Arts in Southern Kaduna
Art is defined as the use of imagination to express ideas or feelings, particularly in painting, drawing or sculpture. It is a skill of creating objects such as paintings and drawing and other crafts.
There is a great variety of traditional Southern Kaduna art, which includes objects made of wood, metal, clay, stone, and other materials. Many works of art are produced for particular uses, such as traditional ceremonies. The influence of traditional art may also be seen in the decoration of useful objects such as stools, head-rests, clothes, and doors.
Different ethnic nationalities in the area have some form of styles in their art works but on the whole, art was further put into a level of dynamism with the coming of Christianity in the area. Modern civilization came along with other arts works done in other places which influenced the artists in the area.
Out of Southern Kaduna’s past has come an amazing array and variety of art forms serving a multitude of function. Artistic impulses were manifested through a wide range of media including painting, sculpture, ceramic, weaving, son, music, and dance. In a reciprocal manner the arts drew inspiration from patterns of religion and philosophy and in return they reinforced and enriched those cherished beliefs. These arts provided an essential bridge to the vital forces and energy which powered all life. They pointed the way to individual and collective salvation. Through arts, the people found a vehicle for controlling and rationalizing human behavior. It is not surprising, then, that the arts were closely associated with ritual and ceremony.
Arts value for traditional Southern Kaduna lay not simply in its entertainment or aesthetic qualities. More important, the vast spectrum of artistic forms strengthened and made more logical or comprehensible the religious, social, political, and economic aspects of life. The arts bound those vital elements together into an interrelated yet coherent whole. Indeed, the dynamism of Southern Kaduna arts came from its multiplicity of values, all acting upon and reinforcing each other.
Above, all, art, like education, was for life sake. Without it, the existence of Southern Kaduna Communities would have been confused, meaningless, and without value. Thus, since antiquity, Southern Kaduna has used art as their major vehicle for expression. Wooden plates or eating utensils; spoons, plates were carved, baskets of different sizes and shapes were weaved for different purposes that cut across decorative and for domestic uses, mats were weaved for either ritual or relaxation purposes, while some were used as bed lays or bed spreads, local bamboo beds were made of different sizes for adults and children, chairs, benches, tables etc were made from bamboo trees, pottery made of different shapes, sizes, colours and purpose for either rituals and domestic purposes, terracotta figurines made which it dates back to as far back as 500BC (about two thousand years ago) in the Nok culture area within the Southern Kaduna sub-region.
The arts were an important educative and cultural tool for societies without a tradition of writing. Plastic, musical, and performing arts often illustrated didactic proverbs, fables, myths, and legends, which together gave society its necessary sense of identity and continuity. Ceremonial headdresses became symbolic representations of either hunters, women also with pots or with baskets or the carved wooden tray “Kongo” used to carry firewood, harvested guinea corn, millet, etc. men with bow and arrow, spears, and daggers, axes also reflects either warfare and hunting, paintings of men with calabash reflects the consumption of alcohol, etc.
These milieus explained and reinforced the myth surrounding different activities for the people’s survival in the area and of their tradition. Everybody movement expressed a regard for past traditions, a renewed of mythic visions, and a reverent respect for the brutal but benign harmony of human life struggling in a harsh habitat.
Visual and performing arts, not writing, most forcefully revealed the inner thoughts of individual artists and their communities. It is not enough to simply view art in a detached manner. Art possessed a certain utilitarian quality. It was a crucial tool used by individuals, communities, and secret societies in coming to terms with themselves and the outside world – living and dead.
Pre-colonial artists often lived outside the mainstream of community life, kept their secrets within the family guilds, and seldom married people of other castes. If demands for their craft warranted, artisans coalesced into villages and specialized in a particular branch of artistic endeavour.
Although artisans generally commanded little prestige, the services they performed were of high social, political, and spiritual importance. People who used their sculpture or were fascinated by their musical or dance performances viewed them with mixture of awe, respect, and fear. The mast or the masquerades are highly revered in the society. Everywhere in Southern Kaduna, artist assured the crushing responsibility for producing the very instruments considered essential for society’s existence. Yet they remained the almost unnoticed molders of the cultural mind.
A study of the arts is essential to a complete understanding of the Southern Kaduna culture. Yet rarely do we have written literatures of those dynamics. True, our knowledge of arts is in-depth; we own it, live and are expressing them in colourful festivals, traditional archives at homes by the artists themselves. But, sad enough, the area does not have a collation of these cultural dynamics on the whole to preserve for future generation to emulate. However, there is an overwhelming historical relationship in the artistic traditions between various cultures over time in the area.
