When my father was young, he lived at Gwazawa. He came back to Peni and entered golmo (age groups working for wives) with his age mates. After golmo he went to Yoko. He got married and was a great farmer. He had so much guinea corn at Yoko that when the new harvest came in and they had to empty the granaries, the goats were allowed to eat the old grain. People did not buy guinea corn in those days. He did not take the chief-of-the-farmers title, but he had a honey title. He put earthenware pots in trees and got the bees to nest in them. He had a lot of honey and gave some to the king and obtained a title for that. He was called the friend of the chief. He also had a title as a seer.
My father’s family were seers. The future was revealed to my father in his sleep. He advised the chief about impending disasters like smallpox. He prescribed some remedies to avert such happenings, including some sort of repentance whereby people spread sand on their heads and shoulders. If his warnings were not heeded, in less than a month, the disaster would strike.
When he lived a Yoko he had two children, Aso and Kwerna. After them he had five girls who all died. Then he dreamt that someone told him to come back to Kdigni (near Peni) and he would have children who would live. In obedience to this dream, he moved to Kdigni and after nine months his wife Obko had a baby girl, Dargi, and three boys after her. He was turbaned in Danbena. He was with the chief to decide and settle matters arising in the community. Aso had a title of Danbena too.
Mgila (the traditional religion) was very strong in those days. If you were caught in any fault against the cult, you could lose your life or be beaten with sticks so badly that you would not be able to stand up. For certain offences one could be fined up to five animals. My father was strong in this cult, but later he told his son Danmallam that the sin committed in Mgila was great.
My father Bata was not a Christian, but when I was about 12 years old, he told me what his father had told him: that people would come to us bringing books that would tell us how to fear God. I believed this was true and was watching for it to happen.
Paul Ummel was the first to bring the gospel to the Zuru area, in 1925. He lived in Zuru and went to preach as far away as Darangi, but the British colonialists would not allow him to preach in Rijau because it was said to be a Muslim town.
Paul Ummel did not start his work officially until he learned our language, C’lela. The Ummels knew the language very well, almost as well as the Lelna (Dakarkari) people. There were no converts who joined the missionaries to be Christians for about ten years. By then the Ummels spoke C’lela very well. In those days the women still wore leaves and the men wore leather girdles in all the Zuru-Rijau region. The people did not have real freedom. From the early part of the 20th century (1907) there was a lot of kidnapping. The Zuru people could not move around freely for trade and business. Slavery was outlawed, and large scale slave raids stopped, but if children went out alone they could be kidnapped. When people went to the market, they went with men armed with bows and arrows.
There were a lot of wild animals then. Paul Ummel hunted hyenas. There were also lions and leopards. They would hire Paul if a hyena was causing damage. He would go with a huge trap and make a small hut. He put a goat in the hut and if the hyena came to get it, he could catch the hyena and kill it. Today the hyenas are gone.
The early converts were Philip Gujiya, Shakada, Tom Sakaba and John Zomi from Rikoto. The last two were evangelists. They were in golmo but the others were younger, still children. (The mission superintendent at that time was Rev. Sherk. He was the second UMS superintendent in Nigeria. The first was A. W. Banfield.)
Kibo and Kara were among the first to repent and receive Jesus. When my father heard this, he called Kara who lived nearby, and asked him to tell the story of the new way. Then he said to Kara, “If you go to Zuru on Sunday, take my sons Danmallam and Sule with you to hear the preaching.” However, that Friday, some elders went to threaten Kara and warn him to forget about Christianity. Saturday Kara came to tell my father that he was going back to traditional religion because it was impossible for someone to be a Christian in Peni. When he heard this, my father sent for Kibo and advised him to keep a low profile for a while and not go openly to Zuru yet. He told Kibo to be patient, because in time, many would join him in the new faith.
From that time I became interested in Christianity, but I could see it was not safe to repent. Paul Ummel and others used to go to the market day at Maboro and preach, but not to Peni, so I didn’t hear clearly how to become a Christian.
