The Cycling Wives of Damboa

In most parts, especially in rural settlements, of Damboa Local Government Area in Borno State, when a girl is about to get married her parents ensure that they buy a brand new bicycle for their daughter not just as a gift to satisfy their pride but, the bicycle is the most priced possession that will further consolidate their daughters’ rightful place in her husbands house.

On the part of the girl, if she is hardworking, either by engaging in group commercial farming ‘barema’ with her peers or by selling fruits that’s if she is not in her parents farm, she can buy herself a bicycle to take to her husband’s home, this time around, it becomes a question of pride because she will boost that after all, she was never lazy during her teens which explains why she will be escorted to her husbands house with two bicycles instead of one, bought for her by her parents.

On the part of the husband, he pays the bride price; buy a bed, cupboard and cloths loaded in a box or more, depending on his means. But one thing is certain, as a farmer which is the pre-occupation of nearly 80% of the population in the area, the suitor is bound to provide whatever is expected of him because, the girl he is about to marry will not only be a companion and a potential mother to his children but, “a cheap source of labour” in his farms.

Daily Trust gathered that the culture of women bringing bicycles upon getting married is a phenomenon of less than 5 decades and was not practiced in the early 20th century. “Our people are mostly farmers and when the population began to grow very fast farm lands became scarce therefore, people have to travel for more than 10 to 20 kilometers to their farms, this is where the culture of bicycles came into existence,” these were the words of Habu Hon, the Caretaker Chairman of Damboa Local Government Council. “Our women are very hard working they are equal to the task with men, especially when it comes to farming activities. So, bicycles are the only cheaper and easy means of transport for them” said Hon.

According to Bintu Bukar, who was interviewed by this reporter, when riding her bicycle to the farm in Damboa said, “I have two bicycles; I use one to go to the farm and the other, to attend ceremonies”. Interestingly, Daily Trust leant from Bintu that when her younger sister got married in last April, their parents did not buy any bicycle, only that the younger Bukar bought one for herself from the proceeds she got from years of hawking. “You see, if you are going to marry someone who is not a farmer there may not be the need to buy a bicycle. My husband is a farmer that is why I have to buy two bicycles but for my sister she married a teacher who said she will not be going to the farm” said Bintu, adding that when her sister bought her only bicycle she hadn’t the slightest idea of whom she was going to marry “if she had known she would have used the money and by a stove and be free of the smoke, we are faced with from the use of fire woods”.

According to Bintu, her sister is luckier than many of them “if you see her palm it is so smooth but look at mine” she showed this reporter the scurvy and desquamated skin on her palm as a result of prolong handing of crude farming tools to cultivate large farmlands almost on a daily basis. “My sister only rides to the market or to occasions” said Bintu.

The story of women cycling cannot be complete without visiting Kauji Kura, a Village about 10 kilometers south of Damboa, as Daily Trust gathered. Therefore this reporter together with a chaperon traveled to Kauji, which is famous not only for the fertility of its soil, hunting sights and the people’s legendary farming prowess, but Kauji is known with its droves of bicycles mostly owned by the women.

Kauji seem more like a village than a town despite the reality that it houses about 30,000 persons though some are living in clusters of houses around the main village. The village head who doubles as a traditional bone setter provided the spring board for his village to become well known as visitors and patients come from different parts of the country to treat their fractures or mend their broken legs or arms and this have made the village to expand as trunk of people visits on daily basis, creating a market for the villagers to sale their goods.

Yet, the village has no hope for electricity, hygienic water and a motor able road in the near future, save for the secondary school that has just been provided to compliment the primary school in the village and a dead dispensary, nothing else shows the sign westernization in the village except their bicycles, “there is no household that does not have at least 2 to 3 bicycles said Lawan Yerima Kauji, the village head of Kauji Kura. “Bicycles have become a way of life here, just go round here, you will see girls and women on bicycles either parked or moving. In fact, most of them are not here, they have gone to the farms” he said.

When Daily Trust strolls across the village, the claim by many people in Damboa town that Kauji paraded the largest chunk of bicycles compared to any other village in Damboa was not in doubt. “it is due to our growing population and the fertile land here that many people come here to settle down” the village head explained “in this village alone I cannot tell you the exact number of bicycles but let us put it to 40% of the population of nearly 30,000,” he said.

