Found in Rijau Local Government Area of Niger state which is geographically 275 kilometers South of Minna, Niger State capital are a cluster of reclusive tribe of Kambari which has shied away from virtually everything civilisation has to offer.
The communities making up the Kambari tribe, Birnin Amina and Acer are so interior that they can’t be located via Google maps. The tribe which is less than ten thousand still practice nudity which is essential to their culture. Yes, they still go about without properly covering themselves. They still go about naked.
The story about the Kambari is one of neglect and disdain, one of a forgotten tribe of people who lacks infrastructural and developmental support by the government. For decades, the Kambari have lived peacefully among themselves without any recognition and intervention by the Niger State government.
It’s not as if that the Kambari don’t know about other tribes surrounding them or about modern civilisation and its perks. They know but they are very protective of their cultural norms which they revere. They make sure nothing pollutes their highly esteemed cultural practice of nudity. They live peacefully in their communities and only interact with others when they go to the farm or market.
The Kambari people live in mud houses with dome straw roofings which generally provide unrivaled cool ambience unlike the predominant heat stress that is obtainable in the arid Northern region.
The Kambari were first discovered by itinerant Christian missionaries who had tried all the could to convert them. All of their efforts were futile as they hold tenaciously onto their beliefs.
They practice paganism of which worship to a god known as Migaro is venerated. They equally uphold the practice of witchcraft and magic.
When a Punch Correspondent, Mr Enyioha Opara visited the region sometimes in 2017, he felt awkward seeing women and young girls ambling about without covering themselves. He was further shocked to discover that what makes up the societal mores and norms of these people are entirely different from what is obtainable in others.
With the help of an interpreter, Mr Opara found out that it is very much acceptable for an elderly man of about 60 years to marry an eighteen-year-old young girl. The strangest is that cousins can marry themselves. They prohibit marital engagements with outsiders who don’t understand their culture.
Among the Kambari, rape is almost not existent as it is punishable by death. It is generally repulsive, forbidden and unforgivable. The men and women mix up freely among themselves because their nudity doesn’t engender any sexual feeling and emotion.
Speaking with the head of the tribe identified as Maiunguwa, he said:
‘Moving around naked or half-naked is our culture and we don’t care what people say about us. We are comfortable that way because we find it normal.’
‘What attracts men is not nudity. Our men are attracted by how women plait their hair, good manners and the tattoos the young ladies have.’
In Kambari land, marriage is contracted by cooking and eating of food. Goats and cows are slaughtered and sumptuous meals made by the bride’s parents. Once the food is eaten, marriage has taken place. Kambari men traditionally marry up to four wives and always ensure that their wives are well taken care of.
Majority of the Kambari are largely illiterates. They could barely read and write. They don’t speak English neither can they speak Hausa which is predominant in the Northern part of Nigeria.They are comfortable in their native Kambari language.
The residents also told Mr Opara that they had no need for education, primary health care, access to good roads and other social amenities. Education to them is useless because it’s a waste of farm time. They prefer to consult their traditional medicine doctors who use alternative therapy in treating their health issues. As said earlier, the only time they mix with outsiders was when they are in the market to sell their farm produce.
However, when they go to market, they cover their lower bodies with wrapper and go with their donkeys which serve as the only means of transportation in the region.
The Kambari are largely agrarian and economically independent. The most popular crops produced are corn, millet, peanuts, beans, and rice. Nearly all of the locals keep chickens and goats for meat while the richer ones have cattle.
On interrogation, a resident of Rijau council area, Sulaiman Mohammed Kadukku told Mr Opara that there was no evidence of government presence in Kambari land and the people are generally unperturbed about that.
According to him, since the inception of Niger State, the government had shown no interest in the communities. They had been treated like second class citizens of the state.
His words: “ The two communities of the Kambari tribe have lived here for over 50 years without knowing whether government exists or not and honestly, they are not perturbed because they have all it takes to care for themselves.
‘The government only remembers them during political campaigns to seek votes and once the election is over, they are abandoned until the next rounds of election.’
Kadukku also said that the Kambari people are the food basket of the local government and that without them, the people in the surrounding areas would die of starvation. He added the Kambari are content in the bush for the benefit of farming and maintenance of their cultural heritage as they got it from their forebears.
He further lamented over the futile efforts of some religious groups which had tried to convince the Kambari to change their life pattern.
‘They cannot read and write and are not ready to be modernised. They don’t care what government and other people will do for them. Their tradition to them is the best thing that has happened to them and they cannot avoid it, no matter what.’
When asked whether the Kambari are conscious of their nudity, he confirmed that it is part of their tradition. He said it was part of the things handed over to them by their antecedants which seemed likely not to change now or ever.
‘Missionaries and other organisations have been trying their best to reform them but could not succeed. They still stick to their belief.’
Although the Niger state government has failed in incorporating the people into the scheme of things, the people of Kambari and progressive and self-reliant. They sunk a borehole water in their village, operate their own rice mills and own mobiles phones. They are also rich in cattle and other domestic animals.
The Chairman, Rijua Local Government Area, Bello Bako admitted there was nothing any person could do to change the way of life of the Kambari people.
‘It is their way of life and they must be accommodated. So many missionaries have tried their best to convert them to embrace Christianity, but they refused to be converted. They are holding their customs and traditions firmly and are surviving with it.’
Asked whether he was aware that the people provided borehole water for themselves without government assistance, Bako said, ‘I am aware that they contributed money for the borehole water and that’s why I said they live in the world of their own helping each other.’