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Introduction

On this page we bring together information relating to the histories of each of the Sukur clans. These are linked in groups to a page on which clanship is defined in terms of process and the archival data on clans summarized. After treating each clan individually, we end by sketching a synthesis in the form of a four phase sequence in which we propose that Sukur developed from a simple, self sufficient, agrarian society to the relatively complex chiefdom specializing in iron production of which Heinrich Barth first learnt in 1851. You can if you wish go to these conclusions directly.

A simplified map of the Sukur plateau showing the upper (Jira) and lower (Tëka) wards of Sukur and neighborhoods within them is available by CLICKING HERE, and can be kept open for reference while reading this section.

A table giving the numbers of households by clan and Sukur ward can be reached by CLICKING HERE and can also be left open.

 

1.The 'Aboriginals'

Tuva and Dumsa

According to a senior Dumsa elder, a single group differentiated after arrival from Mpesakali (Gudur) into Tuva (smith-potter) and Dumsa (farmer) clans. Shaw (1935:Appendix A, page 1) states that 'Neither of these two groups remember anything of their past,' and it is very possible that the claim to Gudur origins may be more recent. The Tuva represent the first Sukur chiefly dynasty and can reasonably be considered 'aboriginal.' They live in Gwasa ward, the Tuva forming the sole inhabitants of Ndilloey neighborhood, with the Dumsa close by in Goeri. Migration to the plains, no doubt influenced by the collapse of the iron industry, has left both clans much reduced in numbers.

The two sections of Tuva were formerly differentiated by their responsibilities. The 'Day Kër'ba and members of his section took charge of the burial of chiefs. The Xidi 'Day, a title now extinct, was the senior smith in charge of the burials of other elders.

(Titles and the duties of title holders are described by David and Sterner [1995] and by Sterner [2003]. They are mentioned here for their historical significance and will be covered in more detail on a separate page of this web site.)

'Day Kër'ba

The old 'Day Kër'ba, head of his section of the Tuva clan, seated on a rock in Ndilloey holding a staff, fly-whisk and a parpar dance sickle. A relative faces the camera.

2a.The Habega cluster

The clans of this cluster all share the same praise name, Habega, which means a long day of rain. While the Yena state that they arrived after the Tuva and all were settled in Sukur before the arrival of the Dur, it is not possible to be more precise. The Sukur suggest that the sharing of praise names can result from shared descent and from marital alliances; different informants attribute particular pairings differently. We suspect that new arrivals may on occasion adopt, or have conferred on them, the praise name of a clan that acts as their mentor, but since they are also likely to intermarry such cases may well be subsumed under marital alliances. We know of no instances where praise names have changed.

Yena

After the Dur the Yena - the name means 'I am come' - are the largest clan. They reside in Tëka. They are therefore the natural political opponents of the Dur, and it is not surprising that some claim Xidi Kacima as a member of their clan. The traditions relating to their origins are varied and at times in conflict with each other. In one they arrived from Mpesakili before the Dur, finding the Tuva already settled; in another they and the Dur both descend from children of the man from Mpesakali; in yet another they are 'children of the same father' as the Kwabala, a clan with which they are closely allied, sharing a praise name and 'inheriting each others' houses.' The first and third of these traditions are likely to be true.

It is said that they first settled in Dzuvok neighborhood of what is now Dzuvok ward; there are now almost as many in Gwafak and Daza. We were told that their ancestral graveyard is in Gwafak.

Kwabala

A Kwabala title holder agreed that they and the Yena are children of the same father, saying that they were distanced by disagreements over women and therefore split into clans, though this had already occurred at Cakali (Gudur). They live in the same area as the Yena and share a burial ground. Younger men of the two clans hold joint meetings and have a bank account used for the aid of the sick and the poor. Curiously neither the Yena nor the Kwabala appear to hold titles that can be attributed to a pre-Dur phase in Sukur history.

