Keana salt village means several things to different persons; to the tourist it is a captivating sight that thrill the senses, leaving lasting memories, but to the average Keana local, especially women, it is a source of livelihood, deposited by God and handed down to the community.

To the industrialists and researchers, it is a fascinating case study of the intriguing ingenuity of people of all ages, and an evidence of Nigeria’s enormous endowment in natural resources.

A visit to Keana town, the headquarters of Ke ana local government area, situated 67 kilometres from Lafia, the Nasarawa State capital, will ultimately present you for an amazing sight. Tucked away in a serene setting off the mainstream of the town is the village, where salt is being produced through local technology for over 800 years.

“As one approaches the salt village, a line-up of mini huts, an array of well-positioned pots on a neat and large expanse of land where the water and soil underneath, all taste of salt greets a first-time visitor to Keana.

‘’There are no grinding sounds of factory machines or the glittering of industrial metallic objects, all you see are aged women, passionate about their work of manual processing of salt from the surrounding vegetation and the sounds of their clashing clay pots,’’ a corps member, Aisha Bature, narrated.

History has it that salt production has been the pre-occupation of the Alago people since its discovery over 800 years ago.

It also involves the use of simple implements and methods which affects the level of output per-production.

Also, from the sandy salt-filled soil, long horizontal ridges are made and the sand heaped into a tripartite set of pots positioned on a slanted, slightly hollow palm-tree trunk placed on the ground and salty water, from a nearby pond, poured into each of the pots.

Meanwhile, a tiny hole, the size of a finger, is dug at the bottom of each of them from which, filtered saltwater drips into the hollow part of the tree plant beneath. To avoid contamination with wood’s dirt, a thin layer of cement concrete is made inside the trunk, this enables the saltwater to flow slowly, neatly into a flat pot dug underneath, at the edge of the plank.

The clean, lightly thick salt water is collected into another pot, and heated continuously for two to three hours until it solidifies. It is then spread out in an open space, then a whitish and very salty substance, popularly known as Keana salt, is ready for sale or consumption.

 

Challenges

Over the centuries, the locals depend on an established method of production, one which was suitable for the middle age era but utterly useless in the 21st century.

The modern process of salt production in Keana is no different from that which obtains in ancient times because miners, especially women, still depend largely on crude and tiring methods.

The method has not changed since it was conceived by their great-great grand parents over 800 years ago. It basically involves fetching the brime from the pond and pouring it into thousands of pots alongside the ‘salty soil’ and the salt brine is slowly filtered into pots.

The custodian of the salt village known as Osikigu, Usman Agidi, said Keana salt, discovered early in the 12th century, was still being processed using the traditional method, adding, however, Keana was responsible for the greatness of the Kwararafa Kingdom.

According to him, “Keana salt mining industry dates back to the 12th century when the salt discovery attracted our settlement here. The Kwararafa Kingdom used the salt economy of Keana to wage war and increase its territory, so we can safely say that Keana was responsible for the greatness of the Kwararafa Kingdom, it is our economy that propelled it.”

He pointed out if government intervenes by providing modern salt industry equipment, it would maximize production capacity for both local consumption and export and help create jobs, thereby curtailing vices.

“With modern industrial equipment, we will be able to produce salt in large quantities and export it to earn more revenue. But the process is not as easy as it takes several days of painstaking measurement, accurate timing and repetition of the process to finally get the salt. The process tasks the patience of young people and they eventually get tired/discouraged and leave the business.

“But the aged seem to cling stubbornly to the old ways of mining and other traditions, like the retention of the Osikigu or custodian of the salt mine,” he said.

Another challenge is the imminent extinction of the trade as young women in the community are discouraged to join the trade because of its tedious nature of processing leaving only the aged women to uphold the trade and keep the economy of the town alive.

He lamented that less than 150 women remained in the mine and the quantity of salt produced every year has declined drastically.

“In the past, a family of four can make five bags of salt a year, but today because all the old women who mined salt are alone, they make just one bag or less a year. In the past, our people use to trek to Borno, Sokoto and all over the north to sell salt, today we just sell in our market here, in Jos and Shendam markets” he bemoaned.

According to him, ‘’Also, the miners also hardly make enough, even though in the days of prosperity, they made between N50,000 to N100,000 a year, but in the economy of Keana, it is a huge sum which ensured that children are sent to school up to the university.’’

He disclosed that some of the miners trained their children from the proceeds of the salt business.

“Today, however, a measure (mudu) is sold for N500 and there are only 40 mudus in a bag. If sales are good, then a miner would make N100, 000 a year.

‘’The problem of Keana salt runs deeper, it has made it impossible to compete with other industrial salts in the market.

“I am of the view that one of the problems of salt production and acceptability is branding and packaging, the miners have not been able to properly market their product, in appropriate measures and packages.

‘’The salt is sold in tiny polyethylene bags without labels and the ones in packs are sewn up in traditional leaves and this leaves little hope for competition among the properly packaged products in the market. It is one of the reasons Keana salt is not found on the shelves even in Keana market, where it is produced,” he added.

Some of the women interviewed said they have been in the business of salt production for decades without assistance from the local, state, or federal government.

An elderly woman, Mama Akelaiyi Onawani, who is in her early 80s, said she took after her late mother and she has been in the business of local salt production for over five decades, without help from anybody.

Onawani, who speaks a little of Hausa and more of her Alago Language, said her major challenge is that the local salt production might go into extinction in her family as nobody is ready to take over from her like she took over from her mother.

“I have been in this business for over 50 years and age is no longer on my side, all the children are grown up, they are working outside, while some are married, even amongst my grandchildren, no one is ready to learn, talk more of taking over from me,” she lamented.

On her part, Inole Ageji Otaki, who also expressed the same regrets, said civilization has killed the business of local salt production that has been the major occupation of Keana people since its inception.

She also identified education, religion, local method and other factors as major challenges confronting the production of salt that have been the major occupation of Keana people, especially women.

“All the children are grown up, they have been to schools and they are not ready to learn this business of salt production, if we die, who will take over from us?

“If you tell the younger ones to come along to the salt mining site, they will tell you it is too hectic, that they prefer going to school, church, Islamic school, etc. I don’t blame them anyway, the process of salt production is very hard, these are our major challenges and we don’t make much from it,” she added.