Traditional objects made were from a variety of materials including stone, clay, mud, wood, raffia and bamboo etc. Wood and clay sculpture pervaded within our area which is predominantly a non-muslim savanna communities. These arts are said to have generally predominated in the settled stable agrarian communities in the Southern areas that had known relative freedom from invasion, war, and social dislocation. People protested by human or geographical defenses from destructive massive invasions (the hill-top settlements and forested areas) tended to produce more variegated art forms. However, on the whole, their artistic techniques reflected greater restraints and control than works of less politically coordinated communities in the area.
We must remember that cultural attainments cannot always be measured by the degree of political centralization or the territorial extent of a civilization. More important, the quality of the Southern Kaduna art often lies in the spiritual, philosophical, and social sophistication of its producers and consumers. Although, over time, especially during the raiding era and the Fulani Jihad of 1804-1810, this era completed the destruction of huge quantities of those great art works in the area, where the constant movement to the hill-top settlement compelled the people to abandon some giant figurines and other viable artifacts, which were subsequently destroyed or burnt down by the jihadist as vexation of not getting the people in the area.
Evidently, artistic drives had for centuries been channeled into poetry, music and song. Topical sons were sometimes composed to mark historic events of war, hunting, bravery of warriors, planting and harvest seasons.
Design patterns and dye colours varied with the preference of individual families, communities and cultures. These colours are blue, red,. Yellow, black and purple, etc. which are used to design the materials used in mat-making, while in pottery, some artistic pottery for interior decoration are also coloured to suit the pattern and styles of the designer. In weaving, the art was used as a vehicle of communication, a means of transmitting community values and vital historical knowledge to succeeding generations.
Valuable information in the form of proverbs also found visual conveyance through designs molded in relief on door frames and posts leading into important compounds or community posts. This ingenuous merging of art, literature, and architecture achieved its most brilliant expression among inhabitants of the Southern Kaduna.
In the scattered area, the arts became a useful element in maintaining authority and status. They lent strength and stability to governments and transmitted norms and values that ruling elites wished to inculcate in their subjects. Chiefs took pride in posing as patrons of the arts and treated some artistic techniques and styles as state secrets.
Masks, above all other art objects, stood out as the most common representation of power in Southern Kaduna. Masks commanded fear and respect because they embodied the spiritual forces believed to control and influence human behavior (“Dodon Kajinjiri”). The possessor of a mask could therefore exert sweeping authority. He might call for war or peace, or pass judgment on someone accused of an offence. Hence, they have represented authority ordained by God.
In turning to musical instruments, we discover that they too were agencies of social and political control. Their dynamic pulsation simulated the rhythmic patters of the life cycle of the people. This may explain why musicians placed more emphasis on rhythmic quality than on melody. Musical instruments were works of art, assuming a sculptural form yet serving a musico-political function. The music they emitted bridged the gap between politics and culture. Drums are a superb illustration. Sacred drums, an important possession of many politically centralized societies, symbolized rank and authority. On ceremonial occasions master drummers pounded out haunting rhythms of regal elegance.
Nearly everywhere in Southern Kaduna, drums sent out vibrations of authority and forces waves for tribal unity-used as to call in people to converge for communal briefings, farming or any other communal activities. Rhythmic beats thundered from a wide range of drums, carved from wood into shapes including cylinders, hourglasses, and mushrooms. Master drummers and their orchestras as custodians of ancestral voices, revealed and reinforced the dynamics and mystique of governance. No wonder their cherished occupation passed from father to son and remained locked within certain families or communities.
While the sculpture helped to shape the Southern Kaduna mind, the drummer set the tempo or pace of life. His drum beat out important proverbs and maxims. Drum tithes also disclosed a wealth of historical data. They told of heroic events and grave calamities. They subtly warned chiefs of impending disasters or criticized their behavior if it violated ancestral precedents.
Poetic songs, rich in historical data, provided an additional buttress for royal authority and rich cultural values of the people; griots, or professional singers, gave added legitimacy to dynasties through songs of praise for ruling families and their illustrious ancestors. Though song, the griots reinforced vital political norms and values. These mental archivists of traditional Southern Kaduna used song as an art, as an art, as an instrument of historical expression in pre-literate cultures.
Music, like art, served many purposes. It was employed to relay messages, signal armies, summon people, bolster authority patterns, and foster group or community solidarity. Musical instruments, together with accompanying songs and dances, reiterated legends and thus rekindled society’s self-perceptions. Musical instruments appeared in many sizes, shapes and situations. Drums, particularly, were almost universally used and were applied in nearly every aspect of life. Still, we cannot ignore the utilization of gongs, lyres, lutes, rattles, horns, trumpets, flutes, fiddles, zithers, xylophone, harps, and hand pianos. Indeed, Southern Kaduna was propelled by an interplay of musical sounds; music which eventually spilled over the sub-region’s borders and gave life to a new musical tradition in the area.