The chief announced that no one should be friendly to Kibo. Everyone was free to beat him up wherever he was found. He resorted to walking through the bush like a wild animal, avoiding the paths in regular use. He was not allowed to get fire from any house, so to start a fire he had to walk to Zuru to get matches or start one himself by rubbing stones together. He could visit only his brother, his sister, and a friend called Bandi. However, my father was very friendly to Kibo. Kibo always stopped at our house on his way to see Paul Ummel. He was always fed and encouraged, and my father would say, “Kibo, don’t play with this way because it is a message from God. There is a lot of sin in this generation. If we don’t accept the message of this man who repairs lives (Mr. Ummel), many bad things may happen to us, like death. God sent this man, and you should not be discouraged. Many will join you in the future.”
Kibo spent many days at Zuru from time to time, being taught by Paul Ummel. One day the chief came to Ile (very near Peni) and lodged at Kibo’s brother’s house. When Kibo’s friend Bandi heard that, he came to the chief and said, “Why do you tell everyone to beat up Kibo?” He replied, “Because he will spoil our traditions and our ways.” Bandi said, “I don’t accept this. I will not beat Kibo, he is my friend and I am telling people not to beat him. He has told us to stop doing bad things, to stop stealing, going after other men’s wives. What is wrong with that?”
Besides earlier friends like Bandi and Bata, Kibo made friends this way:
After Kibo learned to read and write in Zuru with Paul Ummel, the chief of Mahuta heard of it and told the chief of Peni that the men of Peni didn’t have to come to Mahuta to pay their annual tax of sixpence. The receipt book should just be given to the one who could read (Kibo) who could hand them out to those who paid. That year, however, when the men came to Kibo, already happy that they didn’t have to travel from Peni to Mahuta, Kibo told every one of them that their tax had already been paid, and here was their receipt! Kibo paid for everyone, and it was the price of a goat in those days. After this, the men of Peni could not say much bad about Christians, and persecution ended.
Things are much different now than they were in my youth. In those days, missionaries walked everywhere but the British officials rode horses. If the horses couldn’t get to a place, carriers were hired to carry the white men. The British officials worked with the emirs and chiefs, but the missionaries did not. The officials collected mandatory gifts each year. At Sallah people had to go and greet the District Officer with chickens.
There was no maternity clinic though there was a dressing room at Zuru. If there was a difficult delivery, people went to Mrs. Phoebe Ummel and she really helped a lot of people. For example, a woman had two babies. One was fat and healthy. She was called Inna. The other was very small and people doubted that she would live. Her name was Aize, meaning “she may live if God says so.” Mrs. Ummel took the mother and cared for Aize. Now Aize is the fat one and Inna is thin.
There was a great famine from 1928 to 1936. Paul Ummel went to Bukyu and brought corn on his motorcycle. When the local guinea corn finished and his own was almost gone, he sold only to pregnant women and nursing mothers. Then he was called Gwana (a saviour). And people thought the missionaries were really helpful. People started paying attention to the gospel. After the first two years of famine, in 1930, the locusts came. Only two people had cassava, but the acha, guinea corn were also eaten up by the locusts.
Most people were not receptive to the gospel. Some listened because they were harassed by hyenas or they needed some measures of corn. Before 1943, only Zuru had a church. Then there were evangelists: Zomi and Sakaba (the Twins), Kibo Ubege and Daniel Senchi. The new churches started included Dabai, Bedi, Riba, Ubege, Bajida, Magoro, Tungan Beda, Sabon Gari Ushe and Senchi.
The Christians in the new churches were very faithful in tithing. The Christians paid for what missionaries spent in putting up the church buildings. Evangelist were paid five shillings a month. If the offering was ten shillings, five went to the pastor and the other five to repay the missionaries for the building. There were many Christians in these churches and they were strong. But there were no Christians in Rijau until 1948 when gospel work started there.
Rev. Sloat became the UMS superintendent in 1946. Mai Kyau Peni, a retired solder, came as pastor to plant the church in Tungan Magajiya (TM) in 1947. Mr. Hunsberger and Pastor Mai Kyau started building the hospital at TM that year. The market day in TM was Sunday so Pastor Mai Kyau often came to the market to preach. Aliyu Kirho was a drummer, and as soon as the girls dancing to his drums heard Mai Kyau calling them to come to Jesus, they left Aliyu to see the pictures. Aliyu was very angry every time it happened. But when the girls left him, he also walked towards Mai Kyau and heard what he said. He listened carefully and after harvest in 1949 he came to Mai Kyau with some yams and asked him to explain the message well. He became the first Dukawa convert. Aliyu was greatly persecuted and his family was bent on making him recant. No one had yet dispised the ways of their fathers. His uncles had decided that he should be severely dealt with for becoming a Christian.
