Letter from Kaduna

Transcript of letter from Henry Hedges to Lillian Mary Hedges (wife) while working as Superintendent of Government Press No.3 in Kaduna, Northern Nigeria (early 1930′s)

Kaduna, although it is the capital of Zaria Province and the Headquarters of the Northern Provinces of Nigeria Administration, cannot boast of any long or interesting history and, indeed, until a few years ago was merely a straggling native village. It was not until the Headquarters of the Northern Provinces was moved from Zungeru, the old capital, to the higher and healthier ground where it now stands that Kaduna became of sufficient importance to find a place on any but the largest scale maps, and even today it seems to wear a self-conscious look as though a trifle bashful and strange at the dignity which has been thrust upon it: which is hardly surprising when one thinks of the important changes is has witnessed in the past decade. From a few mud huts sprawling alongside the banks of the Kaduna River it has grown into a large and well-planned town boasting an ample and pure water supply and electric light in its streets and its houses. Its importance is further enhanced by its being the junction of the Eastern and Western Railway systems: it is the apex of a triangle, the base of which is the coast line of Nigeria. At one end of this base is Lagos, the capital of Nigeria, 566 miles from Kaduna; and at the other end is Port Harcourt, 569 miles from Kaduna and roughly 320 miles by sea from Lagos. The Western Railway terminates at Lagos and the Eastern at Port Harcourt.

Kaduna Town itself may be divided into three parts: the European settlement; the native quarter; and the “Sabon Gari”, the portion set aside for the occupation of native “foreigners”, i.e. natives who are not indigenous to the Northern Provinces. The European settlement has been carefully laid out; all streets run at right angles to each other and no building has been build within at least a hundred yards to the side of the street. Each house has a most generous compound and is situated at a considerable distance from its neighbour. (My own compound is about 6000 square feet and that is by no means one of the largest). The houses in the native quarter and the Sabon Gari are naturally more crowded – your African native prefers his neighbours to be close at hand – but nothing to the extent that one sees in the congested and insanitary town of Lagos.

The European houses are mostly built of concrete blocks or bricks with corrugated-iron roofing; the standard of housing has improved greatly of late years, and there are few, if any, of the old mud-walled, hatched-roofed “bush” houses still in use in Kaduna. The native form of dwelling varies somewhat. The wealthier class of native lives in a rectangular and flat-roofed house, often of two stories, with thick and substantial mud walls. Some of the houses of the chief natives, such as the Emir’s head advisers, are of very pleasing design, pillars, arches, and domes being used with telling effect, all of which are made of reinforced mud. The most common form of dwelling, however, is a round hut of plain mud walls with a conical thatched roof; there is usually only one opening – the door. Theses huts are very cheap to build, costing from ten shillings to fifty shillings according to size. Usually, one of these huts is built for each member of a family, every adult male and female owning and living in his or her hut. A matting fence is then build round the collection of family huts and forms a kind of compound. The native police stationed in Kaduna are supplied with huts of this description, and it is rather a remarkable sight to stand at the top of the police lines and see some hundreds of these “bee-hives” laid out in long straight lines. Mud may seem rather a peculiar substance with which to build, but it is hammered into a consistency that makes it almost as durable a cement – as anyone who has seen the great walled city of Kano can testify – and a well-built mud building can be cooler and more comfortable that a brick and mortar house.

Kaduna, as might be expected, is one of the chief European centres in Nigeria – possible the largest after Lagos. There are upwards of one hundred European officials and traders stationed in and around the town, many of them being accompanied by their wives. A large number of these – perhaps forty – belong to the Nigeria Regiment of the West African Frontier Force. With such a large number of white people congregated in one station it is only natural that there should be plenty of social life, and Kaduna is better provided than most stations with facilities for recreation. There is a large and most comfortable club with a bridge room, a library, and a large dancing room. The club is also the headquarters for all the sporting clubs which include polo, cricket, golf (a twelve-hole course), tennis, hockey, squash, and football. The Racing Club is also affiliated to it. Race meetings are held two or three times a year, and some very good sport is seen. Although the Kaduna River passes our door there is no swimming; the water is either too shallow or too rough according to the season, and the rocks are too many; there are also crocodiles on occasions but these are not taken too seriously by people who have been out for any length of time. Kaduna is also a great centre for sport, and small game and fowl can be got within a few miles of the town. Antelope of all kinds are common as it the leopard during part of the year. With the peaceful settlement of the country, however, and the resultant increase in cultivation, big game is becoming scarcer, and it is necessary to go further afield nowadays to meet lion or bushcow, and the elephant is confined now almost wholly to the neighbourhood of Lake Chad. A few months ago a fine specimen of the bushcow – an animal considered by many judges to be the most dangerous of the buffalo of Africa – suddenly appeared “from nowhere” in the middle of Kaduna, and succeeded in waking that usually sleepy town up in a rather startling manner. It was eventually killed but not before it had gored and badly injured two or three natives.

