Gwoza Hills

Nigerian army inspecting Gwoza Hills
Army Chief, Buratai at the Gwoza Hills as a show of force to bandits. Photo: Nigerian Army HQ

Gwoza hills; rocky and sun-baked  system of hills in Borno State where three villages with primitive existence and peculiar traditions: Kunde, Guduf- Nagadio and Guduf-Kusaraha in Gwoza Local Government Area of the state are situated. Inhabitants do not build houses but live in caves with thatch and thorns as doors. They worship stones and wood, see snakes and scorpions as often as city dwellers see automobiles. Also, they are not allowed to have more than seven children. The eighth are sacrificed to sacred stones, which represent departed parents. Polygamy is not widespread among these cave dwellers hardly touched by modernity. Converts to Christianity or Islam often syncretize their beliefs with pagan practices.

Though some Christian missionaries have established health centres to serve the area, they are largely unpopular. The sick, especially children, are taken to the sacred stones which are believed to have therapeutic powers. By the start of the 21st Century, many cave dwellers had never travelled on a highway as the  treacherous terrain is a disincentive to road construction. They also hardly travel out of the area. Commuting is largely by foot up and down the rocky hills with their wares strapped to their backs. A typical journey from the base to the top of the mountain takes two gruelling hours- for the able bodied. The old and the sick could spend between three and four hours. Despite the harsh living conditions, the cave dwellers of Kunde, Guduf-Nagadio and Guduf Kusaraha are happy that the harsh terrain of their abode has helped to protect their culture from being eroded by alien influences. Many live far below the poverty line and offers for better living by a visiting governor was rejected 1.

In 2013, armed terrorists attacked seven hill communities in Gwoza council of Borno state with Improvised Explosive Devices (lEDs) and petrol-bombs, torching many houses and carting away food items and livestock into caves in the hills.Some of the villages on Gwoza Hills could not be accessed by the military because of the difficult terrain 2.

1. The News September 6, 2004

2. Guardian June 29, 2013

Tope Apoola
Profession: Writer