26th. December evokes two distinct memories.
One from the early years of 1980s. when we were residing in Lagos, Nigeria. We had traveled to Jos, during Christmas break, partly on holiday, partly for the husband to keep an appointment there on the 27th.
When we enquired about what X'mas festivities we could expect in Jos, the capital city Plateau State, we were told that "Boxing Day", on the 26th., would be the most exciting event of the season. Thats when, for the first time, I heard about "Boxing Day".
'Boxing ? Probably a traditional sporting event' i thought, remembering the Wrestling shows put up by the Pehlwans of the famous traditional Garadis ( akhadas) during Dasara in Mysore. An uneducated wild guess it turned out to be ; way off the mark !
I learnt that the "Boxing" in Boxing Day denoted a regular box used for collecting monetary gifts. This boxing custom apparently originated in Victorian England and had spread to its colonies. But somehow, i had never, till that date, heard of it ! Its the day on which the Have-Enoughs gave tips ( Baksheesh) ,as thanksgiving, to the Have-Nots who serve them directly or indirectly throughout the year.
JOS, the capital city of Plateau State, which is located at the exact geographic center on the map of Nigeria, was founded by the British colonisers as a Depot Stop for the flourishing Tin mines located all around the plateau. The mineral wealth ( tin, columbite, feldspar) were transported from this depot to the ports at Lagos and Port Harcourt for shipment abroad. It was thanks to the tin mines that the place got one of the earliest railway lines in that part of Africa.
The name JOS ( neither jaws nor joss !) is a corruption of the old name Geash. Because of the elevation, the region enjoys a good climate. Its mineral resources attracted good industry and contributed to the region's prosperity. These factors paved the way for the settlement of a cosmopolitan population of different races, ethnicities and religions.
Plateau State is endowed with a selection of different terrains - jungles, savannah and rugged rockeries. Consequently, the state attracts tourists looking for scenic picnic spots. A very popular spot is Kurra Water Falls - surprisingly, not a natural phenomenon, but a consequence of opening up of tin mines and diversion of wild streams ! A small hydro electric project harvests electricity from it to satisfy local needs. The other items of " scenic beauty" that the locals are quite proud of are the Riyom Rocks ( interesting formations of stacked boulders) and Wase Rock ( an insleberg , favoured by rock climbers).
Having heard that The State Museum houses archeological relics of the very ancient and mysterious NOK culture, i made time to squeeze in a quick visit. But, sad to say, the museum had gone to seed and the few terracotta artefacts lying in a haphazard manner gave no intimation either about their age or function. Very disappointing. ( Years later, i saw some beautiful NOK specimens in a history exhibition halfway across the globe, in Singapore !). I heard that the Jos museum is in good shape today.
As we were short of time, we did not visit the Game Sanctuary - but after seeing photographs of a friend's visit, consoled ourselves that we had not missed much.
But we were really glad to catch the Boxing Day merriment.
By mid morning, groups of children and young adults were out on the streets, in a variety of masquerades, dancing to the beat of lively music, both local and international. Everybody wore masks, made of all kinds of material : wood, metal, leather, fabric, plastic, green leaves ! Some of the huge wooden masks were gloriously coloured in shiny paint that dazzled in the bright sun. Costumes defied description ! Ribbons, badges, scarves, strings, beads, bells, shells and bottle caps enlivened the robes and pantaloons. It was like an overload of colour, sound, shapes and movement !
The groups sang, mimed, danced and acted out skits before extending huge card board boxes , soliciting tips. Everyone cheered them but only some dropped a donation. We did ............. from their approach, i got the feeling that, as expatriates, we were not entitled to the option of withholding tips !
At the local market in Jos, we got to see some wonderfully tooled leather articles. Tribal motifs predominated.
Leather Pouffes ( bean bags) from this region used to be a great fad when we lived there, no expat worth his residence permit would repatriate without one !
( Where is mine now ? - scratching my head !)
The other memory that 26th Dec. evokes is an eerie visual :
In an unnaturally pale and murky light, four or five fishing boats, crashed to splinters, lie in an upright heap against the wall of All India Radio Compound . Across the road , beyond the famous Marina beach,Chennai, the sea is slate gray and deathly still, though the sand, the road, everything is wet and puddled. It is completely deserted.
This visual, when recalled, sends a clammy feeling down the gut even now.
The radio in the taxi, in which we had traveled to the city, was still talking of flooding water and unusually big waves . On the road, totally confused policemen, sans co-ordination, were diverting a thin traffic helter skelter . At our destination, very close to Edward Elliotts Beach, pedestrians were cordoned off the sands while all the pie dogs of the fishing colonies, that had invaded the residential layouts earlier in the day, cowered under parked vehicles and behind trash bins...............
It was only the next day that a new, dreaded, alien word entered the vernacular tongue : Tsunami.