But who was “Mai Kilago”?

Jaafar Jaafar

By Jaafar Jaafar

My big brother, Dr Kabiru Sufi Sa’id yesterday made a terse post on Facebook, lamenting the loss of the picture of Mai Kilago. His post reminded me of a research I started casually (and ended casually) a few years ago on Mai Kilago.


Legend has it that Mai Kilago was a mythical creature in superhuman form that lived in water. Until the last few decades when population explosion led to filling up of many streams in Kano city, most cases of drowning were attributed to this being.

To our credulity, we all believed Nebuchadnezzar’s picture was Mai Kilago, just as we believed the narration of Yakin Tabuka and illustrations of Azabar Kabari played or displayed at market squares or city centres.

Like a Satyr in Greek Mythology or Draugr in Norse Mythology, another account said, Mai Kilago had horns, long nails and projected teeth. In his vampiric bloodlust, Mai Kilago sucked blood, gouged out eyes and other organs of a victim before allowing the body to float. Whenever there was a case of drowning in any steam notorious for Mai Kilago activities, only Sarkin Ruwa (a kind of lifesaver with magical power), from especially Wudil, could challenge Mai Kilago to let go of the body.

Mai kilago

But how did our generation get the word Mai Kilago? About three years ago, my curiosity led me to ask my teacher, Professor Abdalla Uba Adamu, whether there was correlation between Mai Kilago and a 1948 American thriller, “Key Largo”?

My question became a catalyst for hybridisation of ideas in his office at NOUN, with many strongly agreeing that it was likely the myth was created after that film.

My point here is that the film got its name from its location, which was a key — a small, low-lying island — named Key Largo in Florida. The possibility is that the word “Mai Kilago” was initially a reference to the Key Largo film gangster and central villain, Johnny Rocco (Edward G. Robinson), who shot Deputy Sheriff Sawyer and threw his body into water. From that time — and I guess with Rocco’s subsequent film outings through 50s, 60s and early 70s — the name was popularised.

But it is still possible we all got it wrong.

Picture 1: Nebuchadnezzar (Mai Kilago)
Picture 2: Johnny Rocco (Edward G. Robinson)
Picture 3: Key Largo
Jafar jafar is a publisher and editor in chief of Dailynigeria newspapers.


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