The Paved Ways of Sukur



Sukur’s ways paved with natural granite and related rocks are famous, and deservedly so. In our travels around the Mandara mountains since 1984 we have seen nothing that can equal them in sophistication, execution and utility (Fig. 1). Occasional narrow paved ways of varying quality are found in Cameroon, for example among the Gudur in Dimeo chieftaincy, and paved stairways occur here and there among the DGB sites on and around the Upay massif (David 2008; David and Sterner 2020). It is to be expected that inhabitants of the Mandara mountains, experts in terracing and in the use of rocks for building houses and other structures, including DGB ritual sites of considerable complexity and beauty, should on occasion use them also for ease of movement over rocky ground, but no one has elaborated such construction like the Sukur.

During the time of our main fieldwork among the Sukur (1992-96) we never formally studied the paved ways. We did however make and record numerous observations, and it is on this basis that we write this page. A serious study of the paved ways requires a detailed survey followed by professional archaeological excavation in the presence of a civil engineer or specialist conservator, whose expertise is needed to identify their extraordinary resistance to erosion evident in the following extract of an account of our experience coming up the northern paved way in the midst of the great storm of 20 September 1996.

We struggled up to Watse’s tree (Fig. 2) and beyond and, as we topped the crest below the Rak gateway were hit by the full force of the driving rain. … We pushed on along the flat, unpaved way, thinking of the shelter we might receive once it took us behind a ridge. I remember wondering how the path could rid itself of the water that was at this time flowing along it without causing massive erosion on the terraced slopes below.

A few moments of limited relief and we stated up the paved way section leading from the col up to Ndillei. Here the water was a torrent. The civi məngan had become a stream in spate but the rocks beneath our feet were not moved. Ankle deep or more, stepping from stone to paving stone, avoiding the fastest of the current, we worked our way up hill. My whole attention was divided between making physical progress upwards and an immense respect for the builders of the paved way. Their work has suffered much use and abuse over the years, and yet it stood fast. Not a stone moved, nor were gullies forming. The water rushed down, here and there forming standing waves, passing over the paving and eventually decanting into the side valley that leads down to Rugudum on the plain.




The Paved Ways

Civi məngan is the term used by the Sukur for paved ways. It is formed of two elements: civi = way, path, track, road; and məngan = set side by side to produce a level flat surface whether horizontally or sometimes vertically, as in the main house gateways (maparam), which are sites of rituals.

Here and on Map 1 we present the features to which the term civi məngan is applied:

  • the Northern Paved Way (CM1-7). This leads south up from the foot of the mountain to the ceremonial area (Patla) next to the house of the Hidi. The total distance from the start of the paved way (CM1 on the Map) up to the Patla (CM7) is about 3.9 km of which 2.15 km are fully paved sections (CM1-3, 4-5 and 6-7), paving occurring elsewhere on some short, sloping, portions of the otherwise unpaved flatter parts. This is the way up from the plain which would have been taken by traders coming up to the former Sukur iron market and to greet the Hidi (Fig. 2).

  • the Eastern Paved Way (CM8-9) (Map 2 and Fig. 3). This fine but much shorter stretch begins in Devdagwa at the saddle (10.74° N; 13.58º E) between two smaller hills. Less than 250 m in all, it runs for about 50 m on a true bearing of 100.5° before bending right on a bearing of 160° for another 50 m to an exceptionally fine bend (10.74° N; 13.57° E)(Fig. 2 923622-24). It then goes steeply down the valley side to join a stream marked on the 1:50,000 map, running for a few meters alongside it, somewhat damaged presumably by water action, before it ceases to be paved as it skirts the base of the steep slope down from the northeastern shoulder of Mt Muva and cuts across the relatively well-watered flat land (Maɗefak) towards the north and east.
  • E Paved Way

    Figure 3. The eastern paved way coming down from Devdagwa to Madefak, seen from across the valley.

  • After the Devdagwa paving ends the unpaved way north eventually connects with three narrower, short sections none more than 150m in length (Map 3). These climb the ridge that separates the main Sukur settlement from Fa, an outlying eastern sub-ward of Dzuvok. While we are confident of the southern of these sections on the map (points CM10-11), the two to the north (CM12-13 and 14-15) require ground truthing.