Habega Oy and Habega Ghumtuva

Despite names that suggest they might be sections of the same clan, a Habega Ghumtuva elder was categorical as to their independence. This would seem to be confirmed by the presence of a Mbësefwoy title holder in each group. The Mbësefwoy , loosely translatable as 'sacrificers,' are all drawn from clans existing at Sukur before the arrival of the Dur. There are only two Oy households remaining in Sukur, both in Gwafak, though they claim to have once lived in Dalak where there is a neighborhood, Oy, where they once owned farms. Of the twelve Ghumtuva households, all but one are in Tëka. The exception is that of the Mbësefwoy, whose residence is in the Di'da neighborhood of Dunggom, where he tends a shrine. However, the clan's original place of residence is said to have been Dazha, a little to the north, where the cemetery of the Dur Xidis' is now located. It seems likely that they were expelled from there by the Dur and resettled in Tëka.

Di'da shrine pot

This dë'ba - a pot for the fermentation and cooling of beer - forms part of the Di'da shrine served by the Habega Ghumtuva Mbësefwoy.

Bakyang

The Bakyang are said to have formed the cavalry of Sukur - or perhaps bred ponies. Although the story is disputed, a first migration of Bakyang to the west may have occured in Xidi Bagaana's time following a dispute with the Karando clan over the title of Midala, the ritual war leader. Some became Margi. Soon after Hamman Yaji's deposition as District Head in 1927, the remaining Bakyang left Sukur, where they owned land in Dunggom. Ruta, the senior elder, told the Xidi that he was old, many of their kinsmen had died, and he wanted to find new land where firewood would be close at hand. They left with the permission of Xidi Nzaani and after a stay in Dzu settled Tawla on Mt Mëdlëng across the Nawu valley to the west.

Some of their ancestral land was located in Dunggom ward.

Manjam or Ka-Ozha

The Manjam, now represented by five households resident in Dzuvok ward though they once lived in the Manjam neighborhood of Daza, are generally regarded as part of the Gadë clan, but have a separate history. Their ancestor had two sons, one of whom settled in Sukur and the other in Wula. The latter's descendants, known as Manjam in Sukur and Ka-Ozha in Wula, maintain full clan ties, and the Manjam are still closely involved with the Wula rain maker, members of the clan forming part of the formal delegation that visits him every year to ask his assistance in obtaining rain. They hold a Mbësefwoy title.

 

Mėdlėng xey and lihwa'd

The last of the Habega clans has a complex history. Philip Sukur, our assistant in 1992-93 is a member of the clan, and elicited the following detailed story of Mëdlëng origins (which we have edited) from his relatives.

A man was captured in a battle between two villages and is taken to the opposing chief's house. Meanwhile his son escapes and hides in the bush for seven days before being found by a man from Mpesakili (Gudur) who takes the boy home with him and names him Mëdlëng, eventually giving him a woman to marry. Mëdlëng remains there for nineteen years and has several children. One day he eavesdrops on the village council, and [is found out but] asked to come in. He sometimes speaks in council after that and finally his advice is solicited by the chief. He predicts an event and it occurs.

Now trusted by the chief he is made a councillor [presumably being given a title]; this however makes others jealous and they try to poison him but instead kill one of his sons. Mëdlëng desires to leave but is persuaded by the chief to stay. Next, three of his children are killed in his house. He escapes with the rest of his family and before leaving warns the chief of a danger to come in seven days if he doesn't give up his position.

Mëdlëng arrives at Wula with his three remaining children and two wives and stays for eleven days looking for a place to live. During this period he hears that the chief of Gudur has been murdered by his councillors. He goes towards Sukur and meets a Kulësëgey man who asks to marry his daughter. He finds the house of the Kulësëgey chief and tells him his story. The chief gives him permission to find a place to live outside the village. It takes him three days to find a suitable site on Mt Mëdlëng and the chief sends him by his son who wears the hat of the Wakili [a senior advisor], two pots for fetching water and two hoes for building his house.

A year later his daughter marries the Kulësëgey man and [with the brideprice] Mëdlëng buys a cow. He farms a special guinea corn brought with him from Gudur. Other Sukur are farming nearby and some begin to settle. [In time] a village develops, mostly of Mëdlëng; a village head is appointed by the chief and taxes are paid to him in socketed hoes.

One day a cow wanders off down the mountain to a place called Vamay where there is a spring with lots of fish - this has since dried up [the area is now under sugar cane]. The owner of the cow and others built houses there and found the local spirit, hëriy Mëdlëng [to which they would have made offerings. Mëdlëng is one of the very first settlements on the plain. It is now part of Rugudum ward.].

