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.

Daily Trust - - STAR FEATURE - By Tadaferua Ujorha who was in Onueke The mar­ket is a ma­jor hub for horse deal­ers in the state and be­yond.

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.’

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