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Fila, Hula or Yaudi: Bama Caps from Nigeria’s Borno State are likely to be seen across West Africa

Depending on the number of layers in the design, this hand-made cap can take anywhere from two to five weeks to sew

Bama Caps. Image Source:

NIGERIA, September 1, 2016: The Bama Cap from Nigeria’s Borno State is a distinctive hat made by the Bama people in the north-eastern part of the country. Locally, the Bama cap is known as- filahula or yaudi.

Prized across West Africa for their intricate embroidery, the hats are now being woven into Nigerian pop culture, worn by young and old, from politicians to music celebrities.

Nigerian rapper Naeto C made a stunning fashion statement when he wore a Bama cap with urban streetwear in the music video for his 2011 hit single 10 over 10.

President Muhammadu Buhari is rarely seen without his Bama cap. Women are also rocking the style, led by creative female music celebrities.The Bama people have been making their caps for hundreds of years, but not too many people know the full story.

Nigeria's Borno state highlighted in red. Source: Wikimedia Commons
Nigeria’s Borno state highlighted in red. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

The Bama people have been making their caps for hundreds of years, but not too many people know the full story.

Survivors of terror 

“The Bama cap began in Yaudi, that’s the town in the Bama area of Borno state. It was worn by the leaders of the community,” explains Ahmed Isa Ghondi.

Ghondi is a promoter of the Bama cap and has written up to 40 unpublished books on the tradition. But there is also a dark side to the story.

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Bama was nearly wiped out by Boko Haram, the violent Islamic extremist group that has left a trail of bloodshed through northeastern Nigeria for years. Those who survived the carnage flocked to Maiduguri. The state capital, Borno’s largest city and commercial hub, also has been wracked by Boko Haram’s attacks, but it is still safer than Bama.

“They’ll take your wife,” Bama native Dunoma Gambo says of Boko Haram. “They’ll take your child and they’ll also force you into joining them.”

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Gambo escaped such a fate by fleeing to Maiduguri, where he now is part of a collective of internally displaced Bama people. They kept up their cultural tradition of sewing Bama caps after arriving in the state capital, and the collective has flourished.

Traditional techniques and designs

“I grew up and saw people sewing and that’s how I learned,” Gambo says. “You will be practicing and you will make many mistakes, but with time, you will do it right. I’ve now been an expert in it for 12 years.”

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Each cap starts with a design template that is sketched by hand, using a ruler and colored markers.

Templates can be bought for less than $10. Once there’s a template, the sewing of the cap’s base begins. The white centerpiece on the top goes on last.

Depending on the number of layers in the design, a cap can take anywhere from two to five weeks to sew. Everything is done by hand.

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In Maiduguri, the caps sell for about $20. In Abuja, Nigeria’s capital, they sell for at least $50, and on up to $180.

Caps symbolize national unity

“The caps, they are very strong. That’s why people from different parts of the country buy them,” says Sani Mohammed, who traveled from Kaduna state to buy caps for his upcoming wedding.

“The cap brings unity among Nigerians,” Sani Mohammed says. Even though he is not from Bama, he wants to wear a Bama cap on his wedding day.
“Everyone comes here, all the tribes – from Yoruba to Igbo to non-Nigerians,” says 25-year-old Mohammed Fantami. At his fashion shop in Abuja, he says, the Bama caps sell out quickly, in part because they are a symbol of prestige.

“Wearing a cap brings respect,” Fantami says. “Between two people, if one is wearing a cap and the other is not, there is a difference. Even if you see a small kid with a cap, you will respect him.”

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Once the caps arrive from Maiduguri, they are hand-washed and starched. After drying in the sun for at least 12 hours, the caps are pressed with a charcoal iron.

Bama cap promoter Ahmed Isa Ghondi wants to expand the cap-making industry. He drives around, telling people about what makes the caps so special.

“Because of the hand stitching, the fact that it was made by hand,” he says. “You know, the carpets in Uzbekistan are famous because they are hand-stitched. So these caps must also be famous.”

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Men from Bama like Dunoma Gambo will continue to sew their traditional caps in Maiduguri. They say Boko Haram fighters may have destroyed their homes in Bama, but they have not destroyed the Bama cap. (VOA)


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Despite Stigma, Nigerian Parents Demand Justice in Child Sex Cases

All are new cases of suspected child abuse, according to Dr. Musa Shuaibu, a pediatrician

Child Sex Cases
Mercy Philip (left) with her 8-year-old daughter (right in white) meet with a lawyer in northern Nigeria. VOA

Mercy Philip will never forget January 12, 2017.

That’s the day she says her 8-year-old daughter walked up to her and asked if she could wash her panties.

Philip asked her daughter why she needed to wash her panties and her daughter said a male neighbor had “climbed on her body” and then told her to wash her panties afterward.