Some time later Hamman Yaji's men took refuge there after a raid on Muva [probably the Jira wards of Sukur are meant]; the inhabitants received them well and they were not subsequently bothered by Hamman Yaji. However, after Hamman Yaji's arrest there was a dispute with Fulbe over cows eating their guineacorn. A Fulbe boy was killed and Mëdlëng houses burned in reprisal. Some Mëdlëng fled to Mukava near Bazza in Higi territory, some to Beha [said to be near Damay], while others with marriageable daughters were invited to settle near the chief at Sukur. One of these household heads was appointed Tlisuku [who serves as 'chaplain' to the Xidi].

This account contains its share of historical clichés - a descent group originating from a cirmuyim ('born from a stone'), a stranger found in the bush; the stranger's special powers; the wandering cow that leads its owner to a new place of settlement. It also exhibits an atypical fascination with numbers, but it nonetheless constitutes an excellent description of a process of community formation common in the Mandara region and that Kopytoff (1987) has described as characteristic of the 'internal African frontier.' The seeking with the approval of the chief of new land and the validation of the right to settle obtained through chiefly gifts are elements found in other local foundation stories. Similarly, the establishing of a relationship with the spirit of the place, the genius loci, is an essential part of settlement.

Very specific historical details are given in the last part of this tradition, several of which reoccur in other combinations in a version of Mëdlëng history told by a senior elder of the Mėdlėng xey. This includes an explanation for the emergence of the lihwa'd section:

The Mëdlëng xey first settled at Sukur coming from Mpesakali, but needed land and so settled on Mt Mëdlëng. From there they used to go down the mountain to cut wood for charcoal at the place where there is now the settlement of Mëdlëng. One day some Higi smith-potter boys came from Mukava (near Michika) to hunt, and one of them became trapped in a porcupine burrow. His two brothers sacrificed a black goat and a black cock at the burrow [as the porcupine has its den underground it is regarded as mediating between the living and the dead, and treated as a spirit], but the boy did not come out. After some days the brothers left and went back home. Eventually however the boy was released, and the next day a Mëdlëng man who had come down the mountain to cut wood heard the boy shouting for help. The man asked the boy who he was and whence he came, and the boy replied that he was lost. The man took him in, raised him and helped him to marry. They settled on the plain. Then Xidi called the Mëdlëng to live at Sakun again, and they came up to Bahwa where the boy's children, the Mëdlëng lihwa'd, stayed, while others settled elsewhere.

Once again a cirmuyim founds a descent line, named after a shrub that discreetly references their origins in the bush. However, the lihwa'd section deny that they are of smith-potter origin, nor are they treated as such. Another version has the Mëdlëng living in Dunggom and leaving under pressure from the Kapsiki, adding that this occurred a very long time ago when the site of the present house of the chief was a Mëdlëng field. The sequence Sukur -> Mt Mëdlëng -> Mëdlëng on the plain is not in dispute though the timing is unknown.

It appears well established that before 1920 the Mëdlëng on the plain were harassed by Hamman Yaji; it was at this time that some left for Mukava, while others capitulated to Madagali, still today remaining in their plains settlement. A third group took refuge in Sukur, where some settled in Bahwa occupying houses abandoned by 'Damay' who had left for their village on the northern part of the Sukur plateau. Bahwa remains the focus of lihwa'd settlement, while the Mëdlëng xey are mostly located in Daza, three households in the Jira Dunggom ward being associated with the family of the Tlisuku and thus with the chief.

 

2b. Other early arrivals

The following clans were also present in Sukur before the arrival of the Dur. However, the absolute or even relative chronology of settlement within this group and between it and the Habega cluster has not been and probably cannot be established.

 

Xwatlë

According to a senior elder, the Xwatlë came from Mpesakali and after a brief stay in the Muzzawat valley moved up to Daza where they have been ever since. There is no indication that they ever lived in Jira, or were forced to move by the Dur. As to whether the Xwatlë arrived before or after the Dur, our informant claimed that the Xwatlë were 'as Xidi' in Daza, and the fact that his lineage, though not all those of the clan, holds its own initiation in Daza suggests a privilege of hoary antiquity. The presence of a Mbësefwoy in this clan is also evidence of their long establishment.

