieftaincy as an institution, whether or not it is well organized as a state, began in antiquity following the formation of any given society. For the Dazen Clan, the chieftaincy institution began with the emergence of Meship Kingdom and the dispersal from far East where the descendants of the Meship who later headed their kingdom. Yet, what is at least certain is that the socio-political history of the Meship over the years before colonization was characterized by the existence of its chiefdom. This chiefdom has many title holders under the headship of the chief whether major (as in the case of king) or minor (as in the case of lesser chief) because chieftainship deals with act of governance.
CATEGORY OF CHIEFS IN MHISHIP KINGDOM
Warrior Chiefs (Kenshong & Neyew)– They consist of the powerful people in the society. The Long Meship appoints them chiefs. These chiefs defend the town against internal threats and external invasions. They provide security network for the town as soldiers of the community and ensure peace in their community in time of war and social unrest.
Religious Chiefs (Long Kum) – These consist of diviners, prophets, magicians, and medicine men. Precisely, they are leaders of devotees of different divinities in town. These chiefs, a few of whom appointed by the Nda Long, are constantly called upon to meet and offer prayer, ritual or sacrifice during both critical and less critical occasions such as planting and harvest seasons, war, drought, pestilence and annual propitiatory sacrifice for ensuring the welfare of the community.
King Makers (Kebou) – These are leaders who are saddled with the responsibilities of chieftaincy installations in a given clan or society.
The notion of “chieftaincy” evokes a political system always understood and legitimized as being founded on the principle of “traditional” customs, and values. Remarkably, this institution has flourished among Dazen people of Meship chiefdom and is presided over by a traditional ruler who by virtue of his ancestry occupies the throne or stool of the community where Dazen family resides in accordance with the customs and tradition of the Longmaar chiefdom. This is a full time traditional title holder who derives his executive functions from traditions and is simply referred to as traditional ruler or MESKAHAM. There are three traditional title holders in Longmaar namely: Kedohom, Shibeet and Koyaduhur who superintend over Kepil, Keloot and Pyaboor.
It should perhaps be stated here that once a man is installed a chief, he occupies the position for life. It is only on event of grievous wrong doing that lead to banishment, dethronement or death another chief is installed. Indeed, customary rules of succession are primarily designed to perpetuate a bloodline and as such, if a stool is declared vacant, the onus rested on the council of elders in Keloot to produce the most appropriate successor to the throne from a pool of the Dazen’s sons. The position is rotated within three families who have legitimate right to the throne. In Dazen, before the option of rotation among family units is explored in the absence of a son to the throne, other family members who are of the royal family are sort for. Indeed, to fill a vacant stool in cases where there are multiple candidates for the position, the kingmakers through spiritual and secular means, exercised great judiciousness; wisdom as well as the personal qualities which among other things will include honesty; integrity and tolerance are given serious attention. It is however, not uncommon for an heir to the throne to decline taking up the responsibility. Although this happens on few occasions; the reasons are probably hinged on the fact that traditionally in Dazen, the SHINDWAAR participates in an incredible number of elaborate rituals, and regulates all religious ceremonies as well as sacrifices to the gods. So a chosen successor who is opposed to the performance of the rituals attached to the title may decline the staff of office and leave to an undisclosed location to avoid being abducted and crowned. The process of investiture of SHINDWAAR under the practice of gerontocracy as is the case in Dazen is complex, ritualistic and interminable. Once chosen, by the king-makers (SHIBEET NKELOOT), the matter is expected to remain secret so as to ensure that the chosen candidate never absconded.
In the process of enthronement, the candidates (Dazen sons) are lined up before the kingmaker(s) and other chiefs at Dazen’s sanctuary (Kop Dazen) on the day of installation. The SHINDWAAR to be however, is never so installed and accepted until he is physically present. This practice is symbolic because traditionally, it proves the eligibility of the candidate because if he is not the choice of the gods, he is not expected to be chosen. The SHINDWAAR is chosen after all other chiefs (DASKAHAM) who are present render their advice to the hearing of all candidates (Dazzen’s sons). At the formal investiture, a series of injunctions publicly recited before the new chief (SHINDWAAR) defines his political authority and the political relationship that is expected to be maintained between him and his subjects. He enjoyed a large measure of privileges. Among these are that his farm work are done for him by the community; he is also entitled to the heritage farmland of the clan. On the other hand, the SHINDWAAR is surrounded by many taboos. SHINDWAARs are barred from going to the market, carrying load on their head, and eat at the market square, they are also forbidden from adultery, gossips, as well as stealing, fight or strike even his own child. Generally, The SHINDWAARs are adored by the people and as such acting contrary to demands of traditions could incur punishment from the gods. The SHINDWAAR on his part is expected to reciprocate this respect and power accorded him by ensuring the prosperity of his subjects and domain. In order to sustain this, the common cultural attributes of SHINDWAARs are preserved as part of their ancestral heritage―and this is a major obligation of traditional leaders. SHINDWAARs as political head are rallying points for development of Dazen and Meship community at large. Through SHINDWAAR’s office, his subjects are mobilized to assist in projects that position the community into serving the needs of its members.