With the exception of the occupants of the Sabon Gari the bulk of the native population is Muhammadan, although in Zaria Province there is a large number of pagan tribes. The Muhammadans may be divided into two main tribal groups ( as far as Kaduna is concerned): The Hausa and the Fulani. The former is the great trader of Africa and he wanders at his will all over North and West Africa selling his Kano leather work – cushion covers, slippers, mats, etc.; you may meet him on the edge of the Western Sudan one day and months after his smiling face will bob up in front of you as you sit in the Grand Hotel in Lagos, and he will cheerfully remind you of the previous meeting and endeavour to sell you something for which you have no use; he usually succeeds too. The Fulani is engaged almost entirely in farming and cattle raising. Both of these people have one thing in common: courtesy. They greet one with a natural courtesy but without any cringing servility. Slipping off their house shoes and sinking to their knees they will murmur pleasant greetings for several minutes before thinking of starting or stating their business. The Sabon Gari, as I have stated above, is reserved for the use of native “foreigners”, and such nice things cannot be said about these as can be about the indigenous native. Most of the inhabitants are Coast people, “educated” clerks, who naturally look down on the “uneducated” native of the North. Besides clerks from Lagos, the Gold Coast, and Sierra Leone, however, there are specimens of half the races of African in addition to a good number of Syrians.

The preponderance of Muhammadans and the illicit trade in drink carried on by certain persons in the Sabon Gari have made it necessary for Government to declare Kaduna a “prohibited area” and no one can buy intoxicating liquor in, or introduce it into, Kaduna, without a special permit from the Station Magistrate.

I find it rather difficult to say what I should imagine would most impress the newcomer to Kaduna. First impressions are best, but I have forgotten most of my first impressions. The thing that are most outstanding in Kaduna to me now, however, are: the silence, and the “English-like” appearance of the place. In speaking of silence I am referring to the European quarter; I seldom go down the native part, but I have no doubt that there is noise in plenty there. In the European portion of the town, however, both day and night, the silence is impressive. Quite possibly the regular inhabitants don’t notice it, but to me, coming from the uproar of Lagos, the chattering din of innumerable native, the rattle and hooting of hundreds of cars, the quietude is startling. I am writing this at nine in the morning the time when Lagos is at its noisiest, but here the only thing to break the Sabbath-like peace is the dull thud-thud made by some woman in the far-off police lines as she pounds up the gain for the evening meal. If the day is peaceful, the night is like the grave. The street lights are switched off at 11 o’clock, and, standing by my door and gazing into the dark night, it is difficult sometimes for me to realise that other people are within call; it is a silence deeper than the bush where, actually, there is no real silence: the night birds and animals, go softly as they can, will always add their mite of sound to the murmuring of the night.

Apart, of course, from the natives, there is little at first sight in Kaduna to suggest the tropics – unless one counts the heat, and even that, on many days of the year, has more of the genial warmth of a very hot summer day at home than of the heavy and depressing atmosphere experienced in most tropical climes. The country is rolling and park-like, fairly rich in grass and, in parts, well wooded; and at a distance looks remarkably like an English countryside. Gone are the tall palm trees of the South, the mangrove of the salt-water swamps that fringe the cost of Nigeria, and with them is gone the sweaty, clammy, moisture-laden air of the South. The warm dry atmosphere of Kaduna breeds a more temperate species of vegetation and although the intense greenness that persists throughout the year in the South is not so noticeable here, a downpour of rain soon washes the dust away and gives the place a clean and pleasant appearance. At this time of the year it is extremely attractive: the first rains have fallen and all green things are growing. Along the sides of the roads trees have been planted and these are now blossoming forth into flower; unfortunately, I am not very well conversant with the names and species of trees and plants so I am unable to give you names; but the blossom on all the trees which line our streets is of a brilliant scarlet colour, and a brave show it makes.