At various times from before the Hamman Yaji years to quite recently, Xwatlë have moved away to Dzu, to Gamba, a village near Rhoumzou in Cameroon, and elsewhere. There are now only four households in Sukur; ties are still maintained with those who have left.

The Xwatlë graveyard is in Daza on the west side of the ridge north of the Gwafak stream, that of Gadë, with whom they have no special relationship, on the east side.

Gadë

The seven households of Gadë are said to be the decendants of a cirmuyim found by a Bakyang man and raised in his house but not incorporated into his clan. With one exception, the Tlufu who acts as the Xidi's steward and lives in Dunggom, they live in Dzuvok and, as noted above, have a graveyard in Daza. Their Mbësefwoy services the important Mixyrux shrine in Dzuvok. This all suggests that they have been resident in Tëka for a very long time.

Kulësëgey mutlin and zagwom

The name is said to derive from 'Kulë së goey,' literally 'grave know to meet.' The Kulësëgey mutlin represent the second of Sukur's three dynasties and were replaced by the Dur. Their six existing households are located in a neighborhood named after them. Located above and overlooking the present Xidi house between two prominent hills, it is an appropriate situation for a chiefly house, and, although now administratively assigned to Dzuvok ward, this neighborhood is located on the border between Jira and Tëka. The centrality of Kulësëgey, albeit subject to the political power of the Dur, is seen in more than one ceremony, including initiation. Their youths do not take part in the fights between Jira and Tëka initiates.

The division into two sections would appear to postdate their time as chiefs and is said to have taken place in the following manner:

When an especially favoured daughter of a Kulësëgey died, this troubled her father's heart so much that he left his children and went down to Goeri and Bahwa [in Gwasa ward] and began to clear the forest there. Others came to ask what he was doing and he told them he could use their help. They helped him to clear and burn the bush and to build his house. He had more children there and gave a favourite son the name Zagwom which means 'outstanding', 'first to germinate.' This son became the ancestor of the Kulësëgey zagwom section.

There is now only one Kulësëgey zagwom household in Gwasa ward, the only one on the plateau.

 

Rëvay

While not unique, Rëvay is exceptional among Sukur clans in including both farmers and smith-potters, and is said to have done so when they arrived together from Cakali (Gudur). That they arrived early is indicated by the presence of a Mbësefwoy who is of the farmer caste. They are also exceptional among early arrivals in that they reside in Jira, with representatives in all three upper wards. The Tlagama, a title holder of the smith-potter caste closely associated with the Xidi, lives with other relatives in Dunggom, the Mbësefwoy in the Deghul neighborhood of Dalak.

The wife of the Tlagama, a Rëvay smith title holder, makes pots for a twins' ceremony.

Kigi

The Kigi clan has a long and complex history that includes a (not universally accepted within the clan) claim to ultimate Gudur origin, a pre-Dur period of residence in Sukur, their expulsion by the Dur, and a subsequent return of Kigi households as favored allies of the Dur. A senior elder told us the following story:

The Kigi of Dzu [a mainly Margi settlement to the west] originally lived in Sukur but became rich, too rich and successful, it seems, for the Dur. One of the Kigi had married a Dur woman who had recently given birth and was alone in the house. The Dur arrived, asked her where the people were, and when told they were all off in the fields, burnt down their houses. These Kigi then migrated to Dzu, but after Hamman Yaji some returned to Sukur.

The tale of the wife who betrays her husband's clan to the men of her own is a historical cliché, but the tradition should not be rejected in its entirety on that account. A Dur woman elder married to a Kigi explained that in the old days:

All clans then had their own chiefs - indeed the house of the Kigi chief is still visible - and were not under Xidi Sukur. If the Kigi chief slaughtered he did not give meat to Xidi Sukur, and the Kigi held their own Yawal ceremony. This led to the Dur attack on the Kigi.

Unlike the metaphorical accounts in legends, these traditions appear much closer to history, and to relate to a period of conflict between the Dur, not yet established as the paramount dynasty, and clans earlier settled and attempting to maintain their independence and privileges.

