By Chris Odey
The Nzem Berom cultural festival is an annual festival of the Berom speaking people living in the northern part of Plateau state. In this article, ACHOR ABIMAJE, writes on the significance of this impressive festival of the Berom people of Plateau state.
Plateau is a state that abounds with cultural festivals and traditions. One of these festivals is the Nzem Berom tagged the mother of all cultural fiestas. WThis august festival held annually, is recognised as a festival of the Berom people.
The Nzem Berom which is marked between the month of March and April, is celebrated to usher in the planting season. The cultural festival is so well regarded that it is known for its capacity to draw in thousands of tourists to Plateau state.
Known and celebrated as the home of peace and tourism, Plateau state roughly sits in the centre of the country. A state rich in history is the 12th largest in Nigeria and has domiciled within its environs over 54 tribes among which are the Berom.
The state is blessed with several tourist attractions such as the Riyom rock formations, Jos zoological garden, Jos Wildlife Park, Pandam game reserve and Kura falls among others.
The Nzem Berom Festival is said to be as old as the people and the culture of Berom and the Berom tribe constitutes one of the largest ethnic groups on the Plateau with ethnic spill into Taraba and Nasarawa States.
Nzem Berom brings together other sub cultural festivals in Berom land. This is in order to showcase their rich cultural endowment to the outside world.
The Berom tribe inhabits five local governments in the state which includes Jos North, Jos South, Riyom, Barkin Ladi and Jos North local government council of the state.
The Berom are neighbours, to the north with Anaguta and Anabuze (Buji), the Afizere to the north east, Bacce (Rukuba) and Irigwe (Miango) to the north west. And to the south west they share boundary with the Aten and Takad, to the south are the Ron and Kulere, while to the south east of the state, the Berom share boundary with Mwaghavul, all of which are in Plateau State.
The Berom people have what they call Berom Elders Council. The council is divided into two with some as members of the board of trustees. Others that come on board as members of the board of trustees serve for live until death or illness.
The council members have a tenure and are representative of all the districts that make up Berom land. The district heads and their hierarchy have a say and participate in electing who they want and placing them where they want them.
Oral history has it that the Berom people came from a certain place that is forested, thickly wooded and have connections with the Zulu and Bantu people, who came out of the forests in search of a place where they can carry out some farming.
They came from the Congo area and went down South Akwa Ibom, as they have similarity in terms of structures like building and so on. Eventually, they found themselves in the northern part of Plateau state.
It is learned that ‘Acha’ is the main stable food of the Berom people as well as Kwete or Tere. When they are harvesting Acha you can tell obviously where they come from because when they harvest Acha they normally put them in heaps turning them to the South and West depending on where they are.
It is also believed that they come from a place called ‘Shunoun Bangyiel,’ and ended up in the present Riyom local government council of Plateau state. While others dispersed from there to other areas.
Some of the Berom people are said to have come from somewhere in the west ending up in kabong. Some Berom natives believe they have come through Kabong and a majority say they came through Bangyiel, and somewhere in Bachit and Gashis area from Asop fall, Hauwan Kibo, ending up in Riyom local government council.
Every year the Berom people from the aforementioned council area of the state,conglomerate at the Rwam Pam township stadium as they troop out in masses in their cultural regalia, adding colour to the occasion to be a part of the epoch making event.
Every Nzem Berom festival in the state, features a march past performed by the 11 districts of Berom Land.
Also a part of the festival is what is called the Acha pounding competition, followed by the Berom traditional dance groups, exhibition of Berom traditional dishes and the famous Berom war lords dance with the display of their war artistry to the admiration of guests.
Nzem Berom has gone beyond a mere cultural celebration of the Berom people, as people from different parts of the country and the world are showing greater interests and appreciation of this cultural festival that brings together diverse cultural groups.
Nzem Berom festival to the Beroms as an ethnic group, is a preparation for the setting of the rains for the farming season as well as taking stock of activities in the preceding year and making amends where necessary for the progress of Berom land.
It is also a period of offering prayers for God’s protection and abundant food in the next harvest season.
Indeed Plateau state has different ethnic groups with different cultural backgrounds. These diverse ethnic groups in the state staged and celebrated their various cultural festivals around the month of April and it will be necessary if the state government and ministry of culture and tourism will exploit the best avenue of harmonising all these festivals into a cultural calendar to encourage participation as well as tourist attraction.
Similarly people are encouraged to as a matter of fact, preserve their culture from invasion of cultural imperialisms which is being accelerated by globalisation and information technology drive. This is in order to preserve our culture identity.
We must observe with critical sentiment, the current fusion of values which are not compatible with the norms of our local extractions, with the view to wadding off negative influence on the youths.
Nzem Berom cultural festival has gone beyond the promotion of cherished values to that of showcasing a tourism arcade with distinctive cultural milieu. The Nzem Berom festival also features Berom women’s day where Berom foods will be exhibited. And also a drama of the Berom traditional wedding will be staged where the best dressed Berom couples cart home prizes.
