With a trade in hand, local chicken cage weavers cater for their families and help to keep the mother hen and her chicks away from preys. PEMBI STEPHEN-DAVID writes.
When in late February 1991, Alhassan Audu, a 46-year old local chicken cage weaver from Kano who has tried different trades so many times that he has lost count, left home, little did he know that he would learn the craft. This time, however, he was determined to earn a living no matter what it may cost him. He ventured into the trade just to make sure that he had something to do. Today, Audu is not just an entrepreneur but has trained a handful of youths who are also doing well.
“As soon as I left home finally in 1991, I made up my mind to learn a trade that can sustain me and my family. I reluctantly agreed to learn the cage making. It never occurred to me that I would still be making cages because it was the last thing that was on my mind when I left home.
But I can tell you that I have taught more than twelve children how to weave chicken cages and they are all over the place doing the work and keeping body and soul together.”
Audu is glad that he took the informed decision. “I thank Allah that I did not refuse to learn the craft. Looking at the economic situation in the country today, if I had not learnt this trade, what would have sustained me?” he asked rhetorically.
His quest for business took him to Michika, Adamawa State, where he is enjoying the comfort of his craft. As you approach the Dispensary Michika, on your way to the famous Central Primary School, Michika, Adamawa State, depending on the time of the day, you are sure to be attracted to men weaving local chicken cages of different shapes and sizes. “I weave and sell Kwando kaji (Hausa name for chicken cage),” Audu says. A father of three, Audu is hard working and is committed to the trade which he says has distinguished him from the people who are unemployed.
It has been a wonderful thing for Audu to learn the weaving trade; he says he would have been a dependant all his life if he had not learnt the craft. Audu’s greatest moment is when he decided to settle down and “do something useful for my future”. The joyful Audu can help the feeling that the best thing to happen to him is the decision he took to learn the weaving trade. “Twenty one years ago, I never would have thought this would have been possible because everything I tried failed, but today, I have settled for this business and I am enjoying it even though I make little income,” says Audu, who sustains his family from the money he makes and still has something to spare.
A native of Gabusawa, Kano State, he says he has a small farm in his village and goes home seasonally to work and attend to other family needs. “I have spent just two decades in this trade but the way I enjoy it is as if I have been on it for my whole life. I learnt the trade because I had no option.
I started when I was young. My father’s friend trained me and I have trained different people.” The cage, he says, though houses mother hen and her chicks, is a very important tool used to preserve the birds. “The cage can only accommodate a hen and her chicks but it goes a long way in making sure that they are kept away from preys.”
At about 1pm on Saturday, December 22, in the middle of the road of Central Primary School, Michika, Adamawa State, Audu was busy weaving and selling local chicken cages. He does it efficiently and effectively. His attention to detail, commitment to excellence and understanding of the craft make him an exceptional case. Audu has good customer relations skills and individually tailored service. These are central to making his cage the most-preferred by buyers. Audu says he spent two months learning how to weave the local cage.
As long as there is demand for the local chicken cage, Audu says he is ready to make sure that he makes the product available. “Though patronized by few people, the business is lucrative. I say this because I hardly keep one for more than two days without someone coming to buy. At times people book in advance because the demand is higher than I can produce.”
Explaining further, Audu says, “You see, between late March and early December, when most of the adults are in the farm, the chickens are left at the mercies of one prey or the other. Not only that, cats also come at night to catch the chicks. Let me tell you something, the chicks or hens that are sick can be separated and caged in the local cage until they fully recover. Apart from that, any hen or cock that is to be slaughtered or sold the next day or so can be put in the local cage. It is a useful item. The problem here is the cage lasts long so people don’t buy always.”
On how he sources for raw materials, Audu explains that he goes to Uba, a town in Borno State, about twenty minutes drive from Michika, to buy fresh Nyeem sticks which he uses to make the local cage. “I go to Uba mostly on Saturdays to buy these sticks.” He says a big cage goes for N200 while a small one goes for N150.
Except for the hot sun and the task of meeting deadlines, Danjuma, a young local cage maker and a protégé of Audu, is enjoying weaving chicken cages. Indeed, among his peers, he is about the only one who does not depend on his parents for basic needs. Danjuma, 12, is a JSS 1 student of one of the schools in Michika. “I don’t need to disturb my parents to buy little things for me, I take care of myself. I use the money I make here to buy clothes and soap.” He says he learnt the trade at the age of ten and has been using it to his advantage. “When I was in primary school, I used the cage I make as my handicraft and I always score 100 per cent. My teachers know that I am into the craft so they encouraged me. At times, my craft teacher would ask me to teach my classmates how to make chicken cage. It was fun. We always looked forward to craft time because we had time to share knowledge.”
Numbered among over 1 billion people who live on less than $1 a day, 50 year-old Audu and his protégés have made economic choices that they believe is helping them ease their families economic life. “I love this craft and what keeps me on is the fact that I do it with all pleasure,” explains a 35 year-old man, who gave his name as Mallam Isa. Isa turned his attention to his craft, thinking of what the next meal would be. It was still afternoon, and hot too, a few minutes after 2 pm, no one came to buy a cage from Isa who had asked his wife to send his son Kabiru to collect money to buy food stuff. Then came two women out of the blues.
“Good afternoon, my son,” one of the women in her early sixties greeted. “Afternoon mama,” answered Isa and the haggling began. After telling them the last price of the cage, mama decided to pay less. “Mama, I cannot reduce anything from the N200 I told you. That is the price. The one of N150 is what I am working on. As you can see, it is smaller,” he explains.
“Haba my son,” the woman replied. “Hawks are disturbing my chicks and they are many, the small cage cannot contain them. Please consider my case as an old woman and sell it at N150 for me.” “Mama, but you know that things are hard for me as well. This is the only trade I have and I have a family to take care of. You should also consider the stress I go through to craft the cage,” he replied. After a long thought, the old woman brought out N200 note and paid for the cage.
When Isa left his native town of Azare, Bauchi State for Michika, he had a mission, ‘‘to learn a trade that I can rely on even at old age,” he said. To watch these men at work is to see a portrait of workaholics. They exemplify the determined craftsmen who are out to make things happen and not just to watch things happen.