Another elder told us that the Kigi came to Sakun from Sina in Kapsiki/Higi territory before the arrival of the founder of the Dur dynasty. The Kigi were neighbours and friends of the Kulësëgëy and lived in Gurundahwa, a Dunggom neighborhood now occupied by Dur and title holders closely associated with the chief. When Kigi households returned to Sukur, they settled on the margins of Jira, along the western edge of Dunggom and on the east side of Mt Muva in the Futu and Kigi neighborhoods that now form part of Midala and Dalak wards. The Kigi now living in Sukur are said to have come from several places - Dzu, Sina, and Ilya near Mubi - and there seems no reason to posit a single origin.

The Kigi hold two titles. The duties of the Barkuma include making an offering on Mt Muva at the time of planting on behalf of the village as a whole; this may perhaps hark back to the earlier period of Kigi occupation. The other title, Tlamburum Jira, which might be translated 'the ear of the chief in Jira' and which involves amongst other things keeping the chief informed, is clearly related to the Dur chieftaincy. During the biennial initiation of young men, the Dur leader of the initiaties is assisted by Ronza, a temporary title always awarded to a Kigi, and another index of their proximity to the Dur.

Zoghey

The Zoghey and the Kigi 'cook together', their closeness being explained in terms of the familiar metaphor that they are children of the same father.

On the day the senior son was born, a cow gave birth to a calf in the father's house, so he called the son 'Kwasla'. which means 'son of cow' in Kapsiki. This was because they came to Sukur via Sina. Then the wife had another son who was born on a day when the father had beer, zuwa, in the house; so he called his S 'Zuwa-ghriy' [beer+house].

It might be suggested that as the first child was given a Kapsiki and the second a Sakun name, a clan division occurred after arrival in Sukur, but there is no evidence for this and the native etymology may well be incorrect. The tradition regarding the expulsion of the Kigi is told also, but with different details, of the Zoghey. The Zoghey first lived on the south end of Mt Muva from where, the story has it, they could look down and see the Xidi in his toilet. (This was before the building of the present house of the chief.) They used to laugh at him on this account and on one occasion left all their shields facing his house in order to frighten him. Using the same ruse of the Dur wife married to a Zoghey to discover when they were vulnerable, the Dur burnt them out, and they fled to Sina with some Kigi. After their return they settled, like the Kigi, around the southern and western margins of the Jira wards. Their one title holder, the Zerma, is closely associated with the Xidi, acting as his herald.

Bërdlëng

We have very little information on the Bërdlëng, who have, probably since 1950, all emigrated, and who are now widely distributed in the region, some having become Margi. Like the Kigi and Zoghey they are said to have come from Kapsiki/Higi territory. Shaw states they were 'the royal fishermen.' Some lived in Mëdo, an isolated neighborhood on the eastern side of the plateau that is technically part of Dzuvok ward though it has now, we believe, been entirely abandoned. Their placement in a pre-Dur category of clans rests largely on the absence of evidence that they came at any other time.

 
3. The Gėdum clans

Dur Tëka and Dur të Dlagam

While there is far more information on the Dur, some in legends and especially in relation to the chieftaincy, our treatment of them here is comparable to that of other clans. 'The Dur themselves state that they arrived as a conquering immigration, and the fact that they dispossessed all the plebeians of their farmlands within the boundaries of the Dukur town (birim) lends support to their claim.' So wrote J. Hunter Shaw in the appendix of his Intelligence report of 1935. In the 1990s we found no trace of this tradition; it has apparently been displaced by the legend of the man from Mpesakili.

The Dur share the praise names Gëdum for men and Zwodu for women with three other clans. A senior elder of one of these, Karando, explained the association in the following manner,

Gëdum [the man from Gudur] had four children. The oldest he called Karando meaning 'no person,' a comment on the insecurity of his line. The second he called Këmavu'd, 'next to a hole,' the reference being to a grave. The third he called Shagwom which is [dubiously in our assistants' opinion] related to shuwi, meaning 'to be disrespected.' However when the fourth child was born he called him Dur, meaning 'solidly established,' 'well-balanced.'

