Wanzami, northern traditional barbers face extinction
For ages, they are known professionals that specialise in herbal medicine treating people’s infections and diseases and more prominently conducting circumcision both for children, and women (women genital circumcision).
It is an artisanal skill is as old as the culture and has become the way of life for most citizens in the north.
Gradually, as modernity crept in, the ‘crude’ Wanzami is gradually disappearing though many are still content with adopting the old fashioned way. The trade is also adapting to modern technologies.
Aska (locally stainless steel made blade) has been replaced with razor blade, Makanna (manual clipper) has also given way to the electrical one, while more people are using shaving gel and powder to get rid of their hair in a wipe.
In the past, they use a blacksmith’s made toolkit with their charmed Zabira (their toolkit and other stuff carrier), which consist of variety of blades, scissors and knives, along with a metal cup hung on it and a soap with other herbs usually to be use after shaving.
The emergence of the deadly HIV and AIDS virus was a major blow to the Wanzami as people took notice of its potential risk as carrier of the virus with the continuous use of unsterilized blades.
In spite of this however, for the local barbers and their customers, the spread of diseases such as HIV and hepatitis A, B, C among others is nothing but a myth.
The roadside local barbers, who have stationed themselves at different locations with their mobile tools in search of daily bread, have made their voices heard to The Guardian.
Mallam Muhammad Wanzan, a veteran local barber shared some of the reasons that have kept his business alive despite technological advancement. “This profession is mostly inherited from generation to generations.
I have been practicing this for over 25 years. This December will mark my 13th year in Abuja. I was advised to move to the Federal Capital City (FCT) by one of my customers who only comes to the village occasionally and enjoys my services.
“He prefers my services and even recommends me to his colleagues. So I moved to Abuja with my parents’ permission and settled there in Central Mosque. It wasn’t easy adjusting to a new life in Abuja. I had to change the way I did my work back in the village and add certain values to it. People in Abuja are so sensitive about personal hygiene, thus, if we go the old-fashioned way, we still have to take adequate measures to ensure their safety. I still use local blades (Aska) but before I shave someone’s hair with it, I must sterilize it with spirit then burn it.”
Another local barber who was seen surrounded by customers, shared with The Guardian the nature of his work. Nura Muhammad has been doing the job for over 10 years after he deliberately stopped working with a modern barber who he described as a strict boss. He said he decided to establish his own on a small-scale after he had previously sold date, beans and provisions in a kiosk in Bauchi State.
According to him, it is his ancestral job. He said almost everyone in his family is doing local barbing. “Some of my clients have advised me to open a modern barber shop, I told them I would not, not because I don’t know how to do it but am considering the cost of doing that. First, I will have to rent a shop, get sets of chairs, standing mirrors, clippers, a generating set, fan, etc. and I have families”, Nura revealed.
For Sheu Umar, who has spent over 50 years doing the job, he said he started it from age seven and he learnt it from his late father. The agile, retired civil servant worked with the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) in Bauchi. He was seen surrounded by his patient and loyal customers who have developed unflinching admiration for his service.
He said he has thousands of customers across Bauchi metropolis and some of them prefer home service. “I am not new on this job, I have been here for long, at this same spot in Wunti roundabout, since when we were charging half a kobo.”
He said despite the fact that he got the job with the NBS in November 14, 1977 till his retirement in 2007, he never abandoned local barbing and he vowed not to. “I don’t have a plan of leaving this work, not because of greediness but because of my esteemed customers.
“I have 18 children and two wives, some of my children have completed their tertiary education, some are in secondary schools while three of them are in primary school. I have sponsored them to these stages with what I earn here and my meager pension,” Sheu added.
When asked if he would like to relocate to a more befitting shop rather than using under the tree, he said he is not ready because of losing his clients who have known him with the spot. When also asked how their tools are sterilised against germs and diseases, Sheu said: “We only use one razor blade for a customer, this is done in their presence, or they even bring the blade from home. After the cuts, we apply spirit to sterilise before using it for others.
Also, we do burn our blades after using,” the 65-year-old man explained.
