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Column: A Passage to my Taraba the Beautiful


By Iliyasu Gadu





During the just gone yuletide season, I took the opportunity to pay a visit to Jalingo to savour the atmosphere of festivities in the city and also to link up with kindred resident there. I am really glad I did because there is nothing more rewarding than coming home and feeling the warmth of being in one's own state among folks that are part and parcel of one's life.

My journey to Jalingo started at the Karu park of Abuja and I made it a point to be there before the break of dawn because I was informed that there was likely to be a rush of passengers travelling to the various destinations in Taraba.

I had decided not to go by air because I wanted to see and savour the state in the mood of the yuletide season and going by air will not afford me the opportunity of seeing things for myself. And the ten hour journey from Abuja to Jalingo traversing through one end of the state to another will enable me to see the sights and hear the sounds of my beloved Taraba.

At the Karu park, I found out to my utter surprise that other passengers had been there before me. Indeed at that early time of 5.30am the first Sharon to Jalingo was already full and the second was half full. When I enquired from the officials at the park, their answer was that during these times there was always a rush of passengers. One of the officials told me that for the past couple of days, no less than eight vehicles leave on a daily basis to Taraba destinations like Jalingo, Wukari and Takum. The rush of passengers had led to an increase in the fares from the normal N6000 to N10,000 on a take-it-or-leave-it basis. And despite this astronomical rise, passengers were not deterred as the need to travel and spend Christmas and New Year holidays was compelling enough.

Sure enough at the park there was an unmistakeable Taraba atmosphere in the air you could almost think you were in Jalingo, Wukari or Takum. There was a lot of Fulfulde expressions like ''Jabbama'' ''Noyi Shomri'' ''Noyi Sungulla'' accompanied by the standard answer of ''Jam wala Kodume" etc all in greetings . And then of course among those going to Wukari, Ibbi, Donga and Takum you could see some wearing the blue wapan dress and for the Chambas the yellow and black Chamba apparel. I could not help but hear one Takum bound passenger excitedly dishing out instructions on the phone apparently to his younger siblings back in Takum town saying in the Takum Jukun dialect and accent '' Tama ni mka moto ra. Ma bi ki Yoka jinani. Ni mbiesaam tanaam. Ni ge gbaam kuna guda suan a ma ze ji Christmas ba New Year". Although I was not going to Takum, I could imagine with these elaborate arrangements, how this Takum guy planned to celebrate his yuletide. I really wished I was with him.

The journey to Jalingo took us through the Lafia-Shendam road. Ever since the internecine crises in Benue, this route had become the preferred route by most commercial and private commuters. This is to avoid untoward happenings.

The Lafia-Shendam route with a diversion at Kwande to the River Benue crossing at Ibbi in Taraba state runs through Nasarawa and Plateau states. It is an old produce road which was built to evacuate produce from this food producing area to Lafia where the railway is for onward Transportation to Port Harcourt and Lagos. And sure enough we passed through famous old agricultural towns like Assaikio, Sabon Gida, Namu etc where Rice, Yams, Cassava and all kinds produce can be seen. We saw truckloads of such products being loaded bound for the southern parts of the country.

After driving four and a half hours on atrocious roads and dangerous driving we finally crossed into Taraba state just after the town of Kuka in Plateau state. I say dangerous because on four occasions during the journey we nearly had a ghastly accident on account of the driver's reckless driving. He seemed to be in a race to out-pace the Takum bound driver and between them in their bid to compete for who can out do the other they could not care less about the safety of their passengers. At one particular dangerous turn they almost collided into one another as our driver raced to overtake the other guy. It was such a hair rising situation for us that I had to shout at the driver from my seat directly behind him to slow down.

My first sight of Taraba as we crossed into the state was that of the deposits of rich alluvial soils from Birnin Kudu. This was the veritable sign that we were approaching the river crossing at Ibbi and the soil was part of the deposits from the River Benue at Ibbi.

At the Ibbi crossing, the river had long receded from its full volume during the rainy season and what was left was just about one-quarter of it. The progress of work on the bridge across the river had gone on appreciably and if the pace of work continued the project will be completed by year's end.

After crossing the river on the make shift bamboo boats we made our way from Ibbi to Wukari. Arriving Wukari which is where I was born and where my umbilical cord is buried I was gripped with mixed feelings. Although my ancestral origins are from Donga, Wukari is not just the town of my birth but also where my mum who was a wapan came from.

But as we approached the Ibbi roundabout I refrained from looking to my right. This is hospital road and down the street about 300 metres is my family compound or the burnt out remains of it; destroyed and looted. Further down ahead was what remained of the once burstling Sabon Gari quarter which has been completely wiped out all in an orgy of mindless violence.

We came to a stop at the roadside on the Wukari-Jalingo road on the outskirts of town and the driver announced that we can stretch our legs and have something to eat. Right by the roadside was a local eatery and we settled down to feed the worms in our stomachs.

Wukari being a Yam zone I asked for pounded yam and to accompany it I chose two massive fish parts. At the end of the meal when I asked for my bill, and was told it was under a thousand naira I raised my eyebrows in surprise. In Lagos or Abuja the fish parts would cost more than a thousand naira and the entire bill up to two thousand or more depending on where you ate.

And I suddenly realised why in Taraba it is rare to come across a skinny person. Most Tarabans look well fed and powerfully built. Even the Fulanis of Taraba look more robust than their kindred from other states. A typical Fulani person looks lanky and angular in frame, but the Taraba specie allowing for cross breeding looks quite different even in build; tall, fair skinned well-built. 

Indeed from the Jenjo to Wurkum of Karim to the Jukuns, Chamba and Kuteb of southern Taraba, to the Mumuye and Kona of Northern Taraba to the peoples of Kurmi, Gashaka and Gembu, Taraba is gene pool of well chiselled species of peoples.

And the women of Taraba are the epitome of natural beauty; tall, voluptuous and graceful. They may be farmers and engaged in other forms of enervating pursuits but this hardly removes their pristine beauty. 

As we continued our journey to Jalingo which was another three hours away from Wukari, I could see why Taraba is called ''natures gift to the nation''. On both sides of the road the vast fertile land beyond stretched out beyond what the eye could see. And as it harvest time, one could see all kinds of produce lined up in farming communities waiting for the buyers that would come to load them up after the holidays. Same for livestock of different types too. And the landscape of different ecological types containing all kinds of plant species was evident. Between Wukari and Jalingo there are three rivers all with very appreciable fish catch, watering the land and providing rich alluvial soils suitable for cultivation of all types of food and cash crops.

And as we passed through the different towns on our route arriving finally at Jalingo I was left wondering how such a well-endowed state became a metaphor for underdevelopment; and how with such abundance it still lags behind other less endowed states in the country.

This is the poser that all Tarabans must reflect deeply on in the coming months as we approach the election season.                

    

 


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