    The path to Wula continues from CM11 east to 10.73º N; 13.59º E where there is again a short stretch of paving up a slope. It then continues east through broken, boulder-strewn topography, before becoming paved again as it descends into the Təcini valley, which it enters along the northern side of a canyon-like valley (Fig. 4). It terminates at approximately 10.75° N; 13.61° E, almost on the river. There is no paving on the Wula side.

    Besides these coherent stretches of civi məngan, another, less well-made, partially paved way runs around the east side of the Mungwolay hill, linking the Kuləsəgəi sub-ward to the rest of the Dzuvok ward. So far as we know, this is not described as civi məngan.  Steep sections of many other paths have been protected against erosion by the laying of slabs and rocks. The best example is the extraordinary trail (Figs 5 & 6) that leads steeply up from Mataka to the northern Daza plateau ward, much of which has been stepped using the same method (Fig. 960206); but neither is this considered civi məngan.

    Trail up from Mataka

    Figure 6. Near the top of the way from Mataka up to Daza.

  • Apart from these paved ways, several passages in the Hidi house are paved and classed as məngan, including the one shown in Fig. 7 that connects the megalithic west entrance into the main enclosure to and past the inner residence and on up to the megalithic north exit from the main enclosure into the Buk (council chamber) extension.

  • There are some other very short sections of paving in Sukur Sama: for example the stairway way down from a supposed former Hidi house on the north slope of Mt Muva (10.74º N; 13.57º E) (Fig. 8), and one leading to another supposed former Hidi house in Funjiwun, Devdagwa ward (10.74º N; 13.57º E), near the Yawal Dəɓa shrine. It is uncertain whether the attribution of these remains to earlier Hidis rests on oral traditions or whether the presence of civi məngan has itself been taken as evidence of an association with chieftaincy.






Ascending the northern paved way

Here we give a fuller account of climbing the northern paved way from its start at CM1 to the gateway onto the Patla at CM7 (see Map 1). CM1 is the present start of the paved way which can be seen in Figure 9 leading left from the middle of the image. However, this is a point where the civi məngan has been partially obliterated by the Sukur Development Association's attempt (described here) to drive a road up to Sukur Sama from the north.








The paved leads up, progressively steeper, through several switchbacks (Fig. 10) and on to the rest stop (CM2) under Watse's fig tree (Figure 2).


Figure 10. On one of the lower switchbacks Nic David, Judy Sterner and Simon Waida, the official NCMM guide, greet friends. 3 April 2008. Photo: Xavier Udo-Utun.




The steep ascent on paved way varying in width tops out at the first gateway (rak) (CM3), seen in Fig. 11.

Figure 11. Approaching the first gateway (Rak) at the end of the main climb from the plain. (3 April 2008, ignore date in yellow). Photo: Xavier Udo-Utun.


After the rak gateway the way continues along an mainly unpaved part of the way supported by a terrace some 3m wide (Fig. 12) before descending to through a second gateway to a saddle (CM4).



Figure 12. Above the first gateway the way continues on the flat, supported by a broad terrace.



After a short paved rise the way descends to a saddle (point CM4) marked by a second gateway (Fig. 13).

Figure 13. The second gateway next to the baobab. Mədlirəh hill is seen in the distance. 3 April 2008.






From the CM4 saddle the way up to Ndillei (CM5), a sub-ward occupied by specialists, is again paved and for the most part wide and well preserved (Figs. 1 and 14). From Ndillei a short spur of paved way leads generally northwest towards the iron market site (10.75º N; 13.57º E).

Figure 14. One of the slopes leading up to Ndillei. 3 April 2008. JS and ND are accompanied by Xavier Udo-Utun.





From Ndillei the way, tending gradually upwards and largely unpaved, leads to a ridge (C6) along which we found the remains of several furnaces. There is one point where it seems a section of paving may have been buried by colluvial deposits. This requires archaeological attention.


Figure 15. At CM6, the base of "Furnace ridge". From
here the civi məngan works its way up to the Patla. 3 April 2008. Photo: Xavier Udo-Utun.






