The sacred roosters of Nyumbanitu

THIS week reports from Nigeria show a court of law in Kano state condemned a cock to be silenced through slaughter because of its powerful crow.

The innocent rooster was carrying out its daily duties but one man from the neighbourhood filed a case against the owner who was forced to silence the animal through death.

Meanwhile as we are celebrating the resurrection of Jesus or resurrection of Christ, we need to know the sacred role played by a rooster in process of crucifixion of the messiah.

After being crucified by the Roman authorities and buried by Joseph of Arimathea, Jesus was raised from the dead by God making his resurrection a central doctrine in Christianity.

The crucifixion came after the last supper where Jesus Christ foretold that saint Peter would deny him three times before the cock  crows.

According to scripture saint Peter wept and asked for forgiveness from Jesus Christ who turned around and looked straight at him.

That happened about 2000 years ago and today a cock has an important role in different communities around the world.

Located about 15 kilometers south of Njombe town, Nyumbani is a forest near the village of Mlevela, Mdandu Ward in Wanging’ombe District of Tanzania.

History shows the forest played a big role during the struggle against colonialism, it is said that between 1905 and 1906 the Bena and Hehe warriors used to hide in caves inside the forest.

That was during Majimaji war but today the forest is thriving as a shrine, a historical site and a unique animal sanctuary where feral chicken lead their lives under protection of the people surrounding the forest.

Meanwhile people ask “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” It’s complicated subjects which for many centuries ago have confused many people from different areas with different knowledge and beliefs.

Some people say “the cock does crow to let us know” and scientists say in the beginning chickens were wild birds until about 5,400 years ago when people in Indian sub continent started the first domestication of avian.

It is believed before that chickens used to live in the wild where they are found in large communal groups called flocks which always consist of not less than five individuals.

In different parts of the world some people say “Cocks crow because the hens can’t tell the time” It’s believed pressure from predators such as wild cats, caracal, pythons and human pushed the population of wild chicken to the threatening level.

To avoid extinction wild chicken came to seek shelter to humans who at that time led a life which was dominated activities of hunting antelopes and gathering of wild fruits.

The arrival of chickens was one of many contributing factors to the improvement of standard of life to ancient man.

Through ancient fossils, scientific research indicates that the fist chickens to be domesticated by humans were covered by heavy red feathers.

History says that from India through earliest international trade chickens were spread to Asia, Europe, Africa and other parts of the world they are present today.

It’s believed that the Romans were the first people to bring chickens in Africa during the military dictatorship reigns of Caesar Augustus more than 2,000 years ago.

From the southern Europe the first chickens came to Africa through modern Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and Algeria.

Through ancient trades such as the Trans Sahara Trade which started from the 8th century until the late 16th century chickens moved southward to the rest parts of the continent.

Trade routes on the side of the Nile river enabled Arabs trader caravans to bring into East Africa different commodities including domesticated chickens.

Together with other unfamiliar utensils to Africans, most of chickens were given to local tribal chiefs as special gift in exchange of ivory, timber and valuable minerals.

As people slaughter many chickens for their meat, some birds who were fearless decided to go back to the wild where they control different natural forests in the world including Nyumbanitu in Njombe Tanzania.

Inside this small natural forest wild chickens live in communal groups which are dominated by a big cock followed by sub dominant cock and many hens with their chicks.

This is traditional hierarchical system of life which establishes its leadership through dangerous fight involving almost all cocks in the flock until one of them set up himself as a victor.

The process of announcing himself as victor can be done by powerful crow, this a sound made by a cock particularly in the early morning.

Usually the cock usually crows several times about midnight and again about break of day but inside Nyumbanitu a cock crows a method of keeping his flock together.

Inside this forest chickens take different direction looking for food and may get lost so it is easy for a hen to wander out of sight and get lost, the crowing provides a homing beacon for his lost hens.

Some people say “the cock often crows without a victory” and scientists say cock crows because it is part of the pecking order and a way of claiming his territory.

A cock crows because he is telling any other cocks or upstart cockerels that he is there and in charge.

This happens in their native environment of jungles and it is important to announce yourself to avoid confrontations between competing roosters.

Despite some people thinking that roosters are aggressive, in their natural habitat they actually prefer not to fight unless it is completely unavoidable.

A variation on his crow can also be used as an alarm call. It can signal urgency and danger to any flock members that are within hearing distance.

While foraging in different parts of Nyumbanitu forest, a crow can send them back to the flock or made them to freeze in place depending on the situation.

