Extract from the diary of a new Provincial Woman Education Officer in Northern
It was February 1947 that I, who was a quite a new recruit to the Colonial
Education Service, set off on an inspection tour of schools which were accessible
only by river. I kept a diary of this safari by canoe, and now, many decades later,
my diary still has the power to excite me.
FRIDAY, 28 FEBRUARY
6.45 a m. Alison a friend from Fagos who was spending local leave with me)
and I left Bida by N.A. lorry for Dakomba, a village on the bank of the river Kaduna
(Kaduna means crocodiles). We were delayed enroute by an unsafe 'bridge' over a
culvert, which had to be filled in with grass, earth, stones etc to make it safe.
We walked from Dakomba to the riverside, with some twenty carriers to carry
our loads (on their heads). We took with us all our requirements for the next
eight days. By 'all our requirements' I mean all, since these included table,
chairs, beds, bedding, mosquito nets, bath (canvas), washbasin, lavatory seat,
lamps, kerosene, all cooking and eating utensils etc.
Two canoes were ready for us, one for Alison, me and our personal loads, and
the other for Mallam Anike, Garba and Momman. We were astonished at the
size of the dugouts which were about 60 feet long. We left the river bank at 8.45 a.m.,
by which time the sun was already fairly high in the sky and it was very hot.
Alison and I both felt a thrill of excitement of a new and exciting adventure,
albeit in the course of duty. The centre part of the canoe was roofed with matting made of split palm fronds. We made ourselves comfortable under the canopy
and proceeded to have our breakfast, putting up the table in the approved manner.
Below our starting point the River Kaduna widened out considerably, and the
vegetation along the banks varied from open grassland to mixed grassland and
forest. At 3.30 p.m. we caught our first glimpse of the lordly Niger, the appearance
of which reminded us of Kipling's 'great, grey-green, greasy Limpopo'. It
seemed enormously wide. At 5.00 p.m. we reached Mureggi. As we were
approaching the village we heard the sound of drums, and suddenly, from round
the bend of a creek, the sight which met our own eyes made us both gasp.
We saw a huge dug-out canoe, with brilliantly coloured canopy and trappings.
It appeared to be full of war-like Africans, brandishing what looked very much
like dangerous and menacing spears. With their paddles (for such they were)
waving in the air, they let out an ear-splitting yell of welcome and the drummers
redoubled their efforts.
As this State Canoe came nearer we saw Sarkin Ruwa, the local headman,
standing beneath a very beautiful, gold tasselled canopy, surrounded by his
councillors. They drew slowly alongside, and as we came face to face with Sarkin
Ruwa, the drums suddenly ceased and every one in the canoe went down 'noses
to the ground' in salute. When Sarkin Ruwa rose he greeted us, and I replied in what
I hoped was a suitable speech (not very easy when one's knowledge of the language
is as limited as mine!). The royal canoe then preceded us into the tiny creek at the
head of which stands the village of Mureggi.
Mureggi is built on a number of small knolls and, as we approached, it seemed
to us that the landing beach and the rise immediately behind it were seething with
people. The whole village had turned out to greet us. We learned from Sarkin
Ruwa that few of the inhabitants of the village had ever seen a white woman
before. We were informed that the rest house was not in a fit state to house us,
and that some of the rooms in the Palace compound had been prepared for us. We
were made to feel extremely welcome, and we were presented with an enormous
giwan ruwa (a huge river fish) for our supper.
I went to the school, which being so inaccessible, laboured under great difficulties,
not the least of which is the fact that during the wet season i.e. for about 5-6
months of the year, the knolls on which the village stands are surrounded by
water and the children paddle their own canoes to school. As the chief occupation
of the people is fishing, the main craft of the boys is the making of nets, the raw
materials of which is obtained from a particular kind of palm tree which grows in
the vicinity. The girls spin and weave cotton, which is also grown locally. We are
trying to encourage and preserve these local crafts in the school.
SATURDAY, 1 MARCH
I spent the morning at the school, and we left Mureggi at 11.30 a.m. amid the
cheers of the people. We spent the rest of the day on the canoe, and it was midnight
when we reached our next port of call, Katcha. Being paddled down the vast
expanse of the Niger, in the rather ghostly light of a pale moon, was a never-to-be-
forgotten experience. The swish of the paddles in the water, the rhythmical
singing of the paddlers, and the various animal, bird and insect sounds which occasionally reached us from the banks made a delightful sound background to
Arrived at Katcha, which lies some distance up the Katcha River from its junction
with the Niger, we had to walk 1.5 miles uphill to the rest house and by the time
our carriers arrived with the loads and our beds were unpacked and made up it
was 2.00 a.m. We were much too thrilled and excited to feel tired. We were
warned that there were many hyenas around and that we should not let my dog
wander during the night.
SUNDAY, 2 MARCH
Up at 6.30 a.m. for school at 7.00 a.m. During our afternoon siesta we received
a message to the effect that traders travelling by canoe had been chased by hippos.
And then our carriers reported that they had seen several hippos, and advised us
that it would be dangerous for us to continue towards Baro.
We ascertained that there was a train from Katcha to Baro next day (there were
only two a week), so we decided to make use of it. 4.30 p.m. saw me pedalling
along the road to Loguma on the village scribe's bicycle to visit the school there.
After our very late night we retired to bed early.
