Gbagyi : The Unsung Tribe (history of the Gbagyi people, original owners of Abuja) by Isaac Somto - The Isaac Somto Foundation

  • Gbagyi : The Unsung Tribe (history of the Gbagyi people, original owners of Abuja) by Isaac Somto


    Located in the geographical center of Nigeria, exists a landlocked area surrounded by Kogi, Kaduna, Nassarawa and Niger state called Abuja. In Abuja dwelled the Gbagyi people before the then military government came up with a brilliant idea. This brilliant idea made the Gbagyis give up their lands.

    In 1976, the then military government under General Murtala Mohammed came up with a brilliant plan to look for an area where none of the major tribes of Nigeria (Igbo, Yoruba and Hausa ) occupied (or where a lesser tribe resided) in the geographic centre of the nation, which no one could make a case for, and a territory in which Nigerians could join under and then Abuja was chosen.
    But the thing here is, Abuja wasn't a “no man's land”. Abuja, a geographical area surrounded by Kogi, Kaduna, Nassarawa and Niger state. Was the dwelling place for the Gbagyi people most times called “Gwari”.
    The military government knew this fact that the geographical area which has been planned to be the new capital city of Nigeria housed a small ethnic group. Since the Gbagyi people were few, the military government underestimated them and drove them away to make way for plans they had for the geographical area. This act led to the displacement of the Gbagyi people, few of the Gbagyis stayed in transit camps for some time before looking for a new location to settle down. The military government also made a plan to compensate the Gbagyi people for giving up their land to become capital of Nigeria, but as usual, the tight fists of corruption made sure compensations never left it's hands to the “weak” hands of the Agbagyi(plural of Gbagyi).

    Seconds rolled into minutes, minutes into hours, hours into days, days into months, months into years and it's exactly twenty-seven (27) years since the ethnic group were chased out of their lands and they still feel betrayed, cheated and deprived of their heritage.

    Anyways, i wrote this to “sing with my pen" the rich history and culture of the Gbagyi people. I took a trip to some parts of Abuja / Niger state dominated by the Gbagyi people to know more about them. I will share the story and experience of this trip in this article.

    Brief History Of The Gbagyi Tribe

    The Gbagyi (most times called Gwari or Gbari) are known to be peaceful (a saying in Hausa language says “muyi shi Gwari Gwari” which when translated to English means “let’s do it like the Gbagyi” or “in the Gbagyi way”. Proving their love for peace), transparent, artistic and agriculturists who dwell in the North-Central geo-political zone of Nigeria.
    The word "Gwari" is a name of a popular yam grown by the Gbagyi people of Abuja.
    It is claimed that the Gbagyi people migrated from Borno to reside in Abuja due to the series of clash and disagreement with the Kanuri people. Also, most people (mostly researchers) feels the Gbagyi originated from Egypt due to their habitual acquaintance with the lapis lazuli stone.
    The first dweller in Abuja was a hunter who went to hunt in a land called Paikokun, a thick forest in Abuja. He inhabited in Paikokun mountains because he believed it was safe.
    At first, the Gbagyi people dwelled on mountain tops because of the same reason their ancestor dwelled there. Later on after the westerners came with their sweetened wine called “civilisation” the Gbagyis left the top of mountains to dwell at the bottom.
    In the year 1890, the Gbagyi community migrated from the foot of the mountains to their present settlement. As time grew, the population of the Gbagyis dwelling in Abuja grew, this lead to the Suleja Emirate creating three districts which form part of the six local government councils in Abuja, these three districts are called Bwari, Kuje and Kwali. In these districts now known as local governments you can find indigenous Gbagyi people.
    There are two main groups of the Gbagyi people. The eastern and the western group. The former are called Gbagyi-Ngenge or Gbagyi-Matai and they are more dense in population than the later. The later are called Gbagyi-Nkwa or Gbagyi-Yamma. The two groups speak different languages, and within them exists sub-groups and dialects.


    The Gbagyi Religion

    The Gbagyi main traditional religion is called Knunu. They worship a god called Shekwoi, which they believe shields them from the evil that exist in the community. They also worship other gods like maigro, etc
    The Agbagyi (Gbagyi people) serves their god by offering fowl and beer as a sacrifice to a special tree found deep in the forest ( called kurmi).
    After the Fulani Jihad initiated by Usman Dan Fodio, most Gbagyi people (Agbagyi) were converted to Islam without choice, the Jihad made sure they had only two options which were be Muslim or be dead.
    Years later Christianity came into the Gbagyi land through SIM (Sudan Interior Mission also known as Evangelical Church of Africa).
    Most Gbagyis couldn't bear the restrictions Christianity brought so they stuck with Islam since some of it's practices where like that of their traditional religion. Practises like polygamy, amulets and so on.


    The Gbagyi Festivals

    The Agbagyi (Gbagyi people) have to main festivals namely:
    •The Zhibaje Festival and the
    •The Agbamaya Festival
    The Gbagyi people (Agbagyi) celebrates the Zhibaje Festival during the Christmas period. While the Agbamaya festival is celebrated by the Gbagyi people during the beginning of rainy season to welcome the rain.

    The Gbagyi Indigenous Food


    The Gbagyi people enjoy eating a meal known as Wyizhe. Wyizhe is made from Guinean corn and it is also used to make Zhepwo, a special drink the Gbagyi people loves to drink. The Gbagyi people also enjoy drinking a special soup known as Knadolo made from locust beans.

    The Gbagyi People Occupation


    Agbagyi are very talented and skilled. Years ago before now, the Gbagyi people practiced wood fetching, farming, pottery, and blacksmithing. But after the federal government took over their lands they resorted to only farming. You can hardly see a Gbagyi blacksmith. The Gbagyi people attach a unique importance to farming. They grow yam and grains.

    The Gbagyi People Traditional Clothing

    The Gbagyi people have a special clothing they call Ajeside which is made from local cotton and is traditionally woven. This clothing dyed by special traditional dressmakers.

    "Shoulder Carriers"



    One unique thing about the Gbagyi people (especially the Gbagyi women) is how they tend to carry goods on their shoulders and not on their heads. They call this place traditionally Bwapa. The Gbagyi people believe that the head shouldn't be bothered or disturbed with anything.


    The Gbagyi people are one of the most populated tribes in Nigeria(a country with over 300 tribes and 520 languages). The Gbagyi people can be found in : Kaduna state: Kagarko, northwest Kachia, Kanuru, Igabi, Soba, Giwa, Birnin-Gwari, and Chikun LGAs, Kaduna City; Niger state: Rafi, Chanchaga, Shiroro, Suleija LGAs; Nassarawa state: Keffi, Nasarawa LGAs; Abuja: Bwari, Kwali, Kuje, Abuja Municipal Area Council LGAs; Kogi state: Kogi LGA.

    and yes, about my trip to some indigenous Gbagyi communities, it'll be shared later.

     This article was written for the Discovering Africa initiative. 
    Written by : Isaac Somto 

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