Afraid that their culture, especially language might go extinct in a few years, Butura, a Central Nigerian minority tribe in Plateau State forcibly worked the impossible.
For centuries, they organized events – rituals and festivals to sustain their cultures, and instill discipline in their children, for the good of society. But the last six decades have been challenging. Westernization and political interferences slashed the tradition, with only the cultural festival surviving.
Other ceremonies like the launch or close of farming season, male child circumcision/initiation (a month’s physical and mental drilling for defense and unity), and inter-communal festivities among others, have been eroded.
The cultural festival itself is still threatened. The rise and fall of leaders has for years interrupted the event. The current community leader, Engr. (Dr.) John Makwal Mallo has since enthronement last five years ensured that the festival is sustained. However, last year, insecurity and Covid-19 forced a stop to it.
Undeterred, the community organized its first virtual edition of the festival this year. The festival held last Saturday on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and Zoom, with a live audience of less than 150 people in a 1,500 capacity hall in Bokkos, 45miles South of Jos, the capital of Plateau State.
The event borne out of necessity, turned out to be a huge business opportunity for the community. Thousands of people including its countrymen, tourists and researchers watched the event from different parts of the world.
The International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), Nigerian Tourism Development Commission (NTDC), Archeological Association of Nigeria and among others, Goge Africa, an award-winning pan-African tourism and cultural programme, founded in 1999 played active roles at the event.
NTDC for instance donated portable water and sanitation facilities to the community for public use. ICOMOS pledged partnership to develop the community’s heritage sites including a stone causeway thought to be over 200 years old.
A globally reputed Linguist and teacher, Mr. Uwe Seibert (PhD) gave a lecture from his German base, encouraging the preservation of Nigerian languages by families and communities.
The Chairman of the Nigerian Northern Governors Forum and Governor of Plateau State, Mr. Simon Lalong was impressed with the event and its outcome.
“This is the first time I am seeing a virtual cultural festival but it speaks of the opportunities that exist in the virtual space. Our communities should borrow from this and promote their cultural heritage regardless of challenges that life presents,” said the Governor, through his Commissioner of Budget and Planning, Mr. Sylvester Wallamko.
The festival locally tagged “Nahwai” (victory song in Ron language), holding online shows resilience and determination to sustain old legacies and explore avenues for development, said the Chairman, Bokkos Local Government.
This is just the start, said the Village Chief of Butura, John Makwal Mallo. “We are exploring greater opportunities not just for the development of our language but the entire culture. And in no distant time, this will be a reference point in the entire African continent,” added the Chief. He disclosed plans to build a “cultural village”, a major cultural tourism centre for use by researchers, tourists, filmmakers and the likes.
The Chiefs of Gindiri, Engr. Mato Dakat, a Nigerian National Petroleum Commission executive, Mr. Silas Zakka, the House of Reps member representing Mangu/Bokkos Federal Constituency, Solomon Maren and among others, the Commissioner of the Plateau State Ministry of Information, Dan Manjang, all lauded the progress by the Butura people in preserving their culture.
This might be the first virtual festival in Nigeria and maybe Africa, but it is one among the continent’s several attempts at preserving its heritage.
Westernization has dealt quite a thoughtless blow on the cultures and traditions of the African people. But with resilience and strong determination, there is hope for the people.