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Makafin Dala: Myths, realities of Kano’s ‘colony of the blind’

Makafin Dala has a reputation for being some kind of sanctuary for the blind. Located in Dala local government area of Kano city, the origin…

Makafin Dala has a reputation for being some kind of sanctuary for the blind. Located in Dala local government area of Kano city, the origin of the settlement has remained contentious. Some say the area emerged as result of a curse on some Maguzawa who refused to embrace Islam and had opposed the new religion by defiling mosques. They add that a spell was cast on them and they became blind. But another version as related by 75 year-old Malam Yahya Jibrin, says Makafin Dala quarters was founded by a certain warrior among the Maguzawa. According to Jibrin, the   warrior called Kassassawa became blind and was asked to migrate to the area.
“Makafin Dala was founded during the pre-Islamic period. He was a warrior who became blind and was therefore made to re-settle in the area. With his migration to the site, many blind people decided to follow him and when they became too many, he was made their chief,” said Jibrin. He added that since then the place has continued to accommodate blind people.They have their chief who apart from other activities settles cases and conflicts among his subjects. Unlike in the past when most residents in the colony were blind, people with sight now reside in the area, mostly descendants of the visually handicapped.
“Before if you count 20 houses,you would only get two or three not occupied by the blind, but now the reverse is the case because most of the houses are now being occupied by the children and grandchildren of these blind people who are not blind,” Jibrin said. “You can see us now, we are not blind, most of our children are educated and many are into different businesses.”
The area is now a colony of the blind only in name as the visually handicapped are few there. The only interesting and functional activity there is the chieftaincy. The palace of the Sarkin Makafi is situated in the heart of the ward and it consists of Galadima, Waziri and all the other titles found in a conventional Emir’s palace. What distinguishes the palace from other areas is that its council meetings are held in the night from 9pm to 3am.
Explaining the history of the chieftaincy and its function, the Sarkin Makafin Kano, Malam Ado Halilu Bichi, said Dala was the first person to become the Sarki as far back as the Maguzawa era and continued till the death of Sarkin Makafi Dauda Dantsamiya. Because of the failure to inform the then Emir of Kano about the death of Dantsamiya, the blind people were denied another Sarki for 42 years, he recalled, stressing that when their agitation for a new one, they were expelled from Kano.
“The genesis of the problem was that when Sarkin Makafi Daudu Dantsamiya died, instead of the blind men to report the death, they decided to bury him and for this offence, the Emir refused to turban another chief for them. So, for as long as that period, the blind folk went without a Sarki and we learnt that at a point the emir even asked them to leave his city. Even an admonition by an Islamic scholar from Madabo Quarters that by expelling them from the city something bad would occur did not make the Emir rescind his decision,” Bichi told Weekly Trust.
“When the blind people decided to leave the city, a black cloud engulfed the city and the fear of an imminent danger made the Emir to allow them to stay but still he refused to choose another Sarki for them,” the Sarkin Makafi added. He noted that the impasse did not end until the reign of Emir Muhammadu Sanusi.
“A certain blind man called Abdulkareem, who was versed in Islamic knowledge, was the one who persuaded the Emir on the issue and finally he was made the Sarkin Makafi by Sanusi,” he said.
Bichi, who has been on the throne for the past 18 years, is among the first batch of blind people sent by Emir Sanusi to Kaduna to acquire modern knowledge. Since he graduated, he was teaching till he was made the Sarkin Makafi. He revealed that the area has been serving as a buffer against calamities in Kano.
“It is in history that whatever calamity that will befall a person, if he runs to our area, he becoms safe. And in addition, both government and the emirate council engage the blind to pray for the protection of the city,” the Sarkin Makafi explained.
Bichi, who is the chairman for all other chiefs for people with special needs, stated that the number of blind people in Makafin Dala has significantly reduced because their children were born without disabilities.
“That is why we are having our children going to school and even myself two of my children have graduated from the university,” he added. When asked about begging, he said in the past, the blind would gather at his palace in the morning before dispersing to their begging points but with the ban on street begging, many have found something doing at the centres of the local government.
He, however, urged the government to increase their allowance to enable them discharge their duties as leaders of the Kano blind people. A blind member of the community, Comrade Rabiu Maiwada Yusuf, expressed fear that the title of the Sarkin Makafi might leave Makafin Dala to other areas where the blind are now living and with the politicisation of everything.
“We have blind people scattered in many wards of the city and many are becoming educated. My fear is that with time, the title might leave our area to other areas and this is more so now that we are living in political era,” Yusuf said.

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