The first three names are, like many Sukur names today, deprecating comments on the future of his line, apotropaic, intended to ward off sorcery and ill-disposed spirits. The fourth indicates Gëdum's confidence in his descendance. These four children may have established the clans with the Gëdum/Zwodu praise names, but the story does not explain why the youngest became the chief. Another Dur elder, it may be noted, suggested alliance with his clan as a reason for the sharing of praise names. There is no 'received version.'

The të Dlagam and Tëka division is of recent origin according to the Dur elder whom we regard as our most reliable informant on such matters, and came about because Xidi Matlay favoured his 'brothers', i.e., close male kin, giving them the titles of Makarama and Wakili, and conferring ward headship, the administrative rather than indigenous Sukur title of Bulama, on others. This was resented by other Dur, especially those still living in the higher parts of Midala and Dalak wards beyond a path that led from the Devdagwa neighborhood to Deghul. The Dur who sided with Matlay became known as the Tëka (literally the divided or separated Dur), the rest as the të Dlagam (the Dur of the tree or euphorbia-lined path or dlagam). No shift between sections is now possible. The Tëka live mainly in Dunggom and Midala wards with four households in the lower Sukur wards. The now more numerous të Dlagam are the only Dur in Dalak, also living elsewhere in Jira but having no representatives in the lower wards.

The Dur hold four titles all of which are closely tied to the chieftaincy.

 

Karando, Shagwam and Këmavu'd

All three of these clans claim Gudur origins but it is not clear whether this is necessarily in their own right or by virtue of a descent that not all acknowledge from Gëdum. The Karando, who presently hold the title of Midala, the ritual leader in war, are concentrated in Midala ward. The Shagwam are widely distributed but with the bulk of their households in Tëka, while Këmavu'd are limited to Tëka's Gwasa and Dzuvok wards. We suspect that among the Dur and their allies resident in Tëka the distance of their houses from that of the chief expresses political distance, often relating to circumstances at some time in the past. Fifteen of the 22 Shagwom and Këmavu'd households located in Tëka are in fact physically quite close to the chief's house and thus potentially ready to protect him. No such correlation would hold in Jira where a far higher proportion of the inhabitants are tied to the chieftaincy either by descent, alliance, or chiefly office.

Houses of the Gëdum cluster in Gwasa located just below the chief's.

4. Later arrivals

With the exception of the Kigi and Zoghey, whose case is discussed above, all the clans who arrived after the Dur are those of smith-potters.

Kwazhuwa

The sole remaining Kwazhuwa household head, who holds the title of Tligum and is one of the chief's drummers, informed us that his once more numerous clan arrived from Mpesakali after the Shagwom and became 'their' smiths. By the phrase " 'day to Shagwom" is meant that the Shagwom acted as their mentors and protectors, and in return had preferential access to their services. (The Yena also claim to have mentored Kwazhuwa families of smith-potters.) Our Kwazhuwa informant said that there wre households of his clan in Dunggom and Gwasa wards. Some left probably before British pressure stopped Hamman Yaji's attacks and now live at Magwa in Cameroon between Kossehay and Mabas. Others moved west to Waragas before our informant's birth [in the late 1930s or early 1940s]; they had one forge. Others from Gwasa left in the mid-1970s; they also had one forge. He himself was born in the house he still occupies in Dunggom, his father's.

Kwosha

The Kwosha, now represented by only two households in Tëka, are "'day to Yena," one elder of that clan telling us that they are originally Margi from Dzu. The date of their immigration is unknown but realtively recent; their presence was recorded by Shaw in 1935. They were attracted by Sukur's then flourishing iron industry which required smiths for forging blooms into tools and currency bars.

Ka-Mariya

The Ka-Mariya are also smith-potters and are commonly known in Sukur as Damay, the name of the village on the Sukur plateau where some Ka-Mariya certainly live though not necessarily the immediate forebears of all those who settled at Sukur. Some are said to have migrated directly from Gudur. However all six households live in Daza ward, the closest to Damay.

Their praise names, Biya for men and Mbadla for women, offer the most convincing evidence of a direct link to Gudur of any Sukur descent group, for these are the praise names of the Gudal and certain other clans of the Mofu-Gudur (Barreteau 1988:39). At Damay, where they are sometimes called Makarama, they are "'day to Beguda," the chiefly clan with whom they share praise names, and whose own clan name can reasonably be construed as 'children of Gudur.'

