Machina is one of the retreat villages in Yobe State. It is located 300 kilometres north of Damaturu, the state capital. The Machina Empire as it is called is rich in history and culture. One of the wonders of the historic city is the way and manner snakes and humans interact without harming each other. It is unclear when the Machina people and monarchy began making friends with snakes, but one thing that is very profound is that the people treat and respect snakes. And the snakes reciprocate this gesture by not harming anyone.
LEADERSHIP Sunday discovered that in this village the people freely interact with snakes unlike the frightful experience in other places.
This seemingly unbelievable but real situation in the community is traced to a popular myth among the people that a queen gave birth to a set of twins, of which one was a baby and the other a snake.
Consequently, the people believe that royal blood runs in snakes in the area. For this reason, the snakes frequently pay homage to the Mai Machinama Palace, where their ancestor was allegedly born along with one of their ancestral kings, as a “twin child.”
History has it that the “mystery queen” gave birth to the set of twins in the palace – a human being and a snake – the second being a snake couldn’t stay long with its mother and found its way into the rocks behind the Emir’s Palace. It is said that that the descendants of that snake still enjoy all the privileges that come with royalty.
It is further believed that just like the Machina Emirate, the forebear of the snake procreated kings, queens and princesses that were of equal status with their human relatives in the kingdom.
In an interview with LEADERSHIP Sunday in his palace, the Emir of Machina, His Royal Highness, Alhaji Bashir Albishir Bukar Machinama, traced how the snake started its generation like regular human family immediately after it went into the rocks.
According to the emir, since then, their lineage has continued, just like their human counterparts.
Alhaji Macinama said, “I am the 77th Mai Machinama, so there must be one snake that has attained the same position in their kingdom.’’
He recalled that during his father’s installation as the emir of emirate, several snakes gathered at the palace entrance and socialised with people without causing any harm.
The monarch narrated an encounter the snakes had with the media crew that came to cover the event.
He said out of curiosity, some of the journalists attempted to take photographs of the snakes, adding that the moment they fixed their cameras on them, the snakes got out of sight.
After the futile attempt, the journalists gave up and went back with stories to tell that, “It is only by our acceptance that one can get their pictures, our children snapped pictures of the snakes within the palace because they consider them as their brothers,” the emir stated.
On how they relate with the snakes, the monarch said they occasionally come together as a family to share moments of happiness or grief within the palace and return to their normal abode.
He said, “ Let me tell you one thing, when I was turbaned, there were old snakes at the occasion. Just like the young ones usually come to the palace whenever my wives give birth. So, we doing everything together with them in this palace.
“When I married my younger wife, a snake came to the house and spent more than a week with us. The guests were afraid, but I assured them that it would not harm anybody. In the morning, it would come out and spread itself on the wall, then varnish in the afternoon. It would do the same thing in the evening and varnish. Initially, my bride was afraid, but she later became used to it. So, the snakes are our brothers, they don’t harm anybody in Machina.
“As I sit here, a snake could come and curl under my chair. I feel happy seeing them around. But each time I see them around, I will pray and hope that it’s for good because something will definitely happen. Whenever my wives are about to give birth, you will see the young snakes coming out, a sign that something is going to happen,’’ he said.
One of the courtiers in the palace told LEADERSHIP Sunday that one of the princes usually sleeps in the same bed with a snake. “Each time he goes to sleep and finds a snake in his bed, he will just push it aside and sleep alongside it,’’ he said.
In this emirate, the killing of snake is forbidden because they are considered as having royal blood and do not harm anybody. However, they retaliate when someone tries to harm them.
“Normally, when you come, you might not see them. But sometimes if you are lucky, you will see them moving around the palace. There is a place I normally rest in the evening; sometimes the snakes will just come under my chair, stay for some minutes and go. They will not do any harm. They will just move round and round and go. That is why we consider snakes as part of us, our blood relations. So, we don’t allow people to kill snakes in Machina local government area of the state.
“I can give three instances that I am a witness to. We had one gentleman who was at his tender age. They were clearing the farm with my father just behind the rocks. A snake came out and the gentleman took a stick and killed it.
“Then, all of a sudden, he started shivering and he was rushed to his house. At sunset, snakes started trooping into the gentleman’s house to the extent that he could not sleep in his house that night. His body became weak as if he had no bones in it, and he started crawling like a snake, moving his tongue like them.
“They came and reported the incident to my father. My father ordered that the young man should be brought to the palace. He was brought into the palace and they gave him some herbal medicine, prayed and begged for forgiveness. He recovered and after some weeks went back to his house.