MONDAY, 3 MARCH
I cycled to Loguma again to finish my inspection, visited the Baptist school at
Katcha, and then we entrained in Baro. The shade temperature at Baro, at 5.00 p.m.
was 97.7 degrees Fahrenheit, but having had little exercise recently, we braved the heat and climbed
the hill behind the town. Our efforts were rewarded by magnificent views up and
down the Niger. As the hippos had delayed us a day I tried to find some means of
making up time, and to our great joy we found that the S.S. Mungo Park was
leaving for Muye the next day. The Captain agreed to take us aboard and to tow
TUESDAY, 4 MARCH
The carriers who had been instructed to come for our loads at 4.45 a.m. arrived
at 3.00 a.m. My dog greeted their arrival with loud barking and there was noise
and commotion until the blast of the Mungo Park's hooter, blown specially for
us, sounded at 5.00 a.m. It was pitch dark as we made our way down the very
uneven path to the jetty. We had to walk the plank by the light of a bush lamp,
and climb the vertical ladders to the top deck of the Mungo Park in semi-darkness.
There we found a bedroom at our disposal and a bathroom! Watching the dawn
and sunrise on the Niger was breath-taking. The Mungo Park is a paddle steamer,
and we chugged merrily downstream at a much faster rate than we should have
done by canoe.
We bade farewell to the Captain at 10.30 a.m. and boarded our canoe to take us
into Muye Creek, a somewhat precarious operation in mid-stream. Sarkin Muye
had planned to meet us in his canoe as Sarkin Ruwa had done, but as we arrived
earlier than scheduled, he was somewhat disappointed. Mallam Anike went in by
a back entrance to give warning of our approach and by the time we reached the
landing stage the village was ready to welcome us.
Sarkin Muye and all his councillors, the whole school and nearly all the villagers
were on parade. We were most amused to see that many of the schoolboys wore
brightly coloured cricket caps (Muslim men are not properly dressed without
some sort of head covering). Once again we were told that a place had been prepared
for us, Sarkin Muye proceeded to lead us to it, followed by the whole village.
Our abode for the night turned out to be a half-finished mud house, with a grass
veranda built on to it specially for our benefit. It was one of the most primitive
that I had yet stayed in, but as we were sleeping out all the time, it didn't matter.
I inspected the school that morning and in the evening I was taken to see the
new school building which was started only a month previously, and was almost
finished. The difference between the rough and ready methods which apply here
and the elaborate plans drawn up for a new school building in Britain astounds
For instance, the windows (or rather holes in the wall) in the new building at
Muye were far too small, and although the walls were already up to roof height, I
was able to give instructions (after consultation with Mallam Anike and the
Headmaster) for the windows to be enlarged and for more windows to be put in. I
also decided upon the position of such buildings as the craft room, kitchen and
Headmaster's house. There are no problems such as piped water or underground
sanitation to be considered!
THURSDAY, 6 MARCH
We were given a great send-off by Sarkin Muye who accompanied us for a
short way in his canopied canoe, complete with drums and queer, long, thin sort
of trumpets. Before leaving however, we held a meeting of the parents of the
schoolchildren, with Sarkin Muye and all the local village heads and councillors,
some of whom had travelled as much as 12 or 18 miles by canoe to attend this
meeting. They were very keen and interested in the school. Sarkin Muye told me
that some of them, who as a result of their trading, had drifted to towns such as
Lokoja and Onitsha, had returned to Muye when they knew that a school had
opened there. During the year that the school had been in existence only four
absences had been recorded.
More hippos had been reported as having been seen on the river but we saw
none of them. In any case, we simply had to travel by canoe as there is no other
means of transport from Muye, except trekking along bush paths. We arrived at
Rigido, a tiny village right on the river bank at 5.30 p.m., and again found ourselves
in an odd-shaped, half-finished hut, this time without grass veranda. The
path along the river bank is Rigido's main street. Our hut faced directly on to this
and as we pitched our beds outside the hut it was like sleeping in the High Street.
FRIDAY, 7 MARCH
As we were leaving Rigido we were presented with yet another giwan ruwa
(large fish) by an old man who said he had been out all night to catch it for us.
The friendliness of everybody is a real joy. Rigido to Baro, upstream, takes about
12 hours, so we set out early.
It was a very hot, oppressive day and we thought there must be a storm brewing.
It blew up when we were about an hour's journey from Baro and, as ill luck
would have it, we were on the 'wrong side' of the river, when the thunder rolled and
a violent wind tore at the canopy of our canoe.
As soon as we left the comparative safety of the river bank to cross the river,
the water was lashed into waves. The paddlers had to work terribly hard to make
any progress at all. As the top of the canoe was only a few inches from the surface
of the water we felt that we were in danger, at any moment, of being swamped by
a big wave, or of being precipitated into the water among the crocodiles.
Alison felt really sea-sick. However, we reached the home bank in safety and
the last lap along the edge was comparatively calm, and smooth going. We
arrived at the rest house in the dark, only to find it occupied, but fortunately I
knew the occupants and we were happy to share such accommodation as there
But alas! Our second canoe was a long way behind and we had to wait an hour
and a half for our food, beds etc. When at last they did arrive we learned that they
had all been terrified when crossing the river in the storm. They told us that they
had all shouted and sung at the top of their voices, presumably to drown their
fears or to scare off the spirits of the storm.
SATURDAY, 8 MARCH
Our journey ended rather tamely the next day when we waited at Baro for over
three hours for the lorry which came from Bida to take us home. But time doesn't
matter at all in Nigeria, and one learns to possess one's soul in patience."