Figure 16. The gateway to the Patla and the southern end of the northern civi məngan (CM7). Through it Hidi's megalithic granite throne and the giant "chief" baobab are visible. 3 April 2008 (ignore the yellow date). Photo: Xavier Udo-Utun.


Conservation of the paved ways
Reviewing our images of the paved ways after many years and more recent images, for example the brief videos made by Anthony Sham, the current NCMM site manager, we are struck by the multile evidences of deterioration and delapidation to which, impressed as we were by the very existence of the civi məngan, we paid little attention in former years. It now seems to us that the paved ways were constructed with larger rocks positioned at the center and smaller ones towards the sides. The annual clearing of the paved ways (Fig. 17) organized by the Hidi frequently reveals that the original edges of the paving no longer survive, the ways having been narrowed mainly by the invasion of vegetation eating away at the pavement and dislodging rocks from the sides (Fig. 18) .


Cleared paved way

Figure 18. Cleared paved way between C3 and C4. Judy Sterner, assistant Philip E. Sukur, and Sola Adeoye of the Gongola State Arts Council. 28 Sept. 1992.



In other places paved ways are being attacked by gully erosion (Fig. 19) and the impact of new informal trails (Fig. 20).




Figure 20. Erosion of the paved way at the saddle below and north of Ndillei, between C4 and C5. The trail on the left comes from Goeri sub-ward to the east. The wide trail in the middle has replaced the paved way, the trail on the right. At the lowest point visible here, more than half the width of the paved way has been destroyed by erosion. The rocks displaced are piling up at the head of the gully. 13 Feb. 2008.




But the worst threat to the northern paved way comes from the attempt by the Sukur Development Association (SDA) to build -- without mechanical assistance -- a road up the north side of the mountain. Their key reasons were set out in an open letter dated 17 October 2005 (Sterner 2010: 1198):

I. To enable the community to transport their farm produce to the nearest market.

2. To enable the community access to health care facilities, especially for pregnant women.

3. To ease the water shortage on the mountain.

4. To reduce migration to Cameroon.

S. To empower the people economically through trade.

6. To boost tourism, for the road would enable more tourists to reach the site.

7. To reduce the suffering of the people.

With the possible exception of number 4 these reasons appear well-founded. The SDA obtained the approval of the Hidi and of the Sukur District Head and in the fall of 2005 and January into early February 2006 undertook the building of a road up the north face of the massif (Fig. 21). At which time representatives of the NCMM and the Adamawa state government attending the Yawal ceremony required them to desist.

In the intervening period, the Sukur Development Association, advised (we were told) by a professional driver, had put an amazing effort into cutting and clearing a roadbed up the mountain. Apparently no consideration was given to the damage actual and potential that the community road might cause to an iconic monument responsible for the landscapes inscription on the World Heritage list. This damage was far from negligible as the road crossed the paved way twice and its scar not only defaced the mountain side but threatened erosion damage to the paved way.

In 2008 we were told that only one motorbike had managed to navigate the community road up to a point near the first gateway -- and that it had descended the mountain as spare parts! In 2008 also we, with Simon Waida and Njidda Tlesuku, scouted an alternative route from Tekassuw village up the southern flanks of the massif and north, leaving Mt Muva on its right, to the Dalak market. This avoids significant damage to the designated Cultural Landscape.We communicated a recommendation regrding this route to the NCMM and later learned that it had been built. At present (2021) however it is only passable by motorbikes.

