The horses of Ebonyi (I)
All of a sudden the horse has now become a part of Igbo life, and young boys at animal markets in the South -East have not only learnt how to ride, feed and look after the animal, they can now speak Hausa as well.
Friday Nwite, 19, wakes up early each morning to feed the horses at the animal market located in Onueke, Ezza South local government area of Ebonyi state. He also carries out this ritual every evening, and over time a sort of bond has developed between him and the horses he looks after. A special bond has also developed between Friday and the Hausa traders who flourish in the neighbourhood. They love the Igbos who have come to share their passion for horses, while the Igbos look up to them for the rare tutelage on the horse they have come to enjoy at the animal market. He implies this as he speaks, stepping forward to collect some bits of grass, already gathered at one spot, and puts these between the horses, majority of which have been attached to strong sticks in the ground by means of ropes.
The horses bend and began to chew. Then some of them suddenly start to neigh. The air is now heavy with the smell of horses as well as the smell of dry grass.
IMalam Danlami, my master taught me how to feed the horses, and I learnt how to do it in one day.”
t is an old, very deep smell which is hard to describe. Several other boys emerge and begin to join him in this activity. They are bilingual, and speak both Hausa and Igbo with ease. There is a mosque nearby, and outside it are a number of kettles. Later two young girls in Hijabs come along to serve breakfast. Friday says that Malam Danlami, who has had a long presence in the community going back many years, taught him how to feed the horses. His words “Malam Danlami, my master, taught me how to feed the horses, and I learnt how to do it in one day.”
He adds that the meals for the horse is made up of grass, water and chaff. He tells Daily Trust that every Saturday one trailer bearing 48 horses arrives Onueke. But in the month of December, which is one of the high points in terms of the sale of horses in the area, 3 trailer loads of horses arrive every Saturday, which means that 144 horses arrive there each Saturday in December. It is mentioned that outside December, it may take up to a week before the entire 48 horses are sold.
Horses are transported from Maigatari in Jigawa State, as well as Cameroon down to Onueke, and most of the horses brought are weak polo horses from the north. Their feet are lame,and the horses are no longer useful for the game of polo. On a related point, Friday says “Some people leave here for Cameroon. They spend some months there, and then they return here after a while with many horses.”
He adds that horses are given as gifts by the wealthy sections of Igbo society. His words “A big man can buy a horse and give another member of his class. The horse is also bought and used at funerals in Igbo society. During the burial a sort of performance is staged using horses. The horse races along at a steady pace, then it is made to stop all of a sudden, and then it raises its fore legs which is really a very impressive sight.” After the performance, it is killed, cooked and eaten. Friday mentions that there is currently no work in his village within the state ,and adds that he had no option but to migrate to Onueke, where under knowledgeable Hausa traders he has enjoyed learning how to look after horses, and to master many other aspects of the behaviour and make up of horses.
Friday is not the only young man present who has something positive to say about the animal market, and how it has turned around life in the area. Uhuo Chigozie is the Chairman, Onueke Horse Dealers Union.
According to him, horse meat is a special meal in Igboland “It is eaten as a delicacy like pepper soup.” They are ridden at burial ceremonies, and are made to do a little performance, he says, agreeing with the earlier respondent. His words “It costs 5,000 Naira to hire a horse to be ridden at an event, which is usually a burial. Sometimes, individuals who are into films come here and hire a horse at
10,000 Naira. When a horse has been hired, the Igbo boys will now ride the horses to the respective communities, and also do the burial performance for them. This always impresses our Hausa friends.”
Contradicting Friday above, he says that when a trailer arrives with 48 horses,it will take the traders 3 weeks to sell them off. Friday mentions it will take a week to dispose of the horses. He agrees that December is the month when the market realises its greatest sales each year.
Uhuo Chigozie says that he was born and bred in Amuzu community, which is a part of Onueke. His words “I have been seeing horses since I was a child. Then I used to follow the Hausa traders and watched them as they were feeding the horses and looking after them. I therefore became interested in the business, and I have been in the trade since 1999.”
He says his involvement in the horse trade has been of tremendous help to him and his family. His words “I have earned enough money to feed myself and family from this trade. It has been a wonderful experience.”
He adds that women are involved in the trade too. They
Horses are transported from Maigatari in Jigawa State, as well as Cameroon down to Onueke.
come to the market and buy horses, which they slaughter and later they sell the meat. He explains “They do this because of the lack of jobs. So, instead of them to stay idle, they come and buy horses and slaughter them on market days.”
He salutes the good relationship which they enjoy with the Hausa traders who live among them. According to him “We take ourselves as one ,and we are brothers and sisters. In our union here,they are the executives, and Mallam Danlami is the number one patron here.”
The insurgency in the Northpril East has had a negative effect on the horse trade to the South-East, he now says.
He explains “We now pay 3,000 Naira at each police checkpoint along the route to the east. But before
They are ridden at burial ceremonies, and are made to do a little performance
the Boko Haram crisis we were only paying 200 Naira at each checkpoint. Thus, by the time we get to the east, we would have spent 120,000 Naira as total payment made during the journey. This is a terrible over head.” He says that one sign of the deep influence the Hausas have had on their Igbo hosts, is the fact that whenever horses are bought, the young Igbo boys will now ride the horses to the new owners either at Ikwo or Afikpo.
A lorry suddenly arrives loaded with horses.
Riding the horse now comes easily to many of the young Igbo boys at Onueke, such as the one in this picture.
‘I have been involved in the horse trade since 1999.’