The mother immediately took her daughter to a clinic. And on the same day, Philip and her husband went to the police. The neighbor, who was arrested based on the medical report, was released from jail and is awaiting trial.

ALSO READ: Number of Girls born alive for every 1,000 Boys declined over last 65 years from 946 to 887

Yet the family’s life has been upended.

They have been ridiculed by people in the community, pressured to drop the charges, and condemned for “trying to ruin a man’s life,” Philip said. When her daughter goes outside, people stare, laugh or throw stones at her, the mother said.

Social stigma

The shame and social stigma attached to sexual abuse stop most families in Nigeria from seeking justice. They usually end up settling cases of child sex abuse through cash payments often quietly negotiated by religious leaders.

“To settle means to forget about it … let sleeping dogs lie,” said Bukola Ajao, the Philips’ lawyer. “Please, we are sorry, but this kind of matter is not something that you just apologize for.”

The most recent data available on child sex abuse in Nigeria is from 2014. That study — from Nigeria’s National Population Commission, the U.N. Children’s Fund and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — revealed that 1-in-4 girls and 1-in-10 boys in Nigeria experience sexual violence before the age of 18.

child sex cases
Doctors at Barau Dikko Teaching Hospital at Kaduna State University say they see abused children on a daily basis. VOA

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The Barau Dikko Teaching Hospital at Kaduna State University in the Kaduna state capital handles requests to provide evidence for suspected child sex abuse. At the time VOA visited the hospital, in the space of 30 minutes, more than five women with children had entered the ward.

All are new cases of suspected child abuse, according to Dr. Musa Shuaibu, a pediatrician.

“Nearly on a daily basis, there would be one form of abuse or the other. And that is quite alarming in view of the fact that quite a negligible fraction, actually get reported to the hospital,” Shuaibu said.

Activists seek new law

Activists are lobbying Kaduna state to approve the federal Child Rights Act of 2003 that mandates a 14-year jail sentence for a child sex abuse conviction and life imprisonment for rape. Eleven states in the north, including Kaduna, have not ratified it. Instead, those states rely on Sharia courts and a colonial-era penal code to prosecute child sex abuse.

Kaduna State Minister of Women and Social Development Hajia Hafsatu Mohammed Baba told VOA the state government is committed to passing it. But the Supreme Sharia Council has said that the federal statute is a Western import and an attempt to restrict Sharia courts.

Meanwhile, families are often left with only difficult choices.

“You know how things are around here. Things like this can never be buried,” said Asabe Musa, whose daughter was molested when she was 5 years old. “This is the kind of story that goes around … maybe when the girl does find someone to marry, someone will go and tell his family what happened to her.”

After hearing about the abuse, relatives of Musa’s husband, who live in northern Nigeria, traveled to Kaduna to speak with Musa about settling the case. Afterwards, they took the child with them, hoping that she would be less stigmatized in a community where she is unknown.

Musa, whose face is lined with sorrow, said she wants her daughter back.

Few go to court

At one orphanage in the center of town, children dance around together in a circle. A slender young woman clenches the hand of her little girl. The woman, who asked to be identified as Ladi, said she can’t go to court as it was her father who raped her young daughter.

“My daughter was covered in blood. I picked her up and just stood there. He was someone I had always respected, so I didn’t say anything to him. I picked her up and went to town with her in the morning,” she said.

She has been running ever since. Going back to her village is not an option, she said, as her father is a chief there.

For the past decade, Hauwa Hassan, the owner, and manager of the orphanage has worked with about 20 families dealing with child sex abuse. She says only three of them took her advice to go to court. Those cases were never concluded.

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child sex cases
A fruit seller is serving a 3-year jail sentence for luring this 7-year-old orphan into his shop and sexually abusing him. VOA

One 7-year-old orphan said he was walking to school when an old fruit seller offered a pear to lure the boy into the back of his shop. The abuse went on until the boy complained to his uncle about pains in his body.

“When it happened, the first thing we did has we stopped him from going out and even from school and kept him at home,” the boy’s uncle, Anas Umar, said, blinking hard to stop the tears.

“I wrote the police statement myself. A lot of my friends first suggested we all go and beat him up, but I didn’t because of what could follow. I can’t take the law into my own hands… I can’t just go and take his sins upon myself,” he added. “Other people were telling me to just leave the matter because the man is too old, but what he did was serious…The judgment passed was not enough, but still, I thank God there was some sort of judgment.”

The court found the fruit seller guilty under a colonial-era sodomy law. He couldn’t pay the 80,000 naira — about $200 — fine so he is serving a 3-year jail sentence.

“That is what he deserved. That will scare others like him,” Umar said. “The judgment passed was not enough but still, I thank God there was some sort of judgment.” (VOA)