All you need to know about the Gbagyi, the original land owners of Nigeria’s capital, Abuja 

Vanessa Calys-Tagoe September 29, 2022
A Gbagyi woman. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Kjay images

It is no secret that Nigeria has a lot of tribes. Being the most populous West African country, indigenes of some native tribes prior to western civilization are bound to be forgotten, but not these people. The Gbagyi people are said to be the original land owners of the country’s capital, Abuja. 

The name and language of the Gbagyi/Gbari ethnic group, which has roughly 1 million members and is primarily found in Central Nigeria, are Gbagyi or Gbari. Two dialects are spoken by the ethnic group’s members. While during pre-colonial Nigeria, both the Hausa Fulani and Europeans loosely referred to speakers of the languages as Gwari, they prefer to be called Gbagyi/Gbari. They reside in Niger, Kaduna State, and Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory. 

They are also present in the Nasarawa region of central Nigeria. The Gbagyi/Gbari ethnic and indigenous group is the most populous in Nigeria’s central belt and Federal Capital Territory, and farming is their primary source of income. The women also engage in the practice of pottery. Central Nigeria is home to several Gbagyi communities. They live in western Abuja, in southern Niger State, and in the Chikun local government area, which has its administrative center at Kujama in Kaduna and Nassarawa states. While some local historians associate migration with the Gbagyi people’s need for agriculture, others disagree and contend that the Gbagyi were driven from their native settlements during the Fulani Jihad. 

The Gbagyi have historically followed a patrilineal pattern of kinship. The extended family compound, which is run by the oldest male, has the lowest level of power. Small huts and rectangular buildings make up the compound. The Esu/Osu (king) is the highest tier of authority in a Gbagyi settlement and he is assisted by a group of elders. Gbagyi are skilled at combining clay to create attractive home goods like pots. 

Oral tradition holds that the first inhabitant was a hunter who went hunting in Abuja’s dense Paikokun forest. The mountain where the first settler lived was called Paikokun. Before western civilization forced the majority of the Gbagyi people to relocate to the plain, they used to live on mountaintops because they thought they were safer there than on the plain. 

The Gbagyi women’s practice of carrying objects, no matter how heavy, on their shoulders is very distinctive. They hold that since the head is said to be the ruler of the complete body, it shouldn’t be disturbed. They refer to the area of their body where they store their possessions as Bwapa. They also assert that they feel lighter than they do on their heads as a result of the load. Even today, it is still very much in use. 

This tribe has a long history of tradition surrounding marriage. By their tradition, when a man expresses interest in a lady, he must work for seven years on the bride’s father’s farm, toiling and supplying the bride’s home with food so that she would be properly fed. However, today, instead of serving seven years in the bride’s father’s home, the groom now merely pays the bride’s price. 

The Gbagyi people dress in Ajeside, a native woven and dyed tie-dye garment made of indigenous cotton. Some Gbagyi practice their traditional religion and belief in a God called Shekwoi, who existed before their forefathers, but they also focus on pacifying other gods’ deities, such as Maigiro. Knunu is their primary religion, and they feel that it shields them from the evil that permeates their society. 

Ladi Dosei Kwali, who appears on the 20-naira note, is Gbagyi.

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: September 29, 2022


Must Read

Connect with us

Join our Mailing List to Receive Updates