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Uniting Tarok People Through Ilum O’ Tarok

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In this piece ACHOR ABIMAJE writes on  the significance of the celebration of the annual  Ilum O’ Tarok by Tarok speaking people of Plateau southern senatorial zone.

Ilum O’ Tarok (Tarok Day)is an annual event that is being celebrated by the Tarok speaking people of Langtang north and Langtang South  local government council in southern area of Plateau  state . It is also  a uniting force for the Tarok people to come together as one family.

The Tarok people are found in Langtang North and South, Kanam and Wase local government areas of Plateau State. Langtang North and South are however, the heart of Tarok land in the lowland area of Plateau State, central Nigeria.

A tribe living in isolation cannot move on with ease. Thus the need for community with neighboring tribes is another driving force behind the Ilum O’Tarok. The celebration is also driven by the imperativeness to push for peace and togetherness among Tarok people.

The celebration normally takes place between the Month of March and April as it serves as a unifying factor for the Taroks.

It is also a platform for updating the Tarok traditional skills for the sake of spurring technological development leading to economic and social development.

If Tarok people must remain distinct, there is also the need to encourage upcoming generation of Tarok men and women to uphold the culture and traditions of their ancestors. One cannot deny the link between a distinct culture and tourism and the economic blessing that trails it.

The Paramount ruler of Tarok Nation is called the Ponzhi Tarok.

Traditional Landscape And Environment

The Tarok people are indeed proud of their heritage and are determined to preserve it. This is evident in many of the cultural elements of the Tarok people. For instance, the traditional Langtang architecture has endured till today.

This conspicuous architectural style sharply marks the boundary between Ngas land and Tarok land such that one gets the impression of a cultural change at the boundary.

The people live in round huts with cone shaped roofing of grass that the environment provides. Usually a number of these huts that depend on the size of the family could be seen clustered together.

In view of the plain nature of the topography of the biggest town in Tarok land, Langtang, houses are opened to the destructive menace of the winds. Planting trees to serve as wind breakers has thus become a practice among the Tarok people.

Local Food And Herbs

The most favored plant used for this is the Dogonyaro Neem  plant that has thus defined the uniqueness of Tarok skyline which is evergreen.

The Tarok tribe also plant what is called Zokole tree whose leaves are popularly known as Moringa  leaves. This is very common in Langtang North and Langtang South. There is not any Tarok village or settlement that one can not find Moringa tree. Zokole leaves serve for medicinal purposes given to people suffering from high blood pressure. It is often said the leaves cure over 12 illnesses while Neem tree is used to cure malaria in the area.

The major cereal crop of the Tarok is millet and guinea corn. It is used for fufu and a Tarok local brew called Burukutu, made from guinea corn or millet.

Childbirth

According to the Tarok culture, the coming of a new born is seen as a blessing not just to the immediate parents but the community at large. If the community must benefit from the blessing a new child brings, then he must live and grow up to become a man.

There is however death and some women often give birth to children that usually die soon after their birth. As a result subsequent children are initiated into the Orim cult to prevent them from dying.

Marriages

Polygamy is a cultural element of the Tarok people and the number of wives a man has marks him out among his peers. Great men are also known by the size of their harvests, the number of children and the spirit of giving to the less privileged.

Those that lead men to war to come back victorious are also, without doubt, among great men in Tarok land. Above all a great man is one who once killed a leopard, an extremely ferocious animal. Thus he has the right to wear a cap made from the spotted skin of the animal. The cap is now generally worn as a symbol of greatness among Tarok men.

In life generally, love can come at first sight. With consensus. In the Tarok tradition, a Tarok girl meeting a boy for the first time, she can follow him to his house to become his wife without prior notice to her parents.

The love rendezvous is usually at market places on market days, and then on the occasion of the celebration of Ilumo O’ taroh. The next day, a relation of the new husband is led by a mediator, unim sel, to the girl’s parents to inform them that they should not panic as their daughter is in the custody of their son.

They then present a gift that the girl’s parents hardly take on the first day to avoid creating the impression of selling their daughter. The eventual acceptance of the present, usually snuff, is an endorsement of the marriage.

The next step is for the new husband to pay the bride price. This he does by building a three round hut apartment, farming for a few years and buying a traditional wear for the father-in-law.

Naming Children

Children are named based on the circumstances surrounding the birth. There are names like Nanmwa meaning ‘God has provided’, usually given because the parents had almost given up on having a child. Byenchit meaning that ‘it is good’. Ventim means ’restored by God.’ In other contexts, Ventim may mean ‘unity’, given when a child is born at a time when there is a disagreement that divides the community into two or more.

Warriors

Tarok people say that militarism naturally runs in their veins. This they say is the reason why the Tarok are remarkably successful in the Nigerian Armed Forces such that it is rumored that there is one Military General in every square kilometer of Tarok land.

The adventures of their men in the military had made the land famous and the sons and daughters of Tarok very proud of whom they are. Hence a distinguished military career has also become a mark of greatness that guarantees one the freedom to adorn the leopard cap.

Funerals

Funeral rites in Tarok land are also unique. The death and subsequent burial of an elderly man is usually followed by ngaga that involves the beating of drums, chanting of incantations and wielding of spears meant to drive away death. This is followed by nken orim during which the spirit of the dead man is received and reunited with his ancestors and by extension the family.

Speaking to our Correspondent in Jos the Plateau state capital, the secretary general of Ngwashi O’ Tarok, a social political pressure group of the Tarok Nation Rev. Nanlir Kartim Napbut said Ilum O’ Tarok in English means Tarok’ day adding that the concept was developed in 1983 when Prof. Mary Lar was heading a group called Tarok development association.

According to him, the first people to kick start the celebration of Tarok day was the Tarok from Wase local government council of Plateau state in 1987, while Tarok people from other areas imbibe the culture about the same time in 1988 and  1989.

He pointed out that the focus of the Tarok day is to ensure that the culture does not go into extinction because of the migration of Tarok people from Tarok land which comprises of Langtang North and Langtang South. The tribe is also found in all the local government council in the southern Plateau.

The secretary general noted that the influx of Tarok people from the rural areas to the urban centres, make it necessary for Tarok people to come out once in a while, to celebrate and to ensure that their culture and language does not go into extinction.

The secretary stressed that it is why during the celebration of the Tarok cultural day,  Tarok cultural artifacts are displayed so that the young ones who are born and bred in the urban centres will see some of these artifacts themselves.

Some people also buy some of these artifacts to keep in their houses and offices.

According to him, they make sure that Tarok culture is maintained and show cased to the outside world and to the generation yet unborn, noting that it is because of these they have Tarok people  in all the states of the federation saying “When you go to Lagos, they also celebrate the Tarok day, they have Tarok day in Minna, Port Harcourt, Kaduna , Kano and so on.

He further pointed out that the focus of this is to ensure that Tarok people do not lose focus in terms of their tradition as it bring sons and daughters of Tarok together to socialize and brainstorm on the way forward for the Tarok nation.

He added that it is against this background that Gen. Joshua Dogoyaro, the national president of Ngwashi O’ Tarok in 2013 embarked on fund raising to ensure that Tarok people have their own national museum to showcase Tarok artifacts and cultural heritage to the world.

Other cultural festivals held in Plateau State include: Afrizere Cultural Festival, Pan Cultural Festival, Geomai Day, Pu’ Us Kang, Nzem Berum, Thaar Cultural Festival, Ron/Kulere Festival, Boggham Cultural Festival, Rim River Mushere and Zarachi Festival.

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