It also brings together all sons and daughters of Berom land and other sub festivals of Berom to be part of this epoch event in the state.
The world is becoming a theatre of cross- cultural activities and the consequences of these global Phenomena can result to the adulteration of values and loss of originality in their purpose and content.
The festival also serve as an avenue for Berom sons and daughters to choose wives or husbands, as it presents an array of Berom beautiful women and handsome men, who easily discover themselves at the festival.
Speaking on the significance of the Nzem Berom, Da Chuwang Dungs one of the Berom elders told our correspondent that the yearly festival is the celebration of Berom custom and tradition of the people at their hierarchical level of settlement.
According to him, the entire Berom land is under the sovereignty of the paramount ruler, the Gbong Gwom, Jos, noting that all the districts, villages, clans hamlets, and all the seven levels are under him.
He said the stool of Gbong Gwom Jos started in 30s, when the colonial masters came in and deemed it right to have some communication and understanding with the people, adding that the second Gbong Gwom Jos which is Rwang Pam is a primary school head master.
According to him, the selection of Gbong Gwom Jos is done by kingmakers from the eleven districts from Berom land and any eligible son from Berom can vie for the position of Gbong Gwom Jos when the need arises, saying the district heads are the kingmakers.
He noted that during the celebration of the Nzem Berom, important decisions that affect Berom land are taken such as marriages, farmlands. It is also stressed that there are three basic components of the celebration of such is the Manjang which means to usher rains, while Badu is after harvest.
Our correspondent recalled that this unique cultural fiesta which show case Berom as a people to the outside world, has not been held for quite some time as a result of incessant attacks on Plateau North Senatorial District, area which the Berom as a tribe inhabited.
A cross section of stakeholders in Berom land appealed to the paramount ruler and the Gbong Gwom Jos, Da Jecob Gyang Buba and the Plateau State government to revive the celebration of Nzem Berom in the state with the view to promote the culture of the people and a meeting point for cross cultural fertilisation.
Indeed, peace has relatively returned to the state, hence the celebration of the 2018 Nzem Berom cultural festival. Recently the Berom celebrated their annual cultural festival which was held at the Rwang Pam Township Stadium, Jos.
In his address to the gathering, the Gbong Gwom Jos, His Royal Majesty, Da Jacob Gyang Buba appealed to the Plateau State Government to ensure that the people that were displaced by many years of crisis experienced in the state, to return to their ancestral homes.
Buba said there were several Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) that were yet to return to their homes.
“Nzem Berom festival is meant to pray to God so that we will have a bumper harvest and the rain we experience today will truly shower blessings.
“We have encouraged our people to go back to the farm to enable us grow food for our teeming population, but there are some of our people who are still IDPs and they are not in a position to farm,” he decried.
The Monarch appreciated Lalong for showing interest in Nzem Berom and all cultural festivals in the State.
Also in his remarks, President, Berom Educational, Cultural Organisation (BECO) Mr. Ericson Fom, urged Lalong to sustain the existing peace in the State.
Fom lauded the steps taken by the Governor in restoring peace, particularly the composition of a committee comprising Beroms and Fulanis to look into the Berom and Fulani concerns.
The BECO President however said that they were anxiously waiting to hear from government almost one year after the committee completed its assignment.
He said that some of their people who were displaced during the crises had not returned to their ancestral home and the bandits are occupying their farms and driving them away from re-building their homes.
“We are appealing to the Governor, people of goodwill and all concerned to make it possible for our people to go back to their homes and their farmlands,” he appealed.
He appreciated the present administration for building on the peace started by the last administration.
Similarly Governor Lalong said that the government was aware that there were displaced villagers stretching from Riyom to Barkin Ladi amongst which are Jol, Kwi, Rim, Bachit and Gashish.
He further explained that government was also aware that the inhabitants of those areas were experiencing threats and the trauma of resettlement and reintegration.
The Governor assured that the Peace Building Agency his administration has established would accelerate the post-conflict transformation and land reintegration of the people.
Lalong described the Berom race as privileged people blessed with natural resources of land, weather and geography.
“The crisis of the last decade notwithstanding, the renewed spirit of forgiveness, peace and accommodation that has been nurtured by the Berom race must not be allowed to be spirited away by any form of provocation.
“While the price of peace remains eternal vigilance, our vigilance will be lived through the virtues that have defined our people,” he advised.
Also in his goodwill message, Governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo State, commended the organisers of the event, saying that it was still preserving the culture that he was used to.
Okorocha said that he considers himself as a Plateau indigene, as he was born in Barkin Ladi Local Government area of the State.
He commended Governor Lalong for the peace currently being enjoyed in the State.
In the same vein, the immediate past Governor of the State and Senator representing Plateau Northern Senatorial District, Jonah Jang, commended the organisers of the event and Governor Lalong for personally attending the event.
The event featured cultural parade by Berom and other tribes in solidarity; many dignitaries ranging from politicians, captains of industries, traditional rulers, illustrious sons and daughters of Berom land, including those in Diaspora attended the event.