The Ka-Mariya, known elsewhere as Mariyam and by a variety of other names, are widely distributed in the region, for example at Muduvu, among the Wula and some Margi, and as far east as the uncasted Mofu-Diamaré (Vincent 1991:123). The precise date of their arrival in the Sukur region is not known. It predates Hamman Yaji but there is no indication that their residence is of any great antiquity. As a transethnic group of specialists they deserve their own program of research.

To complete the roster and to show that processes operating in the past are still active today, we should note that three strangers were in the 1990s in the process of becoming incorporated into Sukur clans.

Iron currency bars resting on rusty old iron blooms.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ka-Mariya with tall drums

Usumana Ndaysu, senior elder of the Sukur Ka-Mariya, his son and the tall nggu drums carved out of tree trunks that are particularly associated with Damay.

Towards a history through clans

The data presented above on clan histories and distributions are more suggestive of a historical sequence than probative, and have to be considered in the light of other evidence, especially relating to title holders and their functions (David and Sterner 1995), and to Sukur's iron industry (David and Sterner 1996). Below we sketch what we perceive as the main phases of Sukur history.

Phase 1. The small egalitarian society

Whether or not the ancestors of the Tuva and Dumsa actually preceded other groups at Sukur, it is surely significant that they include both specialists and farmers. They can be considered as representative of a simple, and very small, montagnard society theoretically capable of satisfying its material needs by autoproduction and of reproducing itself by the exchange of marriage partners. This is not to say that any such society consisting of Tuva and Dumsa kin groups ever actually existed at Sukur. However, field archaeological evidence in the form of the typology and distribution of grindstones (David 1998) suggests that Sukur was once home to one or more societies of this nature.

Phase 2. The community of clans

Population increases occurred, resultuing in part from the arrival of individuals and small groups attracted to the rich resources of the Sukur plateau. Often initially mentored by existing settlers, some founded their own clans while others were incorporated into old. Some, like the Mëdlëng in the story, brought with them new crop varieties. Settlement became concentrated mainly in the areas of modern habitation. While iron had been smelted since phase 1, there is no evidence that iron production for export became important in phase 2. Indeed, there appear to have been very few iron workers - exemplified by the Tuva and Rëvay - who may well not have been casted at this time. The society remained agrarian. Ritual responsibilities such as initiation were still for the most part the responsibility of individual clans though the individual acts of Mbësefwoy worked in concert to protect the community as a whole. Politically the clans acted independently under their own petty chiefs, such as the ones described above for the Xwatlë and Kigi, who were little more than the senior elders of their descent groups. However, as time passed, the Kulësëgey chief, who had special power over water, emerged as the senior, a primus inter pares. While his political power was restricted, he was called upon to resolve disputes between clans and, it may be, hosts the initiation of most of the community's youths. So, at least, do we read the historical information embodied in diverse data.

Despite widespread claims to Gudur origins by clans present during this phase, it is possible that the desire to assert such an ancestry and to mobilize it either to assert status or for community integration is the product of a later time. The beginning of Gudur's period of magico-religious preeminence is itself unknown but is thought unlikely to predate the end of the sixteenth century AD, however there may have been earlier incarnations (Jouaux 1989:262; Seignobos 1991).

While cannot as yet confidently assign dates to this second Sukur phase and it may go back into the first millennium AD, we can be sure that it had ended well before Barth's passage through the western plains in 1851.

Phase 3. The Dur revolution

Shaw's conquering immigration of Dur, noted above, cannot be casually dismissed, especially since there is evidence of the dispossession by Dur of others' lands. On the other hand, Shaw and his brother ADOs were overly ready to attribute historical events to to military action, including some that never took place (David and Sterner 1995). Had the Dur, presumably supported by the other clans of the Gëdum cluster, in fact conquered Sukur in this way, some memory of this traumatic event would have been retained and passed on to us by the descendants of the conquered - even if the Dur and their allies were attempting to project a softer image. (After all, in 1992-93 our assistants were of the Bakyang and Mëdlung clans.)