“But one thing is that whenever that particular period of the year comes, the gentleman would fall sick and would not get better unless they gave him the medicine. Since he was like a house boy to my mother, the medicine was put under the custody of my mother. Anytime he fell sick, they would just come to my mother, get the medicine and administer it on him and he would be fine again for the year.
“Till the time when my father died, he was suffering from that illness for over 40 years, and I continued with him. I appointed him as one of my village heads. He was posted to Karigide village. Even in Karigide village, once that season comes, he will fall sick and luckily, my mother is still alive. She would send the medicine to him, and once he took it, he would be okay again.
“About three years ago, he died and we appointed his son to the throne of the village head. So, this is one typical example of killing snakes and its consequences.
“In the second instance, my father bought a tractor for farming and employed a driver from Jigawa State. That driver came with his family and settled in Machina. He married another woman from Machina, so he had two wives. The one he came with was at her tender age, so she was not out of giving birth. One afternoon, a snake came into their house and they were shouting, ‘snake! snake!’ Then the woman from Machina said they should forget about it, that it would not harm anyone.
“But the husband and the older wife said how can we be living in the house with snakes? Before they could do something, the snake had already entered a hole in the house.
“He ordered his wife to boil water. With the help of his pregnant wife, the one he came with from Jigawa, they poured the hot water in the hole where the snake entered. When the wife gave birth to a baby girl, the baby appeared as if she had no bones in her body. She was just like a snake. She stayed up to 14 or 16 years before she died.
“When you heard her speaking behind the scenes, you would think it was an able human being. She could speak with her mouth, she could hear and see, but she could not use her hands and legs. If she must move, they must use a basin to carry her up until that age or she would just be crawling like a snake. That is another example of the implications of killing a snake in Machina.
“In the third instance, there was a time, just about sunset, a snake came out from a gentleman’s house and they were shouting snake! snake! The family said, ‘Leave it; it won’t harm anybody.’
“You know about snake charmers. The man thought he had charms and he could do anything with snakes. He started following the snake. As the snake ran up to the outskirts of the town, he matched on the snake’s tail to take it.
“But just as he was about to pick it, the snake retaliated and bit the snake charmer. The man rushed to his master for rescue, and he was given oral medicine and the one he would use to bathe. But before he could even remove his clothes in the bathroom, he gave up.
“After some time, he did not come out of the bathroom. When the master went to check for him, he saw the dead body of the boy and the snake beside the dead body. Both the young man and the snake died.
“These are the three typical examples of the implications of killing a snake in this land. So, a snake does not harm anybody if you don’t touch it. And it is dangerous for someone to touch it or try to kill it. If you don’t touch it, it will go its way and you will go yours.
“If you are a stranger and mistakenly harm a snake, well, in most cases, the state of nature made certain animals in such a way that once you see them, you will have fear for them. Immediately you shout snake! Snake! people would say leave it.
“So, you will get that particular notice unless it is on the outskirts of the town. You know Machina has developed beyond its boundary. Where the snakes are is within the old city and near the palace.
“But there are some dangerous snakes outside Machina which people do kill, even we do kill them on our farms. Not all the snakes. But there are specific species that we don’t kill. Even if it is a black cobra, we know them and we don’t kill them.
“The more they grow, the more they change their colours from this whitish silver colour to brownish to black and the rest, so we don’t kill them.
“And then there are certain species normally that are dangerous to be killed because they are not harmful, but we don’t have such cases. We don’t have that experience of killing snakes by accident. But doing so intentionally, it is very dangerous,.” The monarch said.
On the history of the emirate, the monarch said of the 77 traditional leaders, only one is not from “our blood linage. He was brought from Damangana Zingri in Niger Republic when the Sultan of Zingri came surprisingly and captured Machina Nguru and some part of Potiskum area that is Mai Potiskum area.
“So, the leader of Machina was taken to Zingri for six years. Later he was freed and came back and took over his leadership. And that was my great grandfather, Maina Maila Idrissa. He was the only person whose tenure had two breaks.
“The first one was as a result of Zingri Damangana engagement in Machina and the second one was as a result of the coming of the Europeans. He fled and he came back about two years or so later. He ruled Machina for three subsequent times and died on the throne, and his son, Mai Ali Idrissa, ascended the throne and later my father, Mai Bukkar Aliyu Idrissa, then myself. So of the 77, only one is not from the linage of the founder of Machina,” Alhaji Bukar said.
Machina is over 1,400 years, because it started its reign when the Kanem Borno Empire was under the Sifawa Dynasty, he said, adding that, “You know we have two dynasties in Kanem Borno. We have the Shehu Dynasty, which is currently the ruling family from the Shehu El-Kanami.