Southern Kaduna arts brought people together into a harmonious whole and gave deeper meaning to their lives. Communal rites and ceremonies were complemented by sculpture, music, and dance. In a similar process, beliefs and values were moulded, strengthened, and given vivid expression. Thus, a community’s survival rested on the arts. Though, interplay of art forms, evil was identified and benign forces were invoked to render life more abundant.
Art became a part of human development from the pre-natal stage onward. Artistic impulses were most fully expressed at milestones in a community’s development. They burst forth at times of birth, puberty, circumcision, marriage, planting, harvesting, war, and funeral. Yet the arts permeated nearly all forms of human endeavour. Every Southern Kaduna ethnic groups developed songs for work, labourer sang while clearing fields and bush paths, sowing, harvesting, or repairing compound walls, roofing and any communal work. Tunes were also sung to give men courage on the eve of a big game hunt or at the start of a wrestling match. Moreover, some songs spoke of the ecstasy of love on the threshold of one’s passage into manhood. There are songs for communal unity, communal expectation of victory in wars and death.
The great value of dance lay in its ability to fuse masks, music, and song into an artistic unity. Dance stood at the cross-roads of Southern Kaduna arts. The human body itself became an art form, giving physical expression to the other, more mechanical elements. Songs and dance, like other arts, were powerful instruments of social and political comment. Dance, like song, often signified expectation, hope, or gratitude. In some cultures, dance and song repertoires were open to everyone; in others, certain pieces were restricted to secret societies or families of professional artisans. In some communities, some crops like maize and yam etc are not harvested until a festival is carried out before such is done.
An astounding originality and diversity of forms and styles flowed through the Southern Kaduna arts. Yet interrelationship between the styles and techniques of different peoples existed over wide geographical areas. In the courses of nearly two thousand years, the ancient Nok (Southern Kaduna area) style of arts spread and influenced many vast Yoruba cultures in the forest societies and westward to the Fon of Dahomey (now Benin Republic).
Southern Kaduna cultural unity alerts to the dynamic interaction of peoples and their willingness to accept and assimilate foreign artistic innovations. Nevertheless, different societies excelled in different aspects of art.
The arts were the genes of Southern Kaduna culture. They carried creative traits to succeeding generations. Though like humans, continuous changes or mutations occurred. The harsh elements of Southern Kaduna’s environment, its intense humidity, baking dryness, and relentless termites, rapidly obliterate artistic creations and forced artisans to continually reproduce. Fortuitously, this constant reproduction prevented the Southern Kaduna arts from becoming static or outworn. It has, however, presented problems for modern historians.
The Southern Kaduna arts are ageless and their individual creators are unknown. It did not matter when an object was produced or who produces it. More important was the relevance of a particular artisan to a community’s beliefs. Thus, except for rock painting, stone sculpture, terracotta and other pre-colonial art has almost completely vanished.
Nevertheless, contemporary plastic and graphic art, the various dance, the wide range of music and musical instruments are all outgrowths of Southern Kaduna’s rich cultural heritage. These art forms act as voices from the past. They beautifully reflect ageless myths and legend and are powerful spiritual images. They are also symbolic of the power of ancestral heroes and the zest of Southern Kaduna culture in pre-colonial times. These arts can therefore held their own among, the great artistic tradition of other civilizations. Their forms are abstract and naturalistic, surrealistic and expressionistic. They embrace all the qualities of great art; the cylinder, sphere, and cone.
Conclusively, the cultural attainments of Southern Kaduna peoples must not be judge by extensiveness of their political system or the degree of power exercised by governing elite. Indeed, some of the best traditional art and music evolved from un-centralised polities which had never coalesced into kingdoms or empire. A more important determinant in cultural growth lies in the ethnic heterogeneity of a given society and the degree of willingness to combine its physical and mental energies for the benefit of all. Ethnic and cultural differences sometimes existed between artisans and the communities they served but invariably symbiotic relationships emerged. They had to in order for the arts to flourish, because such relationships released artisans from every chore and allowed them to practice and perfect their skills. We must remember that artisans contribute their artifacts to farmers who used them in ceremonies, festivals and their farming season that ensured the soil’s fertility and greater yield. In return, they received a share of the harvested crops. In this manner, these sustained interrelatedness within the community reinforced each other’s activities. And it was this form of cooperation, more than governmental or military centralization, that gave impetus to the arts, cooperation more than competition contributed the key to the greatness of Southern Kaduna arts.
Joshua Baba Madaki (JB)
13th Oct., 2011.