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Kano Now Troubled by Its Many Ponds

In ancient times when wars and raids were commonplace, Kano people built walls and dug ditches around them to make the city, or Birni, impenetrable…

In ancient times when wars and raids were commonplace, Kano people built walls and dug ditches around them to make the city, or Birni, impenetrable to enemies and other intruders.  “The importance of the ponds to the ancient Kano city, is like the importance of walls to the city. The ponds were dug around the walls from outside and inside, to prevent enemies from attacking the city,” Director, Research and Documentation, History and Culture Bureau, Hajiya Aisha Shehu, said.

Similarly, a 70-year-old resident of Gwale Hauren Wanki, an area neighbouring an array of ponds, said the defensive mechanism had served Kano well. “They prevented raiders and attackers from making slaves and victims of the people. They could not scale the fence, nor could they come through the gate, because they used to be locked. That provided some relief and protection to the people in those days,” Malam Yakubu Inuwa averred.  

Straddling either side of the walls, the ditches were meant to trap enemy forces that would come on a raiding mission, particularly when they might have scaled the wall. Although the fortress is a product of 13th century military technology, parts of its 22-km long walls are preserved to this day.

But the present size and depth of the ponds was due to a different factor – shelter. As the population of the city dwellers increased over the years, the need for more houses also rose, causing people therefore to excavate the ditches for mud bricks. With this, the waters acquired more grounds, and accommodated more water, far beyond their designed capacity.     

Now it is said, nearly all the gates on the wall have their own ponds. Thus, when driving along Bayero University road, for instance, some of the water bodies could be seen lining up by the side of the road, and nearly all of them are named. Names like Kukkuba, Kwarin Burji, Rafin Mai-Allo, Ruwan Kada, Farfaji, Yan Biyu and others. Most of the waters derive their names from the activities they support, while a pond believed to be crocodile-infested was named Ruwan Kada (Crocodile Pond). Residents have reported sighting the reptile, just as they are to narrate the story of a crocodile that appeared in shallow water two years ago. He was, they said, hunted down into a well, captured and eaten. But there was however, no record of attack.

Crocodiles, according to residents of the area, live in the marsh bush-covered pond, and are spotted at night on transit to other nearby pools,  or during hunting.

Yet gleefully, the adults in the city recount their past swimming days. “I remember how I would climb the wall on my bike. It was very high then. And once I was at the peak, I would have my friends push me down the slope, and I would plunge into the pond riding the bicycle. I would do it over and over again. It was sweet,” 36-year-old Auwal Lawan, popularly known around Hauren Wanki as Fashion, narrated.

As heat from the afternoon sun intensified, children were seen diving into one of the ponds in excitement, reminiscing the days of the now older Lawan, to cool off.

Lawan said the ponds are also good fishing spots, where children and, seldom, elderly fishermen, make bountiful catches from diverse schools of fishes that linger therein. However, he pointed out that residents of the area are conversant with the waters only during rainy season catch, “because the level of contamination is more pronounced in the dry season, saying the “germs” content in the water is highly reduced in the rainy season.

People’s distrust of the ponds’ riches could not be unconnected with the immense filth in them. “You see, all the wastes from the houses around here, are dumped into the pond. I mean the sewage, drainages and dustbins are all emptied into the pond,” Lawan explained.

Lawan too is not unaware of the great defensive devices that the waters had provided his great parents. “My grandfather used to tell me how they protected his forefathers from going into slavery,” he related.

Centuries have passed and the ponds are now giant monsters which people say can be done away with. Thirty-five-year-old Sanusi Sidi, aka Nusi, had also made uncountable dives into the Kukkuba pool years back. Now he does not relish such adventure for the younger ones, because it “has been killing people.”

“I think it was four days ago that the body of a young boy was extricated from the water. It has since turned to something else, and no year passes without a record of four to five deaths in the water,” Sidi said candidly. He was supported by Malam Inuwa, who also revealed that lives were lost on a regular basis in the ponds, and said the deaths could not be as a result of water spirits there. But according to him, they could be due to the depth of some of the pools. He thus stated that the protective shield has outlived its usefulness. “We are now in peace: no wars, no raids, therefore all the ponds around the wall are of no use. No one, no matter how strong, is coming to rob anybody of his wealth or liberty any longer. In my own opinion, they should be filled up,” he argued lengthily.