If you happen to be there you may not see a threat but you can be sure he does. His eyesight is very acute and he will spot predators that may be sitting completely still in a tree waiting to attack an innocent chicken.

Roosters will start to crow before sunrise and he will be one of the first out of the coop in the morning to check the area for predators and sound the all clear for the rest of the flock. This early morning call encourages the flock to get moving and start foraging for food.

Scientists say they usually start crowing two hours before first light as their ancestors got this unique knowledge of using an internal clock.

This is done through special crowing sounds which announce and describe the dominant cock.

The sound also serves as an attraction to potential mates and makes other cocks to be aware of his presence.

The call is vigorously responded by other cocks in the area from time to time which also help them to avoid fighting for breeding partners.

From the beginning every cock tries to define its social position which will be respected by all who were beaten by him in a decisive battle.

Like other wild chickens in the world, inside Nyumbanitu forest chickens work and sleep together in a safe nestles in a pecking order which block stranger to join the flock.

Under this situation most of strange chickens are beaten to death by greedy residents who join force to protect their flock.

A migrant chicken may be luck when it found a small and generous flock which is looking new member to make it stronger against a rival neighboring flock.

The dominant cock tirelessly breed with almost all hens in a flock as he chase and fight with sub dominant cocks who may try to mount an estrous hen.

To justify his position as a leader, while making a cluck sound the dominant cock will lead his flock to area with good pasture.

To avoid predation in the evening time the dominant cock through a simple flight lead his flock to safer area on a tree branch where they spend their night.

Unlike the domesticated chickens such as broilers and layers which eat special food, inside Nyumbanitu forest chicken live by eating worms and wild seeds.

Scientists say a rooster crowing is only 90 decibels about the same as a barking dog meanwhile, hens clucking and going about their daily business make about 70 decibels approximately the same level as human conversation.

A rooster is able to produce a powerful voice because its voice box has no vocal cords and consists of a syrinx at the bottom of the trachea.

It is from this structure where the trachea splits to create the bronchi that go into the bird’s two lungs, this under other factors force the rooster to stretch its neck during crowing.

In addition to lungs, the chicken’s respiratory system includes nine air sacs. Scientists say crowing requires a cooperative effort among the tracheal muscles, air sacs and respiratory muscles.

Roosters almost always start crowing before four months of age. Although it is possible for a hen to crow as well, crowing is one of the clearest signs of being a rooster.

Paleontologists say heavy bodied ground feeding birds such as turkey, grouse, quail, junglefowl and chicken evolved about 85 million years ago.

Different researches show ancestors of modern chicken evolved about 25 million years ago, the global weather was dominated by aridity caused primarily by global cooling reducing the ability of the atmosphere to absorb moisture.

Scientists say at that time life was supported by ancient forest and grasslands consisting of ninety five percent of modern plants.

In the modern world people tell many stories about chickens, among men of Mwananyamala, Pasua, and Makongorosi a cock is a symbol of masculinity and vitality.

Regardless of what people say, in Nyumbanitu wild chickens obtain most of their food through scratching the fertile soil around trees where ground and underground dwelling insects are found.

It’s also the duty of a dominant cock to issue an alert sound whenever he sees of feel there is a dangerous predator which is approaching his flock.

These provide the dominant cock a greater opportunity to breed with almost all hens within the flock.

This is done after a ritualised parade where the cock involved in a majestic style walk past and around an estrous hen.

This is a slow motion parade which involves rising high the head while lowering one wing toward the intended hen.

This is one of mysterious romantic gesture of the wilderness which is responded by an estrous hen which lowers the head while raising her back ready for mounting.

The hens of Nyumbanitu know that it only take 26 hours for one egg to develop, for a full fertilization she must allow multiple mounting from different cocks around her.

This is a crucial stage whereby hereditary material from the cock and hen determine the colour of the chicks.

All these are clearly seen in black, red, white, grey or any colour on four types of feathers which covers the body of a chicken.

It is believed that because of conservativeness in breeding among flocks, most of wild chickens which dwell inside Nyumbanitu forest have one colour which is black.

Unlike domestic hens, in Nyumbanitu wild hens with knowledge of danger they careful select a safer nestle located in a thick bush.

Scientists use the word feral for wild chickens, they also divided them into five major sub specie groups living in India, China, Vietnam, Burma and few other countries in the world including Tanzania.

The presence of wild chickens in Nyumbanitu has helped the conservation of this natural forest because some people among the Wabena community believe it’s a sacred place for worshiping.

Emails: rstanslaus@yahoo.com

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