The Ham People of Southern Kaduna: the Enlightened Ones
The Ham ethnic group also referred to as Jaba is the inhabitants of the present day Jaba Local Government Area of Kaduna State in northern Nigeria and they speak the Hyam dialect. However, it is worth noting that the Ham people are not only confined to Jaba LGA, they are also found in large numbers in Kachia LGA and sparsely in Jema’a and Kagarko Local Government Areas which all shares boundaries with Jaba LGA. There are also Ham villages like Akaleku Sidi, Ayaragu, Masaka, Gitata and Panda with over fifty (50) years of settlement in present day Nasarawa state of Nigeria.
Historically, the Ham people are believed to have migrated from a village called Ham in Egypt thousands of years back. On arriving at Nok (their first settlement), according to folklore, they discovered that the land is bordered by impenetrable mountains and forests infested with deadly reptiles and loose sand dunes that would easily swallow the unwary and to keep invaders at bay. On finding this land, the people took shelter in the caves and the natural rock shelters abound in the new settlement. This provided them shelter from warring tribes around the area until the European adventure and subsequent pacification that followed their coming, which brought the period of inter-communal warfare to an end.
Though secluded from others by the mountains, the Nok people over time developed a system of administration that ensured the maintenance of law and order in their place of abode. They built what became known as the city of Nok at the foot of the hills.
Today, the traditional headquarters of the Ham ethnic group is situated at Har Kwain (Kwoi) which is home to the palace of their paramount chief, a title known as Kpop Ham. The word ‘Kwoi’ is said to be a corruption of the Hyam word ‘Kwain’ which is translated as ‘to scratch’. The Ham people occupy an area of huge historical relevance in the chronology of human cultural evolutionary trend in Africa as it is homeland to the universally acclaimed Nok terra cotta culture which is known to date to back to as far as 4,000 years ago. In fact, the town of Nok where the first Nok terra cotta figurines were first excavated in the 1940s by the archaeologist Bernard Fagg, is about 4 km away from Har Kwain (Kwoi).
By virtue of the remote age of these excavated terra cotta figurines, it can be suggested that the Ham ethnic group have a long standing human occupation in this area. The emergence of the use of the term ‘Jaba’ to refer to Ham ethnic group is suggested to be linked to their contact with the Hausa in the 19th century. According to oral account, the name ‘Jaba’ was first used on the Ham people by the Hausa around the mid 19th century, which was said to have been initially rejected by them. Even though the meaning of the word ‘Jaba‘ in reference to the Ham ethnic group is not clear, it is suggested by historical linguists to be a derogatory description coined by the Hausa that portrays the people of Ham descent as the shrew (a smelly, long mouthed, dangerous and venomous mammal that is almost the size of a mouse). However, the eventual acceptance and utilization of this seemingly derogatory term by the Ham people as their identity and their geographical location is still unclear.
In the modern day, the Ham land is highly civilized and over 80 percent of the Hyam speaking people are Christians while the remaining percentage is shared between Muslims and traditionalists. You cannot talk about the average Ham man without talking about their farming occupation which is aided by the Gurara River and several seasonal streams threading through the lands where they inhabit. The river supports their robust agricultural lifestyle. Ever since the British introduced ginger plants during colonial days, Hyam speakers have raised it as a cash crop and its farming has become their trademark over the years which have placed it in the world ginger production map. In addition, personal staples on their farms include rice, guinea corn, millet and cocoyam.
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