In front of a thatch house Daily Trust counted 47 bicycles, when asked why the heaps of bicycle in front of just one house? “A woman has just given birth and her friends and relations are in the house to prepare for tomorrows celebrations” said one of the villagers.

Daily trust also learnt that when ever there is an event either mourning or celebrations, women of all ages come out with large procession of bicycles in the village. Interestingly, about four girls were riding back from the farm at the time of this trip, as soon as they sighted a visitor they started to soft petal their bicycles and the chaperon together with this reporter, asked the girls to go and rest for a while and come back for a reporting ride.

According to the chaperon, someone can easily become attracted to a girl by her brilliant cycling skills; a good rider can make the cycling exercise seductive, as the chaperon related to this reporter. However, buy this revelation, the planned cycling ride was cancelled, but not without a gift to the girls that wore their best bicycles and cloths, in other not for this reporter to retire in Kauji.

In another shift, this seemingly interesting cycling culture has a bitter side of it, in a neighbouring village called Jingin, the district head Late Mai Jalo stopped women in his locality from riding bicycles, which was received with mixed reactions. According to Mai Jalo who died about three years ago, it was very difficult to draw a line between a girl that was defiled and a virgin, on her wedding day because riding bicycles ruptures the hymen.

When the complains became much, Mai Jalo banned women from riding in order to revive the ancient virginity test in his village and women began to trek long distance to their farms “which became unbearable to many women in his district,” said the village head of Kauji. Also, there was the complained that many women that ride bicycles during early pregnancies risk miscarriage. But when Mai Jalo died, his successor and son lifted the ban.

“You cannot stop women from riding bicycles because our farms are far away and we cannot trek. Moreover, men value us not because of our womanhood but how helpful we can be in their farms” said Bintu.

However, in Damboa in general, women constitute more than half of the population and are said to be more hardworking than the men in some respects yet, they are rated among the poorest and suffer more from the absence of basic infrastructures and health care in the rural areas. “Whenever, my people are sick especially women, during labour complications and when the traditional birth attendants cannot handle it, we carry the sick on motor cycles and during the raining season, as you have experienced yourself, you have to stop in many points and 3 to 4 men must carry the woman across the streams before proceeding to Damboa for treatments” said Lawan.

“Many have died on their way, while those that cannot afford the cost to travel leave their fate to traditional medicine in the village” said Lawan who appealed to the government to come to their aid and he also corroborated the claim that, women and children in his village are in a receiving end more than men.

“For a girl, you begin life by going to your father’s farm, when you are about to get married he hands a bicycles to you to facilitate your movement to the farm when you are in your husband’s house, this is a clear indication that you are bound to remain in the circle of farming, since you are not privilege to either have good education or no education at all”, said Hajja Iya Monguno, a gender advocate in Maiduguri.

Yet according to Monguno, the proceeds of the farm always end up with the men that often times marry more women with it, “these women carry their babies or pregnancies and they are the ones that are engaged in food production yet, they don’t have access to health care and credit facilities to own either a farm or business of their own, this is unfair” she bemoaned.

Obviously this reporter found out that, the ambition of most of these rural women are confirmed within the narrow fringes of their village life, talk of education, empowerment and reproductive rights are never in their way. “They don’t seem to care because most of them don’t know the outside world”, said Monguno.

Apparently, many of the rural women have been hampered by the socialization they are stocked with since they were born, talks about empowerment is not in their wildest imagination. Only for Bintu who lives in Damboa town and envy’s her equally illiterate sister that married a primary school teacher. To her, if only she can be born another time she will insist to be educated but now that she is 24 with four children, schooling “is too late” she said.

The men in the area are more enlightened, with a handful of them now educated and are ensure that many of their children go to school. Though, none that spoke to this reporter expressed optimism over the future of their children in the village schools, “even in the urban areas the schools are not different, with many graduates searching for jobs without success”, said one villager.

“What you have seen is only in the rural areas, most of these things don’t apply to the towns or people from Damboa that are educated and are in high places in our society today. Moreover, this government is doing a lot and plans to do more to reach out to the rural areas with the basic infrastructures” said the council boss of Damboa.

But all these promises are only a dream to the rural women of Damboa who are not mindful of fuel hike, power failure, and other troubles in the townships because, their bicycle does not require fuel and their lives are so simple. According to Bintu, cycling eased labour during child birth, therefore, before many of her peers in the rural areas can access antenatal care, cycling will continue to be their best bet.

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