By Furera Bagel, Ph.D
During the holidays, my family and I decided to take a vacation at Yankari national park. Although I have been visiting the park since I was a toddler, this trip proved to be very different in the sense that I have made discoveries which brought me to realisation that Yankari is much more than beautiful chalets, swimming at Wikki warm spring, game viewing and having encounters with local bullies popularly known as area boys.
These primates are so popular with visitors that they may soon replace the antelope as the symbol of the park. One can hardly find any visitor to the park without a funny tale to share about the Yankari baboons, and I am not an exception. My favourite encounter with them was about 10 years ago when my siblings and I took a trip just to swim at the park. Because it was a day’s trip we didn’t get any room so we decided to take our lunch, which happened to be roasted chicken down to the swimming area. Even though we made sure we hid the chicken under our pile of bags, it turned out be a futile attempt. The mischievous lot, led by their sense of smell, patiently waited until we were engrossed with our swimming when they went straight to our bags and lifted up everything till they got to the prize. Before we could get out of the water they had already taken the chicken, juice and everything with them up to the trees. Imagine all of us jumping and screaming under trees while they screech back mockingly. Well, we went back to our swimming and that was how we spent that day on empty stomachs.
Another instance was many years ago when I took a trip with my late husband. He had a Polaroid camera and was busy taking pictures of a little monkey when all of a sudden the little rogue swooped down and snatched the camera from his hands then jumped back to the trees. My husband stood in shock as he watched the monkey repeatedly click at the camera, until all film got exhausted. On realizing it wasn’t taking pictures anymore, it threw it at us.
This time around my visit was more exhilarating, I was on a different mission as I have learnt about other interesting sites I had never visited before and was determined to see them. After achieving my aim I came to a realization that Yankari national park is not just an ordinary haven for tourists and adventurers, it is also a very exciting ground for interested researchers from various academic and professional fields.
My first bout of excitement as a linguist occurred when our guide informed us that some of the earlier inhabitants of this area belonged to the Bole/Bolewa and the Jhar/Jarawa tribes.
Amongst the many thrilling linguistic evidences of past human cultures that inhabited the area and left distinct artefacts of their interactions with the natural environment are:
A small body of water called Mawulgo, which according to the guide means ‘I have found my own’ in Bole language.
A flat area on a hill known as Kal Ban, which means ‘the mat place’ (place where mat is being spread) in Jhar language
A place where rivers Gaji and Bara met known as Dallamiri, which means, ‘jump over quickly’ in Jhar language.
A reservoir of water surrounded by rocks, called Tung Lung that translates as ‘our rock’ in Jhar.
A deep spring called Bimil, which is actually two Jhar words Bin meaning water and Mil meaning deep.
A hill called Shau-shau, the guide suspected was a Bole word.
But my greatest pleasure came from knowing that even the name Yankari was coined from the Jhar language. The story goes that when the first white man visited the forest prior to its conversion into a game reserve, he met a Jhar hunter and started asking him his name. The hunter probably scared at seeing a white man for the first time ignored him and called out to his brother who replied with yan which means ‘who’ and the hunter replied with ‘kari’ which means “let us go”.
Likewise the Wikki warm spring, in which the word was originally heard from the Jar who used to hunt the forest. They use the word to know the location of their peers, the words were actually two, wu means you and ke means where. So the actual meaning is ‘where are you’?
Apart from the Wikki warm spring we discovered 4 other warm springs within the national park, which are Mawulgo, Bimil, Gwana and Tungan-Maliki springs. Around the Mawulgo hill site is an amazing discovery of evidences of early human settlements. First there are what appeared to be human footprints printed on the rock. There are also some dara (draft) game holes also dug into the rocks and also some broken pottery that clearly belonged to the early settlers.
The Marshall caves, which are located 7km east of Wikki Camp, are a set of 59 interconnected dwellings that are believed to have provided shelter to ancient people during the slave trade. It was dug out of sandstone escarpments. The caves have rock paintings and writings on the walls of the cave, which further suggests that the prehistoric man may have inhabited them.
An interesting thing I learned about those caves while exploring was that they were actually discovered by a native ranger named Ahmadu Makama, who later informed his superior Mr P.G Marshall of his discovery. Though it was Marshall, who later made the place accessible to tourists in 1980, it was Makama who first made the discovery and unfortunately the former got to be immortalised by getting the caves named after him, while the later was utterly forgotten, but for recent efforts to get him recognised on the written signboard leading to the caves.
In my opinion, the caves should bear Makama’s name and not Marshall, for it is very wrong to allow one of us to be robbed by the British over 60 years after independence.
I also got to know that there are numerous iron-smelting sites within the park, which indicates a large-scale iron smelting industry during the early Iron Age. According to the guide, more than one hundred of standing and based furnaces were discovered in the game reserve. The smelting sites in the game reserve include Ampara, Delemiri, Shau-shau and Panguru.
Another amazing proof of the ingenuity of the prehistoric humans in the area are the Dukkey wells. These are 139 wells all interconnected by underground shafts in a network providing a subterranean water storage and conservation for the inhabitants. These wells are between 3-5 metres deep and were used as a water storage system by the early settlers. Also found, are some broken potteries with beautiful designs, which is another, proof of early human settlements in the area.
My biggest takeaway on this trip was the most exciting discovery ever made in the national park which is the Tunga-Dutse rock paintings, these are further evidences of organized early human settlement in the area. On these rocks are paintings are motifs of animals and legible writings. The implication of this is that those early settlers were able to develop some kind of a writing system, which unfortunately is yet to be deciphered by the modern man.
This particular tour left me thinking that Yankari National park is underestimated, undervalued and perhaps grossly underused, for it is not only a place for tourists, but for researchers in various fields like Anthropology, Archaeology, Linguistics, History, Botany, marine Biologists, Zoologists, aquaculturists, entomologists and others hordes of human disciplines dedicate to studying nature and biodiversity..
It would be interesting to see findings of archaeological research on the artefacts found at the park and perhaps one day we shall be able to know for how long humans existed in the area, it would also be nice to get those writings deciphered so we can understand the thinking of our early ancestors.
My prayer is for authorities to create more investor-friendly atmosphere for the park and upgrade it to world-class standards like ones in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and South Africa. I have lived in Kenya and I have been the some of their national parks, I am convinced Kenyan Parks cannot compare to Yankari national park if given the deserving attention it is entitled to, because Kenyan parks are all about games which they have in abundance but do not have all the other things Yankari has to offer, yet their highest revenue comes from tourism.
I must admit that I was very impressed by the guides who took us around all those sites, they were very versed in the history and general knowledge of the park and its diverse contents, and I think it is important for them to receive adequate professional training especially about the importance of preserving artefacts, because I was very sad to see some broken potteries belonging to the early settlers by the road side where vehicles follow everyday for game viewing. They should be gathered and preserved. The staff may also need to be multilingual as there was a noticeable absence of interpreters. Similarly knowledge major local and international languages may endear better communication with foreign and local tourists.
My hope is for the national park to realise its full potentials through being used, as it should be, so that it can regain its glorious days of being a a premium wildlife jewel Africa and the world.
Furera Adamu Garba, is Lecturer at the Department of Nigerian Languages and Linguistics, Bauchi State University Gadau.