A year later, his family’s guinea corn farm accidentally got burnt. In sympathy, the missionaries sent fifteen large guinea sheaves to them. Mai Kyau, Sama and Mai Nasara (Mr. Hunsberger) were the delegates. The gift was given to the senior uncle, who was also the leader in persecuting Aliyu. Ubandawaki Asakra was speechless, he did not know what to do. He killed a chicken for them and called the neighbors to see what was given. The same day the Christians brought the guinea corn was the very day set by the uncles to force Aliyu to recant or be killed. No one persecuted him after that day. He started work at the UMS Hospital in 1949. He was required to interpret to patients how to take their medicines. This fierce uncle became a Christian and told his sons to repent.
The hospital was something that made the church really grow. Every day before the hospital opened up they preached. They went to every ward and preached also to the people waiting. People from as far as Ibadan and Lagos came to TM.
An operation cost about one pound, later it was three. Rich people like Fulanis were charged six pounds. They had all kinds of medicine, but now that the government has taken over the hospital, it is different. Meanwhile, I had left home in 1940, and went to look for work at Minna. I worked first as a farm labourer, and later in the gold mine at Chanchaga. In a village near Minna, an Igbo man taught me to read with a copy of the Queen’s Primer book one. So I could already read English.
Paul Ummel did not preach to my father. They never met face to face. But Paul’s messages came to him. Kibo always came to tell him what Paul said. When my father was about to die, he told his people to take some food to Ile, where they buried people, for him. He said he did not want to be carried like an antelope on people’s heads after his death. He would rather walk there himself and wait for the day of his death. He said his time had come, but the day was not revealed to him. They accompanied him there with some food and he waited a few months, after which he died. Before he died, he told his family that the traditional religion was a waste of time and labour for nothing. The new way (Christianity) was the only true way to God. These words were what encouraged his son Danmallam to become a Christian later.
My father died in November 1944. I was about 23 years old then and I was so miserable after his death that I joined the army that year. I was recruited at Birnin Kebbi. I was in Zaria for one year, then Ibadan, Obalende, Lagos, and Oshodi. I could speak English so I was sent to Ghana for special training. I did not go to the war front because I was sent to Ghana, and then from one course to another, as there were not many who understood English. Later I went Enugu and my wife was brought to me there. I left the army in 1948. My wife didn’t want me to re-enlist.
I heard more about Christianity when I was in the army. The Reverend Fathers invited us to attend church services, and I went, but I didn’t understand much. There was a Brachama soldier with us who was a Christian, and though he encouraged me and explained some of the practices of Christians, he could not really tell me what to do to become one. I called myself a Christian when I was in Zaria and Enugu, but I did not truly repent until 1950. I just was reading the Bible sometimes and following my friends to church.
One Sunday in 1950 I was at Kibo’s place in Ubege and he showed me how to become a real Christian. That was when I really found Christ. That same day, I was asked to preach in the church. They liked it so much they said I should speak more Sundays. However, I really wanted to become a teacher. In 1951 I wanted to go to Bible School, but Paul Ummel hindered me. Paul had a fear of ex-soldiers who wanted to become leaders,- so many seemed to backslide easily. He told me to wait, that I was too new a believer. I waited for two years, then I went to Salka Bible School in January 1953. My second child was born that year. I was there for two years.
In my first year at Salka I asked Mrs. Phebe Ummel to help me fill an application to the SIM Teacher’s College at Kagoro (Kaduma State). Kagoro replied that they could take single people but not married people, because the government program for helping them had ended. However, God still gave me opportunities to teach later.
While I was a student at Salka, one night I had a dream. I dreamt that I was travelling about, and came upon a large village where all the people were suffering from smallpox. I tried to run away, but I was caught by a strong man who said, “You are the one to heal them all.” When I woke up, I thought about the dream and decided that smallpox represented sin and that this was God calling me to save people by preaching the gospel to them. This helped me a lot later on. I told the dream to Mrs. Brubacher, and she agreed that I was called to preach.
In 1955 I went to the advanced Bible School at TM and finished in 1956. The TM school was closed in 1956 because there was no one to teach. In 1957 I went to Salka as the first Nigerian pastor and to teach in the Bible School. Mr. Hallman was the Bible School principal and I was his assistant until 1959. This was the first place the Lord used me as a teacher.