There are ruling houses where SHINDWAAR candidates are selected on a rotational order. There is always healthy competition among candidates within the next ruling house. Candidates engage in persuading, campaigning and petitioning the kingmakers and the elders in the house to favour them in the selection exercise. Public opinion also is important in selecting one out of many candidates. This is why chieftainship is somewhat a social enterprise. The whole house expects the prospective candidate to meet certain social standard, which is a reflection of Meship social morality. That is, prospective chieftaincy title holder should be courageous, brave, intelligent, wise, patriotic, a man of good character and should be relatively rich or wealthy – richness to Meship is a manifestation of hard work, which is expected of prospective office holders. In addition, the person must have a stable and good family life, because the Meship believe that charity begins at home. After wide consultation and lengthy consideration among elders of the ruling house, the head of the house will announce to the kingmaker the name of the candidate unanimously chosen by the whole house in addition to the dream of the Kingmaker. Once the whole house arrives at this decision, all the remaining candidates will rally round and give their supports to the emerging nominee for the glory of the ruling house in question.
Today, unlike in the past, an aggrieved candidate may challenge the decision of the house in court of law; but more often than not, the whole exercise is not always a do or die affair. However, in the case where it is difficult for the ruling house in question to arrive at a decision, the kingmakers will be called upon to intervene. What they do is to bring religious dimension to the whole exercise. This involves invitation of diviner (Long Kum) who will use his divination object(s) in order to divine who the gods wishes should become SHINDWAAR. It is important to note here in passing that the diviners who have esoteric knowledge are capable of interpreting the mysteries of life, the hidden information, convey, and uncover the past and to look into the future and also convey the messages of a god or gods. Since the SHINDWAAR is regarded as representative of God, Dazen people always call upon diviners to give guidance in daily affairs especially regarding the choice of SHINDWAAR. Once the diviner conveys the message of God by naming one person out of the candidates, the king makers will move to the next action, which is the installation of the Chief.
Installation of (Chiefs)
Traditions vary from place to place, regarding the methods and procedures for enthroning the Chief. The first step is the invitation of religious leaders by the kingmakers to prescribe and perform necessary religious rites, rituals, ceremony, formality, observance, practice and traditions, associated with enthronement. All these are addressed to the ancestral spirits, past heroes, heroines and rulers of the community in order to ask them to transfer authority to the next Chief and to support and guide him in all his political administration. These rituals could be performed a week before the formal installation of the Chief. On the day of installation proper, certain rituals also will be performed, some secretly and some openly in the presence of the teeming populace who as a matter of tradition troop out to witness the ceremony. This is not only to demonstrate their approval of the appointment but also to show their happiness and loyalty towards the enthronement of the new Chief. Before the teeming populace, the kingmakers hand over the spear or rod of authority (Kop) to woo the approval of ancestral spirits and that of every male and female member of the society. As he grabs the rod of authority, the whole crowd will echo “Dok Mun Asi OO”, which means, “That is how we were and no one dares to query his authority”. This is a sign of approval of his candidacy. The kingmaker will now pronounce that the Chief will no longer in his lifetime bow before anybody. This is followed by capping him – a symbol of authority – on the part of the Chief. After this rite, the chief is taken to the palace for further rituals. Tradition says that he will be offered concoctions, which was preserved for him. This consumption finalizes the transfer of power and authority from the past SHINDWAAR to the new SHINDWAAR.
All these religious rituals among others make the Chief a sacred personality and a hallowed person. This is because the rituals performed will allow him to acquire a sense of communion with mystical forces, directing him out of himself into the world of an ancestral spirits. The impression here is that the chieftaincy title of the Chief symbolizes the divine nature of the Chief who is now regarded as the representative of the ancestral spirits. The Meship regard the Chief as the king, the commander and wielder of authority next to the supernatural object of worship. He is regarded with a level of respect approaching veneration. The installation of the Chief is immediately followed with merriment, which involves feasting, eating, drinking, drumming, singing and dancing preceding the installation. Such ceremonies are always accompanied with payment by the chief to the council of chiefs certain drinks. The ceremonies will involve the whole town and is for the enjoyment of the whole town. The purpose of the ceremony is to incorporate the king into the palace and also to introduce him to method of governance. The feasting of the people in town is a way to solicit their support towards effective administration of the town.