If Sukur’s paved ways are to survive in anything like their original form, there must be a serious program of conservation and reconstruction informed both by archaeological and civil engineering expertise. The basics of such a program would include:

  1. A detailed survey of the surviving paved ways comprising measurements along them of spatial coordinates, bearings, width and slope, combined with images and characterization of the paving along their lengths according to a typology that remains to be developed. Such a survey would ideally take place after the annual clearing of the ways that occurs in September-October at the end of the rainy season.
  2. Archaeological test excavations of at least four segments, one well-preserved, one poorly preserved, one lacking paving, and an exploratory test where possible paving may have been buried by sediments. These excavations, which need not be extensive, should answer these questions amongst others:
    a) what combination of choices of rocks and of the materials in which they were set and the manner of their setting combined to give the paved ways the permanence and resistance to erosion that the best preserved portions still exhibit?
    b) do the rocks used in the paving vary with the nearest available geological sources suggesting a minimization of demands on labor or are there imports from more distant sources?
    c) where there is no paving, are the surface and subsurface materials natural or produced by one of more combinations of materials, and how do these materials compare with those elsewhere in which paving is set?
    d) what artifacts (e.g. potsherds) or ecofacts (e.g. carbon) are demonstrably associated with the building of the way and can be preserved and used for dating?
  3. The results of the survey and excavations can then be used to identify the factors responsible for the resistance and longevity of paved ways and, on the other hand, the processes of deterioration and decay.

Our special thanks to Xavier Udo-Utun, our friend and former colleague at the University of Maiduguri, who visited Sukur with us in April 2008 taking numerous photographs, several of which are incorporated into this page.


Paved way below Ndillei

Figure 1. After the second gateway (C4) a gentle paved slope begins the hike leading up to Ndillei, here seen in harmattan conditions.  26 Jan. 1993.

Watse's fig tree.. Figure

Figure 2. This fig tree (C2) is associated with the legendary Prince Watse of Borno who supposedly became Chief of Sukur. Coming after a steep climb from the base of the northern paved way, its deep shade and the opportunity for a rest and a chat are much appreciated. 3 April 2008 (the imprinted date is wrong). Photo: Xavier Udo-Utun.

Map of Paved Ways

Map 1. The Main Paved Ways of Sukur within the buffer zone (green markers) and cultural landscape (red markers). The ways are indicated by symbols (CM1-15). Image: Google Earth Pro 2021.

E Cive mungan

Map 2. The Eastern Paved Way.

Paved ways up Fa ridge

Map 3. Three short stretches of paved way leading up the Fa ridge.

Paved way to Wula

Figure 4. A section of the paved way down the western side of the Təcini valley on the way to Wula.

Trail up from Mataka

Figure 5. The steep trail, partially paved and with steps, up from Mataka to Daza


Hidi house oassage

Figure 7. Passage in the Hidi house leading down from the western entrance to the inner residence.

Mungan stair from former Hidi house

Figure 8. Staircase leading down from a supposed former Hidi house on the lower northern slopes of Mt Muva


N Civi  CM1

Figure 9. The modern start of the northern paved way up the mountain. At one time it continued down the gully to the left of the image, but this was abandoned before 1991. 3 April 2008.





Terrace way between C3 and C4


2nd Rak


Slope to Ndillei




Approaching furnace ridge


Patla gateway


Clearing paved way

Figure 17. Annual clearing of the northern paved way organized by Hidi. This section is below the first gateway (C3).17 Sept. 1996.


Gully erosiom of paved way

Figure 19. Gully erosion of the paved way at "Furnace ridge" just north of CM6. It would appear from this section that the rocks chosen to surface the paved way were here sunk into the topsoil. 17 June 2004.

Erosion at Ndillei

SDA road

Figure 21. The northwestern face of the Sukur plateau showing two routes up the mountain. The narrow trace of the northern paved way is on the right with Watse's tree just visible. On the left and above the paved way is the broad scar of part of the community road.












Leaving Sukur

Figure 22. At the end of the season we descend the northern paved way for the last time. A sad moment. 25 Sept. 1996.


A final word: the paved ways of Sukur are a valuable but rapidly diminishing heritage resource. Like roadways around the world their maintenance requires the input of capital, labor and specialist expertise, in this case that of archaelogists and, we suggest, civil engineers. Maintenance by itself is not enough, the future of the paved ways requires also a good measure of reconstruction undertaken by teams led by experts who have answered the questions raised in the left hand column.

It is unfortunate, to say the least, that since the inscription of the cultural landscape on UNESCO's World Heritage list, not a naira nor an hour of focused research has been spent on the paved ways. We sincerely hope that this contribution will help stimulate the research and maintenance that is so urgently needed.

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