From 1960 to 1962 I was at United Missionary Theological College Ilorin (UMTC) for the certificate course (called diploma in those days). When Pastor Dawa and I were on our vacations from UMTC in 1960 we spent a week for evangelism in Dukku and had two converts but they were not able to stand in the faith. Also while I was a student at Ilorin, we went for teaching practice in Igbeti, and I was recommended strongly to be a teacher. This was another confirmation of my teaching gift.
I still wanted to teach but the church was short of pastors, so I was sent to Tungan Magajiya as a pastor instead. Even in Tungan Magajiya, my teaching skill helped a lot. I taught a group of young men who were about 20 years old to get entrance into class four by tutoring them at night. Philemon Nasoma, Samuel Shambo, John Jirgi, and Abashiya were some of them.
In August 1964 there was a wedding in a nearby village and young boys and girsl were gathered at the bride’s house. There was thunder and lightning in the middle of the night and they all crowded into the bride’s decorated hut. Every time there was thunder or lightning they flashed torch lights and said “Allah kawo mutuwa! Mu ma ga namu.” (God bring death. See our own (i.e. their torchlights). Is that all you can do God? We too can make lightning. Kill us if you can.). Then lightning struck the house, - 12 were injured and 38 died. The bride and two younger sisters were among the dead. Most of those who survived became Christians and one boy who was in the literacy class I was teaching, whom I loved very much, died. His name was Songo. He lived where the secondary school is now. Everyone in the community was shocked by this disaster. Some people came to church as a result and became Christians. But others concluded that it was due to the use of modern utensils and ornaments, metal dishes, torchlights, doors.
It is common for the women to suffer the most when disasters like this strike the community. They are regarded as the worse offenders and the Magiro made a proclamation that women should get rid of these modern things in their houses, make sacrifices and bring firewood to Magiro’s house on the hill.
Two years later, Danbaba’s house was also struck by lightning. His parents and younger sister were at home, but he was not. He came home the next morning to find his home and family gone. Danbaba became very distraught. I carried him to my house and bathed him. Joshua helped him eat and relax. Everybody was afraid for me, that my house would be struck too without prayers to the guardians of the thunder cult because I was defying them by helping their intended victim. I had many children in my house so later I asked Musa Kwere if he would take him and he said, “I also want a reward,” and he took Danbaba into his home. Danbaba became a Christian.
Until 1960 no one was allowed to preach in Rijau. After independence (1960), you could preach everywhere. From 1963 to 1973 I was pastor at Tungan Magajiya. In 1966 we went for a rally in Rijau. I went to Sarki and he said to go ahead. People listened well but there were no converts. A church was built in Shenjir about that time. It was the third outstation set up by the Tungan Magajiya church. Bunu started as a small church made of mud and thatch but termites kept eating the roof. In 1960 we built a big church in Tungan Magajiya.
The women did a lot of gospel work around TM. Their leader, a woman named Noko, did a lot. She could wash a sick person’s soiled clothes. She distributed the women to villages and others stayed in the hospital to preach on Sundays. Women went to places about ten miles round about TM on foot, to Darangi, Kaso, Sabon Gari, etc. Later Titi Dikko was in charge, and there were vehicles. The women played a big role in expanding the TM church.
I was elected District Superintendent in 1974. Since the District Headquarters were in Zuru I moved there, where I still live. In those days, to visit the churches under my care, sometimes I rode my bicycle from Zuru to Salka for the Sunday service and back to Zuru the same day. I went to Agwara by bicycle too. In 1987 the “Hausa” district was divided into three, and I continued as CDS of Arewa until I retired in 1991.
In 1997, my son Samuel died. It was a big blow to everyone. But I refuse to be sad. The Bible is wonderful. The verse that means the most to me in this situation is in 2 Samuel where David’s son died. David said, “He will not return to me, but I will go to him.” I know that I will soon go to rejoin my son in heaven.
Sule Magaji and Galadima Danmallam
This story was told by Rev. Sule Magaji and his brother Galadima Danmallam to Rev. and Mrs. J. C. Fuller in 1996-99.
This article is reproduced, with permission, from Faith of Our Fathers: Life Stories of Some UMCA Elders, copyright © 1999, edited by Lois Fuller, Ilorin, Kwara State, Nigeria. All rights reserved.