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Yar’Jibia: Losing ground to new civilisations

Sunday Trust investigations revealed that doing Yar’Jibia is a difficult weaving activity that takes a weaver a week to produce one. But the finished product…

Sunday Trust investigations revealed that doing Yar’Jibia is a difficult weaving activity that takes a weaver a week to produce one. But the finished product is always worthy of the efforts. The mat is a must have for newly wedded northern brides. The use of it in the north is widespread. It is indeed a common feature in most homes around the North.

Although the conventional mat, the Tabarmar Kaba, has existed for decades, the combination and eventual manipulation of the colour embroidery known as Garura in Hausa communities has made both its process and outlook unique. It occasioned the attraction and subsequent rush by users from the sprawling Hausa communities across the North.

The mat is made from a palm family tree popularly known as Kaba. Kaba grows well in the tropics. The process of getting what you can call the raw material involves cutting the tree from the base, soaking it in water and drying it before splitting it into pieces to sew and produce a mat, usually over the period of about a week. The finishing is traditionally done by women who specialise in that aspect.

Sunday Trust gathered that, though the mat and its other hand-woven stuffs are not only produced in Jibia, it earned its name from the oldest border market in Jibia Local Government Area of Katsina State, which in those days, became the rallying point for all the mat producers to sell their finished products.

Many people from the neighbouring states as well as Niger and Chad Republic, used to troop into the market to buy the mat wholesale to sell to people in their respective towns and villages.

Other hand-woven crafts innovated by mat makers and patronised by the communities to improve economic activities and social interaction within them have among others included a head hat, Malfa, used, as the name implies, to cover the head. There is a sieve, Paipai, used to separate grains from chaffs. There is a container, Sanho, used in harvesting farm produce. Then, there are the praying mat, Wundi; a crown, Tarde, used in supporting water pots; and lots of similar hand-woven crafts used for different purposes.

Although some of these crafts are still in use in some places, findings by Sunday Trust revealed that most of them have been consumed by modernity through the influences of contemporary arts and design forms. The coming of innovations such as the rug, carpet and even the nylon mat, has done considerable damage to the popularity of the dear old traditionally hand-woven mat.  

Malam Sule Dari, a local trader who still deals in the aging mat said the advent of rubber mats and carpets has affected  their market and is threatening to send them completely out of job.

Sule who has been in the trade which he inherited from his parents dating back 50 years said but for the rural populace and a handful of a few places in the country that still patronise the locally-made mat and similar household crafts, all the weavers would have had no option but to drop weaving and move to another trades.

Speaking further, Sule recounted the booming days of the trade when they usually sent trailer loads to different parts of the country to sell. He said it was around the past 20 years that the trade began to diminish, when trade volumes decreased from loads of 100 to 50, and down to what he called today’s pathetic days of scarcely up to five or six pieces on market days.

Our correspondent who went round some markets observed that although some of the modern substitutes sell an average of seven to thirteen pieces per seller at the market, the same could not be said of Yar’Jibia.

Speaking to Sunday Trust, Hajiya Lami Magama recounted with nostalgia, the dearth of what she described as an age-long bride’s pride as it used to be the wish of every newly wedded bride and her spouse to own one. New couples regarded it as an instrument to impress friends and important visitors, she said.

She recalled how parents strove to stock the mat for their about-to-marry daughters, and how in less well-to-do houses, most brides saved money from their domestic ventures to get the mat ahead of their wedding. It was like a curse for any bride not to have one. It could make her a subject of ridicule in the community.

But in the words of Abdullahi Rabiu, another mat trader in Jibia market, the famous Yar’Jibia mat will never diminish in social value despite the advent of modernity.

“It’s still the most preferred and recognised item of its kind, particularly in the rural areas of most states in the north,” Rabiu said.

This, he said, is necessitated by its numerous advantages: being a most spacious mat that helps protect the body against back pains, as well as being the only mat that could withstand any weather; hot, mild, or cold.

“Even in urban areas, a lot of people rely on our locally made hand fan, Maheci, because most times, the electricity is either epileptic or not available at all. So they can’t help relying on it to get succour from the hot weather,” he pointed out.

His view was corroborated by Hamisu Mai Igiya Daddara who deals in other items such as local rope, Igiya, mats, and so on. He said despite growing preference for modern substitutes, he still sells his hand-woven crafts to especially neighbouring rural villages. He said the rural dwellers still rely on them because they are relatively poor and are unable to afford the more expensive modern materials.

“There’s no doubting the fact that modernity has its own negative effects on our trade to the point of threatening to annihilate most of it, but most people in the rural areas still use this rope (pointing at local one) to fetch water from their wells, to tie their farm produce, and even to fence their houses,” Hamisu said.

Checks conducted in the market by this reporter revealed that while anxiety is rising over the diminishing patronage of Yar’jibia mat and related hand-woven products, some traders still explore some markets among the Shuwa and Barebari tribes around Maiduguri and few other places in the north eastern part of the country where the business still flourishes and the mat regarded as an important symbol of culture and tradition.

Alhaji Aminu Abubakar named some villages of Shinkafi in Sokoto, Zangon Sabon Gari, Dabura, Madawa and Tasuni in Niger Republic where the mats still sell well.

He said most of the traders who could afford to load and take it to those places often make marginal profits of fifty to seventy naira per mat from the official price of N200 to N250 naira usually bought at N160 to N180 from the makers.

The traders in Jibia market who regretted the inability of successive governments to assist local weavers with soft loans, outlined the problems and challenges which they said needed urgent institutional push before they are sent out of their decades old businesses.

Alhaji Aminu Abubakar summarized the situation in these words: “Modernity has affected all aspects of human endeavour. A handful of us who foresee the challenges have since gone to learn other trades while those who decided to stick to old ways are  counting their loses because change, like modernity and time, are constant elements that we must learn to live with”.

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