I always think of England when I look out from my office window. The ground slopes gently down from my office, and at the bottom of the slope stands a small church which, with its squat square tower looks like a village church nestling in some English valley. (I walked across to it once and the illusion fled as most illusions of the tropics fly when viewed close at hand.) At the back of this small church the ground rises and dips into the native town of Kaduna, and as a background there is a range of green-covered hills.

The soil of Kaduna is mostly red laterite, but it seems to be extremely good for cultivation in spite of its dry and crumbly appearance, and one is impressed by the large area around and in Kaduna which is under farming: although the method of farming here is entirely different to what is in England. Ploughing as we know it at home is not known here, and what little ploughing is done is of the most primitive kind; for most of the crops a mere turning over of the earth suffices, a small contrivance something after the shape of a soldier’s entrenching tool being used for the purpose. The use of animals and the value of manuring is neither understood nor practised, although there are approximately 3,000,000 head of cattle and 200000 horses in the country. There are several reasons for this, the chief being in the movements of the animals. The greatest number of these animals do not belong to the farmer, but are owned by the “cattle” Fulani who are continuously on the move, trekking southwards with their animals during the dry season and returning again to the north when the wet season starts. Then again, the native farmer does not cultivate on a large scale like the English farmer does. The native just scrapes a piece of ground large enough to provide him and his family with food for the year, although of late he has seen the value of growing for export: low prices, such as we have been experiencing this last few seasons, speedily discourage him, and it takes a lot to persuade him that the trouble of growing more than he actually needs for his own personal use is really worth while. Cotton, groundnuts, millets, cassava, guinea corn, and shea nuts are the principal crops grown in the North.

Along the banks of the Kaduna River are large gardens run mainly for the benefit of the white population. Some years ago these gardens were the pride of Kaduna, but the man – a medical officer – who brought them into being and who expended so much labour on them has long since departed, and the gardens have gradually lost their former glory; and although fruit and vegetables are still produced the gardens now look forsaken and forlorn. The Station Magistrate is now officially in charge of them but he has little time to supervise them; he has the assistance of a few labourers _ much too few for the size of the place, – but Government is very reluctant to spend money on this class of enterprise. Government apparently holds the belief that a few pounds saved yearly on garden labour is of far greater value than the increased health of its servants which would result from the daily use of fresh green vegetables. The policy of Government in this matter is to leave it to private enterprise, which seems a rather short-sighted point of view in a country where men seldom stay in a station for more than a few months at a time. That is the worst of the country: someone spends months of labour on a garden, goes home on leave, and, on his return, is stationed in a different place. This, of course, does not refer to all. Certain departmental officers not only return to the same station tour after tour but also to the same house; they have only themselves to blame if they are not comfortable.

