It was after a clash with her brothers that, guided by the Tunguma stone, Saraouniya Yar Kasa, the queen who had come from Daura, north of the present day Niger, settled in a region then inhabited, now called Arewa or Maouri country, founded her village, Lougou. The date is unknown, it was in the XVIth or XVIIth century.
Tunguma, famous all over Niger and beyond, is often called justice stone and regularly consulted. It would be fairer to call it divination stone, as it is probable that official tribunals limited the stone’s traditional role to the field of justice proper.
Tunguma is not considered as a stone, but as a spirit and it belongs to Saraouniya of Lougou. Tunguma is linked to the baobab, as it was found under a baobab, and laid down under another. The tree is the abode of spirits and a sign of fertility, owing to its bountiful fruit, all over West Africa. Lately, there wasn’t a baobab to shelter Tunguma. All the baobabs, which abounded in the region, were gradually disappearing owing to drought. In the recent Tunguma rites, a sapling is substituted to the original baobab.
The rite of Tunguma
This section describes the rite that we have witnessed over and over again in Lougou between 1983 and 2010.
The stone is to be found three or four kilometers east from Lougou, on the plateau. The yan Tunguma, those who come to consult it, but also nomads, hunters or interested visitors wait around the stone for the arrival of people from Lougou.
Maitunguma, the dignitary in charge of the ceremony, alone, pours water on Tunguma three times, reciting ritual words, while the attendance greet each other and settle down. “Tunguma, doucin Tounguma na Katsina na Bornu, a zo da dariya, a koma da hushi”. Which means : ‘Tunguma, stone of Daura, of Katsina and of Burnu, we come laughing, we leave, heart-broken (because the culprit has been found).” The officiant deposits the gourd next to the stone. He drops a thin net next to the stone, then lifts the stone three times before putting it down, three times again in the net, then leaves it there. Two bearers arrive who are called the stone horses. The bearers are boys from Lougou, diya maza (men’s children), coming from the village on the men’s side.
Like the officiant, the bearers wear white clothes, they are barefoot. The stone is in a net, tied to a stick. The bearers lift it. They carefully balance the stone, which is always held in the same way, facing east. That face is called the nose. After lifting and depositing the stone three times, they carry it on their shoulders.
Meanwhile someone brings a heap of sand near the officiant, some 8 meters from the stone, the audience staying behind him. He sprays the sand. Maitunguna starts greeting: « Ina gaisuwa Tunguma, ina gaisuwa. Hail Tunguma, three times, while the celebrant sprays his head four times with sand laid in front of him. The bearers are drawn backward by the stone. The stone must answer the greetings, meaning they are accepted, returning three times toward the celebrant : Greetings carry on in an unbroken chain, to the beat of sprays of sand thrown, until Tunguma moves ahead. Then Maitunguma three times “I have seen and I thank you”. Then three times : “Diya maza mou na Lugu, kwana lahiya, tashi lahiyaè” “Mougou men’s children have slept well, they woke up in good health.” And four times: "Diya matan mu na Lugu ; kwana lahiya, tashi lahiya : The Lougou woman’s children have slept well, they woke up in good health.’’
“Where are the applicants ?... Give me kola (a few nuts of the bitter fruit, but sometimes money too), lay it down for them”. The applicant deposits money. He states his problem to the celebrant, who says: “Well, Tunguma, is that (he states the problem) a matter for Allah ?“, three times. If Tunguma says yes, one must be patient, as it means nothing can be done, which is seldom. Otherwise, the matter is checked :”There is something? – Yes". Then it is asked if man caused the problem, if it is a spirit… etc. The matter is treated by a process of elimination, followed by search for a remedy. Tunguma says yes by moving forward three times, and says no by staying still. For each question asked, the celebrant throws a fitful of sand toward Tunguma. He puts his word in the sand then wipes it out by taking the sand again.
The closing phrase will always be repeated four times to a female entity and three times to a male entity. “Kasa Saraunya, kwana lahiya, tashi lahiya” : land of Saraounia, sleep well, wake well. “Kasa Magaji, kwana lahiya, tashi lahiya” : “Magagi land, sleep well, wake up well”, then, “Tougouna land, sleep well, wake”. After several greetings of that sort, the conclusion is: "Your front horse, sleep well, wake well. Your back horse, sleep well wake well’, for the bearers.
In 1984, in two meetings, the questions bore on the unexplained death of an animal, the loss of an object, the choice of a spot to build one’s cabin, or premature delivery, for which the stone advises the choice of a healer, or a forgotten promise to a spirit, for which a rook (request, prayer) to Saraouniya is prescribed, a wife’s illness, due to a missing sacrifice to a spirit. It is also asked :“Is a field under a spell ?” And also : pain, illness, lack of news from family, child’s fear.
In 2005, two wives came to consult, one accusing the other, through witchcraft, to cause her miscarriages. The accused vehemently asks Tunguma to disculp her. Tunguma literally leaps ahead, jostling on his way those who came to hear the verdict, to assert the accused’s innocence.
Tunguma is open to any question. The style of the consultation is not at all formal, it isn’t stiff. Everyone can talk as they like. The celebrant who always seems to be accompanied of a double : if he is tired or doesn’t manage to ask the right question himself, he can hand it to his double. But in that case, the audience also can voice their ideas on the possible cause, or ask questions so as to clear up the situation. Some will ask questions themselves, throwing a handful of sand. It is allowed particularly to the people of Lougou. Others try to whisper to Tunguma. But given the stone’s silence, they are reminded loudly that they must speak up.
Tunguma can’t be found
Early in 2020, X who lives close to Lougou, boasted of destroying Tunguma with an iron bar. Photos of the debris were shown. X was arrested and charged for “destruction of cultural and religious property”. After six months’imprisonment on suspicion, X was granted conditional discharge, in October 2020 the sentence had not been passed. He has admitted the facts, and stated that he had been motivated by evidence shared by many concerning faulty judgments and corruption, and also prompted by a spirit.
For the azna of Lougou and Bagaji, the photo of the debris doesn’t fit the destroyed Tunguma. Tunguma is a spirit who dwelt in the stone only when consulted, it can’t be destroyed because of the destruction of the stone used by the spirit to appear. For them, Tunguma isn’t there because it has gone away to join other spirits who inhabited the seven stones of Daoura. A further proof of Tunguna’s departure, in their opinion, is that Makera who officiated for consultations has recently died.
Tunguma is said to have chosen to go away for fear of accepting a growing wrong management because Saraouniya was very old, as well as Baoura and Magagi, some people dared help themselves without respecting the spirit of the rite.
For others, Tunguma was no longer necessary as Niger is now a lawful state with modern justice.
Tunguma wasn’t the only of her kind, but she was said to be the only still active one of the seven stones of Daoura. Anuway, the rite no longer exists, a page is turned.
In Lougou and Bagagi, Tunguma is said not to be found.