Of all these, Lawan’s fear was more defining and more telling. Two of his siblings went to swim in a nearby pool a few years back, and got drowned in the process. That striking incidence drew a line between him and the ponds, such that he boycotts the road that used to be Bola Pond where the children died, even though it was filled up five years ago. “I don’t like the ponds any more. And I think it is so with everybody,” he remarked.

“If the ponds were not there, these places would have been full of structures,” another resident argued.

But Hajiya Aisha argues differently, saying the ponds are still useful as they provide water for modern day services to thrive, in addition to fishing and leisure activity. The director said, “the ponds are still useful because people go there to fish, while bricklayers use the water for their construction works. Where the water is clean enough, children go there to bath.”

She however agrees that on some occasions, the existence of the ponds serve negative purposes for the society, where she explains that thugs often use them as escape routes to evade arrest.

 But far away from the city centre, in the periphery communities and far-flung villages, ponds which solely owe their existence to people’s quest for shelter, are everywhere. Like wells and economic trees, water collected in giant dugouts, give sign of human presence. With varying ages and different depths, some of the ponds can retain sufficient water year-in-year-out, whereas, others go totally dry after the rainy season.  Ponds are a landmark that can be found in every individual community in Kano. While some of these features pose threats to neighbouring houses, others have been quite benign to the communities. A certain pond located in Badawa (called Gwadogwado), for instance, had started expanding its banks, swallowing adjoining fences and threatening homes, before a reclamation process was started. Now, the water is almost drained away, while sand filling is taking care of the massive gaping hole.

In Tarauni area too, another pond is presently being filled to forestall destruction of lives and property, like the filling station and the road bordering it, as well as to provide space for the erection of structures.     

Ramin Gemu is one of the many ponds found in typical wards and settlements within Kano city. The pond is located at Tudun Murtala, in the metropolitan local government area of Nassarawa. This pond seems to be miraculous, as it has been stagnant, or rather never increased in size, since the time of the early settlers of the area.

 It was named after a man who lived near the pond many years ago. One of the early settlers, Hajiya Hauwa Usman Danmanjo, said the pond has maintained its present size, since she and her family migrated to the area about forty years ago.

According to her, “Ramin Gemu has been in existence for over forty years now. I can still remember that when we came to settle in this area when it was a very new settlement, there were just about three houses which were situated far apart from each other, with the pond at the middle. It has since then been of the same size as it is now, and that is why we call it a miraculous pond. The evidence of it being the same size is the walls of our house, which was constructed when we relocated here. It gets filled with water during the rains, and dries up during the dry season like now.”

The 63 year old woman further said that apart from its peculiarity of maintaining the same size over the years, the pond has some characteristics similar to other ponds. She said just like any other pond, people, especially children living in the area often use it as a recreation center, where they go to swim, though she said it has been quite dangerous  as a number of lives have been lost to the pond.

“You know, it is peculiar with ponds that some hidden creatures  that live in places like the ponds and in caves, and often, they are threats to people’s lives and this, we believe was the cause of the number of deaths recorded, as a result of swimming in the pond. I can remember the last two incidences about four years back, when a teenager and a baby died in the pond,” she said.

Narrating how it all happened, she said the teenager, called Usman, went to swim on a fateful evening, not knowing he was going to part with the world. She said his remains were recovered after several days. “Usman drowned in the pond when one evening he went to have a bath, and as God would have it, no one knew he had drowned until very late when his clothes were found by the side of the pond, which made all the swimmers to dive into the water in search of him. After a day without his body being found, the Sarkin Ruwa (the custodian of the pond) was invited from Wudil, in order to apply some special technique to see if the body could be found, and it was found,” said Hajiya Hauwa. Without need for ramparts to protect the people from raids and attacks, and with less need for clay houses, the many ponds of Kano still dot the commercial city’s landscape.

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