The climate of Kaduna is definitely good. Although the average temperature is over 90 degrees it is for the most part a dry heat except just before the breaking of the rains, and even during the rainy season which lasts from April till September the rain is fairly evenly divided over the period, and there is sunshine on practically every day of the year. There is no month when the rain falls monotonously hour after hour, and day after day, as it does in the south. The temperature in Lagos seldom reaches 90 but the relative humidity averages 80% all the year through. The yearly rainfall in Kaduna is about 56 inches. Lagos averages 72 inches which is small for a coastal town; the wettest places in Nigeria – all of them on or near the seaboard – are Sapele: 102; Warri: 111; Forcados: 150; Brass: 156; while Debundscha in the Cameroons reaches the lofty total of 350 inches. To appreciate the difference in the climate of Kaduna from that of the south one should spend some months in, say, Lagos before coming north. Standing on Iddo (Lagos) station at ten in the morning the perspiration rolls of one; clothes hang limply to one’s body, and it’s a great relief when the train pulls slowly out on her long journey to the north; thirty-three hours later the passenger steps out at Kaduna Junction, sniffs the cool and dry air, and decides that a warm flannel coat would be more suitable wear. The brilliant sunshine and the light-coloured earth produce a glare that is rather trying at first and it is advisable to wear smoked glasses if out in the open. The best part of the day (to me) is at six in the evening. The sun is slowly sinking and there is a gentle and rather sad peace settling on the earth; the fidgeting and twittering of the birds dies away; the smell of musk comes strongly to the nostrils, intermingled with the pungent smoke of burning leaves; and slowly, as though reluctant to go, the light fades away and the first stars twinkle in the night sky. (There is no sudden change from day to night as most popular novelists insist on when writing of the tropics they have never seen; and in my experience of the tropics there are few places where it is possible to say there is no twilight). The early morning can also be delicious. The dawn comes early, and at half-past five the eastern light is already blowing the shades of night away; it is good then to stand in the open and watch the sky pale from dark to grey and to feel the cool, clean morning air. Quickly the sky changes to a soft blue with perhaps a few fleecy-white clouds, and before the clock strikes six the first rays of the sun are tinting all objects with its pale golden light. Lagos also has a few precious moments in the very early dawn, but these are quickly forgotten in the misery of the day. Kaduna is more fortunate: even with the sun riding high in the heavens it is still possible for man to move without suffering acute discomfort ; and at four in the afternoon, even though the sun still is shining brightly, one can walk and take exercise and still remain comfortable. Such is the bright side of Kaduna; she can on occasion be very unpleasant and, as I have hinted above, the heat just before the rainy season is fierce enough to dry the very moisture from one’s veins. During that period everything shrivels up; your shoes will go on only with difficulty, and your topee sits on top of your head; tobacco dries into dust; new bread becomes hard and flavourless in a few hours; and the skin becomes cracked and dry. The lips becomes dry and feel most unpleasant, and no liquid will satisfy an unquenchable thirst. At frequent intervals a wind springs up from nowhere and drives thick clouds of acrid, red dust before it, filling nose, ears, and eyes with sand and dirt, and passes on leaving unhappy creatures behind it gasping and panting in the sullen heat. The rain when it breaks is heralded in by a spate of short but sharp tornadoes, and the crackling of the lightning splitting the dry, moistureless air and the thunderous peals of the thunder combine to make a truly terrifying music. It is a relief when the long-expected rain at last beats down on the parched earth with a roar that drowns all other sound.

Another drawback of Kaduna is the flies. Persistent, pugnacious flies. They swoop down in triumph on food and drink, and nothing, not even a strong table fan blowing directly on the table, will drive them away. They follow one into the open, settling on the face and hands, and cause murderous thoughts to spring to the mind. I think the reason for so many flies can be traced to the large number of horses which are kept in Kaduna; the majority of the Europeans keep one or more and hundreds are owned by the natives. All Hausas and Fulanis of any pretence to rank are well mounted. On the other hand, mosquitoes and sandflies are not very prevalent which is a great blessing. Scorpions, centipedes and snakes are fairly numerous. Kaduna, in common with the rest of Northern Nigeria, suffers periodically from locusts, and only a week ago was invaded by a host of “hoppers” as young locusts are called before they grow their wings. It was a most peculiar sight to see thousands of these inch-long brownish grasshoppers all travelling by little hops in the same direction; in parts they were so numerous that they completely carpeted the earth, and at a short distance one gained the fantastic impression that they ground itself was moving; they made a loud rustling sound as they travelled like thousands of dry leaves being swept along they ground. Fortunately a rain storm of exceptional violence accompanied by a cold wind killed most of them off. I have seen them in the adult stage so numerous that the sky was literally darkened by them.

In the beginning of this letter I mentioned some of the important changes which Kaduna had witnessed in the space of a few brief years: road transport (the Railway ran through Kaduna before it became the capital), a water supply, electricity, roads, and housing: but I overlooked one innovation which, although of much less importance than the changes mentioned above, caused as much, if not more, excitement and interest. I refer to the Northern Provinces News, the first paper to be published in the north, and the only trilingual news sheet ever published in Nigeria. It fell to my lot, as you may remember, to plan out the first number, and it may interest you to know that it is still produced in the same format and now boasts of a circulation of 6000 copies. A newspaper in a country which less than thirty years ago was filled with warring tribes; a country where cruelty almost past belief and bloodshed were common everyday occurrences; and where thousands of people were captured and sold into slavery every year; may perhaps be the most significant change of all.

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