Kola Modupeola, who has been addicted to roadside barbing, said he preferred the local barbing to modern one because of their way of doing the skin cut without any itch. “Before I do patronise the modern barbers but when I discovered that am an old man I need a clean skin cut which is best done by these people, I opted for them. When I came here this morning, I didn’t meet Baba, I had to wait for him because I enjoy his hand.” Kola said he pays N100 and enjoys the way they treat their tools.
Meanwhile, giving his medical advice, Dr. Chijioke Chika Samuel of Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University Teaching Hospital (ATBUTH), Bauchi said though many people have resorted to the roadside barber, which as a medical practitioner, he frowns at, he hinted that the act might have been the cause of increase in the cases of hepatitis and other diseases.
Chijioke said: “We frown at it because it is associated with so many issues. Some of those objects they use, like scissors, blades and others may not be properly sterilized. That means people that are patronizing them are prone to diseases like Hepatitis B and C and even HIV because an object used for two clients who may be living with any disease will affect others.”
He advised the general public to own a personal clipper where their personal hygiene would be guaranteed. “By doing this, all the viral hepatitis and HIV would be avoided to some extent.
“Over two years, the cases of hepatitis and other diseases have increased and these mostly occur among the low socio-economic class of citizens and villagers. Though I haven’t done any personal study on this but I have seen so many patients with these cases, but if a study is to be done you may later discover that some of these people patronise these local barbers. How can you be so sure that even the spirit they use is an original one?”
In Bauchi and other parts of northern Nigeria, the tradition, as was the case with tribal marks, which was an essential duty of the Wanzami, is waning.
Many see the issue of hygiene as one contributing factor to the decline of Wanzamnas. In the opinion of Abbas Abdullahi, a banker, who said he has known some the local barbers to be ignorant of the campaign to sterilize their instruments, this makes a lot of people to distance their wards from the hands of Wanzan and his tools. He explained that if they would make efforts to modernize their activities a lot of people would revert to the tradition.
Isa Yusuf Chamo of the Centre for the Study of Nigerian Languages in Bayero University, Kano State, is of the view that the traditional barber has been phased out by the advancement in healthcare and technology, even though he plays some role in remote areas where western education has not diffused the culture.
He believes, also, that they may need to improve on their profession to avoid extinction.
The doctor at the department of family medicine at ATBUTH advised the local barbers to always discard all the used objects to avoid the spread of hepatitis and HIV.
Also, the story is the same with another customer, Ibrahim Ndanusa, who expressed satisfaction with the services render to him. “See I don’t think I can go to the modern barbers anymore, because this men had won my loyalty, they treat their tools well which will not give you bump or any infection. They only charge N100 per head”. He said he’s been patronising them under same tree for about 5years ago and will encourage his family to patronise them.
Muhammad Sheu, is also a barber who has been at the spot since 1985 doing local barbing, told The Guardian that he planned to own his own a shop but finance has been his challenge to do so. “ever since 33 years on this work, my dream is to have a well furnished shop but there’s no money. I have children and wives which am taking care of with my earnings here” Muhammad said.
For Auwal Kabir, another local barber said he had once owned a modern barbers shop but quitted it as he was not able to cope with the rent at Wunti Dada in Bauchi metropolis.
He said “I had to pay for rent, fueling of generator set, paying for other bills and there was not sales. I then closed the shop and started this mobile barbing, with this I don’t have problem of any bill or rent. And my customers are still calling me for service” Auwal said.
Mallam wanzan said that the services was so cheap in the village while they charge people much here considering package of the services. For that, I can afford lots of things, my kids bcan attend private schools, likewise food and shelter.
They majorly have a metal object attached called ‘aska’ with a razor blade, bar soap, scissors, brush and a piece of clothe as their instruments being used to barb their clients, and this is done on a bench where the barber seated facing his customer under a tree or by the roadside.
That fought can only be made by those that were enlightened about the virus by activist and mass media,but for those information poor citizens, they were calmly patronising their Wanzamai with the potential of being infected with the transmitted disease.
And lots of them die silent death. In the contrary, as media organizations and nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) puts more effort in sensitization and combatting the HIV and AIDs especially the conditions which one can contract with the virus, then lots people realises the negative ill of going to the local baber.
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