Ngas people are found mainly in the state of Plateau in central Nigeria. Over the years, many have migrated to other states where they have become indigenes. These states include Bauchi, Kaduna, Nassarawa and Taraba States.
|A man with Ngas tribal marks|
Beliefs based on legend suggest that the Ngas people migrated to Plateau State from the Northeastern part of Nigeria around Borno State and are actually relations of Kanuri people.
Basically, the culture of Ngas people is the same with those of most African tribes. In naming a new born for instance, consideration is given to the circumstance surrounding the birth of the child. Children are usually named by their own fathers or grandfathers. When permitted, a mother can also name her child.
Wong is an Ngas masquerade that comes out during festive occasions. A child born during such a festival is named Ngowong. The prefix “ngo” means “the one with” A male child born on a rainy day is named Ngofwan (the one with the rain) and Nafwan if the child is female. A name like Ngochuk (one with the knife) is usually given to a child that took an unusually longer period to urinate after he has been born. A knife becomes significant in the sense that if the situation persists, it will become necessary to use a knife to open up the urethra. Ngokwat (the hunter) is a name given to a boy that was born on the day of hunting or at a time when his father was always going to the bush to hunt.
Ngas people have a type of medicine known as mwolak. The mwolak of every family is unique and is meant to give protection to family members against evils. According to Ngas tradition, a man on a mission to fetch mwolak doesn’t talk to people he meets on his way. He gets to the bush, uproots the plant and comes back without saying a word to anyone. Before it is taken, mwolak is dissolved in a traditional brew in a fresh calabash that has not been touched by a woman. Members of a family take their turns to kneel down before the calabash with their hands held to the back while an elderly person dips a special straw into it and brushes it across the mouth. Later each family member again takes his turn to take a sip directly from the calabash. A child born at a time when this medicine is been administered is usually named Ngomwolak.
In Ngasland, parents usually contract marriage at a time when the kids are too young to understand what marriage means. The parents of a young child reserves a wife for their son from a family they hold in high esteem. The children are then informed when they are fully grown.
Paying for a wife involves farming for the eventual in-laws and lasts for as long the courtship lasts. There is also the offering of cakes of tobacco and salt for the father and mother of the girl respectively. In Ngasland, the parents of the girl don’t specify bride price. Traditionally, it is known that two goats are offered to the parents of the girl. One is for them and the second is to be taken to the maternal uncles of the girl. It is the formal way of informing them that their niece is getting married. When the use of money became relevant, it is offered in addition to the goats and is meant to assist the girl’s parents in the area of dowry. Again the amount of money offered is dependent on the financial strength of the boy’s parent.
In Ngasland it is customary for a mother to eavesdrop when her daughter attends to a visiting husband-to-be who usually stands and talks to the girl some meters away from her. The aim is to ensure that her daughter don’t get so close as to arouse temptation for the expression of sexual feelings. Where a girl makes the mistake of getting too close, the mother warns her against such carelessness after the boy must have gone.
Certain girls in Ngasland are usually set aside to be used for special rituals. It is a taboo and a grave offence for a man to even come in contact with such a girl as long as it is done with the intention of satisfying sexual covetousness. To save the man from tragic consequences, his family offers a goat and corn to be used in cleansing the girl. The goat is slaughtered and the corn is used in preparing a brew. These are offered to appease the gods in a shrine.
Another abhorrent thing in Ngasland is extra-marital conception. A girl that becomes a victim is not allowed to have her baby in the house to avoid defilement with the stain of her blood.
In the run up to a wedding, the eventual groom and bride join hands to build their own house. The boy with the help of his friends build the house and find the poles to be used in roofing while the girl with other women including her mother source for the grass to be used in roofing the house. The women also do the plastering of the house using mud derived by dissolving the anthills (luntezu) of tiny harmless termites (ntezu) in water.
When a bride (madzap) arrives her home, the first food prepared (ntanang) is special and is served to everybody in the house. The bride is nicknamed Ntanang as a result.
Situations do arise where a boy not engaged to a young woman by parents falls in love with her to a point that he wishes to have her as a wife. He then makes her his wife by compulsion. This is done with the help of his friends with whom he lays ambush on the girl on her way to the market or river. His parents immediately inform the girl’s parent that they shouldn’t worry about her whereabouts, indicating that she is in their custody. In some cases, the girl refuses and insists on marrying the man that has labored for her love. Where the girl wishes to remain, an arrangement is made for her sudden in-laws to pay the losing man by putting a commensurate amount of labor in their farm.
In the course of the year, Ngas people have two major festivals. There is the Moslum usually observed around March/April. During this festival, a local brew is prepared and is used in a ritual during which the people request the blessings of the gods for a good harvest. Moslum is celebrated in Lur which is a part of Kabwir district, Ampang, Munok, Mwel, Dungung, Kaler and surrounding neighbourhoods. Mustar, the second festival is performed around September to give thanks for a splendid farming season. It is celebrated in the villages of Dawaki, Gyangyan, Tablong, Seri, Shuwer, Gunji and environs. The people of Garam do have another festival that is peculiar to them.
Ngas people don’t practice inheritance as it is done in most African tribes. When a man dies, his land is not shared among his children. Whoever wishes to build a house, for instance, takes a portion of the land and builds his house on it. It is the same with regard to farming. Each son of a deceased man takes one of his father’s farms and uses it to grow his food. Since shifting cultivation is common in Ngas culture, he shifts to another piece of land when he so desires. Livestock belonging to a death man are also never shared but are taken and used to address the needs of any member of the family. This stands in contrast to the common practice of sharing them among his children as practiced in other cultures.
Offences are settled at the family level. Where this is not possible, it is taken to the palace of the king where the king passes his last judgment after hearing from the plaintiff, the defendant and their witnesses. Domestic animals are given as fines. Where the offence is involves murder, the offender is given away to the family of the deceased. He does all the work the deceased person would have done for his family and is thus compensation to that family for their lost one.
During their lifetimes, Ngas men often belong to different age groups. When a man dies, his spirit has to, in turn, be released by the different groups to which he belonged before his family can bury him. This ritual is a most as it is believed that anything contrary will set off series of heartbreaking events within his family. The dead in Ngasland are usually buried in vertical graves by placing them in sitting positions such that they rest their heads on their palms. A stone is placed on the entrance of the grave and covered with the excavated material. A small sign is placed on top, indicating that this is a grave. It is common for a relation to be buried in an old grave rather than have a fresh one dug. When one dies, the oldest grave is identified and the bones assembled and put aside to make way for the new corpse. There is however a single grave for kings within the same family in Ngasland. A king can be buried in a grave today and his successor buried in the same grave tomorrow if it becomes necessary.