Here is an amazing story of how women have been ruling men for over 250 years in a town in Adamawa State,North-East,Nigeria.Women have consistently been the sole traditional rulers of the town, Arnado Debbo,near Ganye the administrative headquarters of Ganye chiefdom,in Adamawa state.No woman ruler there is also dethroned:
By Ibrahim Abdul’Aziz/Yola
The early harmattan haze had just given way for the late morning hours indicating that the journey to Arnado-Debbo could be tasking and demanding .It’s one of the spiritual centres in Ganye Local Government Area of Adamawa state. There is an untarred road that runs through the village, the way a river runs through the amazon jungle before plunging into a rapid in the distant horizon. Arnado Debbo is situated about seven kilometres away from Ganye on the Ganye-Sugu road.
Due to dilapidated road, one had to go in a roundabout manner travelling from Ganye ,going very close to Sugu before turning off as if we returning to Ganye before reaching Arnado Debbo-a journey that would have taken just a couple of minutes if the direct road from Ganye were motorable.
Although the village is nearer Ganye than Sugu, it falls in Sugu district and any dealing with the woman traditional ruler,Nya Gwangwu Astadikko Buba Dimgyeb, palace sources said must be with the express permission of the Chief of Sugu.
The journey from Ganye to the village took only about an hour. However on arrival it took us several minutes to see the woman ruler,because the guide had been subjected to all the precautionary questions from her councillors numbering about 17,including female to ascertain that none of us was ‘’ unclean.’’
The villagers are predominantly subsistent farmers and when this reporter and his guide arrived, last week, the village was in apparent sleep as most of the inhabitants had gone to farms or nearby markets, and the only notable activity was the sight of few children playing at the only primary school in the village.
The village is hemmed in by mountains and , according to sources, most of the inhabitants were said to be living on one of the mountains called Jangavan but the people had to move down to the plains about 80 years ago as a result of frequent floods.
Even though it is a Chamba-speaking community, like other communities in the area, the village has sets of values that distinguish it from even the nearest village.
The close-knit ancient town displays a typical communal co-existence common to a Muslim set-up. Arnado-Debbo strictly observes the tradition of young ones bowing to their elders in greeting as a show of respect.
But a very unique feature of the community is the fact that younger ones don’t play or crack expensive jokes with elders. Dogs are also not permitted to come into some houses.
Enquiries made showed that nobody in the community could trace the origin of the traditions. The people of the town said it was transferred from one generation to another and had become a source of pride to them.
When this reporter visited the town, Muslim devotees were also seen reciting the Glorious Quran at a mosque in the town.
This reporter observed that, apart from the only primary school, said to have been established in 1979, other feature present in the village is a dug-out well, and the inscription on it indicated that it was completed on March 17,1954.The well is situated at the centre of the village.
During an introductory chat , the paramount ruler of Ganye chiefdom His royal higness, Gwangwari Ganye, Alh.Umaru Adamu Sanda,a leader by all standards and the encyclopedia of Chamba traditions gave a detailed explanation of the rulership of the village by women.
Gwangwari revealed that the men actually used to rule in Arnado Debbo but that the men usually died within three months of ascending the throne.
He recalled that fifteen male rulers had died on the throne, all within three months before the ‘’Kamen’’ decided to try a woman.
‘’If men cannot hold on to the throne why can’t we try a woman?’’ he explained. And so when a woman,Gangnwum Subonin,was tried in 1762 she did not die within three months, but stayed on for nine years.And from then onwards till date,men chickened out and surrendered the stool to women permanently.
Gangwun Astadikko Buba Dimgyeb is the 17th woman ruler after Gangwun Subsanin blazed the trail 250 years ago. The list of women rulers of Arnado-Debbo as presented to this reporter by the Chief Information Officer of Ganye Chiefdom, Alh.Ishak Ahmad Babidi as agreed by the kingmakers shows that Gangwun Shengdo was the second ruler and ruled for 22 years, followed by Gangwun Jubkuna who was nick-named ‘’Basket of Juju and fetishes’’ and who ruled for 31 years,followed by Gangwun Shukji who ruled for 17 years and Gangwun Kuhube who had the shortest reign of eight years.
Babidi did a run down of the list to emphasize the point that from the first Gangwun (Woman ruler) Subanin in 1762 up to the 13th , no man had ever attempted to snatch the throne from women.
On the consequence of any attempt by even any man, the chief information officer maintained that they won’t even try it ,as according to him, “ our great grand fathers had decided it to be so, and that even if one tries and ascends the throne he won’t last three
months and the men do not want to die’’. He further said that no Gangwun is ever dethroned. ‘’They must be allowed to stay on until their death and that all the women must be appointed from the dynasty.’’
According to tradition, every Gangwun, after installation,must stay in the traditional compound ,a sort of palace,meant for Gangwuns. The present Gangwun was said to have been installed from Sugu and is now staying in the traditional palace.She told this reporter that she is 75 years old.
Gangwun is considered to be the traditional and spiritual head of the community. She presides over spiritual and traditional ceremonies and festivals including worships.
The institution of the Gangwun is pigeon-holed into numerous taboos by the culture and tradition of the people. Some of the taboos are so breath-taking that a first timer is left in utter awe.
The Gangwun must never set her eyes on a menstruating woman, as it is universally known in the community that a menstruating woman do not go near the Gangwun.The woman ruler, though does not have any way of knowing but a traditional nemesis immediately catches up with the wild offender: Sources said that a python appears from nowhere and coils
to the mouth of the offender. The snake stays there as long as the offender fails or refuses to
confess,but as soon as the confession is done, and subject to its being accepted by the Gangwun ,the snake disappears mysteriously as it came.
The Gangwun does not also see anyone,male or female who had sex but who had not taken his or her bathe to wash ‘’contamination’’ off. The punishment of the snake is also visited on the offender.
As times are changing and development penetrating the rural areas, the Arnado Debbo community is now asking for modern amenities and development.In a short interview with this reporter, Gangwun Astadikko pleaded with the relevant authorities to come to their aid as she asked for pipe-borne water, schools and roads.
And due to strictness and limited access, the reporter was not able to ask about her personal life, such as marriage, number of children; probably next meeting, if time permits.