A more gradual but nonetheless revolutionary process can instead be invoked. The or a Dur arrived and in the relatively short time of a few generations the Gëdum clans are grown large - as can occur where polygyny is practised. This then allows them to use their superior numbers in a series of minor engagments - piecemeal bullying rather than all out warfare - to gain a solid hold of the Jira wards and to force clans that posed any threat to their dominance either downhill into Tëka, for example the Habga Oy and Habega Ghumtuva, or, like the Kigi and Zoghey out of Sukur altogether. The Kigi and Zoghey traditions of explusion relate to precisely this kind of process. We detect echoes of it in the Yawal ceremony when the Dur refer to members of other clans as their 'vay' or slaves, and in Shaw's 'Dirvai,' which he translates as 'plebeians' but which is probably better interpreted as 'Dur vay.' When an old man in Jira was asked by one of our assitants whether he was Dur, he replied 'If I wasn't, would I have such a large farm around my house?' In the old days, we were told, it was within the Xidi's power to arrogate to himself all the mahogany trees on a hillside.

On a broader geographic scale we may, very tentatively, suggest that the political struggles of this period may have led to some movement of social groups from Sukur and Wula towards Gouzda, nr Koza, (35 km. ENE of Sukur), where 'Wula-Sakon' form an early element in the population (Müller-Kosack 2003), and perhaps in other directions. For example, van Beek (1981:115) has cpllected oral traditions that Bazza and Kamale (both Higi) and Gouria (Kapsiki) were settled from Sukur. The three brothers legend reappears in modified form in these accounts.

The process by which the Dur gained the chieftaincy can not have depended upon force alone but combined political manoeuvering, including making well chosen marriages, with a policy of retention of much that had characterized the previous phase. Thus the Mbësefwoy and other ritual specialists continued to fulfil their duties and were integrated among the Xidi's counsellors. Members of other clans were awarded titles and also took their place among the ndahay pë kë mburum, the 'people at the head of the community.' Nonetheless tension remained between the Dur-and-Karando-dominated upper parts of Sukur and the lower wards where the original inhabitants had had to accommodate those displaced by the Dur and their allies. These tensions would later be manipulated by Dur contestants for the chieftaincy at the time of Hamman Yaji's depredations, and they emerge in the fights between the youths of Jira and Tëka that still characterize the first day of 'Bër, the ceremony of male initiation.

It is probable that two other factors were instrumental in bringing about the Dur revolution. One is their connection to Gudur, the seat of magico-religious power in this part of the Mandara mountains. ('Gudur ... [is] ... the pagan Mecca of these northern regions, with Sukur as Medina,'Shaw (1935: 5) effused.) Quite what that connection was and how it was obtained is uncertain - the evidence of a direct link between Gudur and Damay is much more obvious - but it is nonetheless recognized in the region, where the ritual seniority of the Xidi over other montagnard chiefs is well established, and expressed (perhaps now no longer) by his participation in the hairlock rite that forms part of the installation of several of his chiefly neighbors.

The second factor is economic. Sukur became heavily involved in iron production for export, thereby gaining significant economic advantage for all its citizens. This would not have happened overnight and is unlikely to have reached its climax before the 18th or 19th centuries, but it may well have begun over 500 years ago, and it is to that time around AD 1500 that we would provisionally date the Dur revolution. This is in accordance with our knowledge of a wider trend towards the spread of state societies into the area south of Lake Chad and a concomitant tendency toward areal integration of economies, but it must be admitted that specific data are lacking. The oldest radiocarbon date obtained from a test excavation in a large midden located adjacent to and just above the present Xidi house has, at two sigmas, a 77% probability of falling in the 1460-1690 cal. AD range. The midden contains materials clearly ancestral to those of modern Sukur and can be assigned to the following historical phase.

Phase 4. Village industry, ca AD 1500 to 1950

Iron production on a large scale required some rationalization of access on a sub-regional scale to and production of essential inputs, magnetite ore and charcoal, and this was achieved by the Xidi's management of inter-community relations on behalf of his people. The Xidi also bore ultimate responsibility for the smooth functioning of the iron market, which came to be physically located in Ndilloey, and for the security while in Sukur territory of the traders who came, some from Borno, to exchange a variety of goods for iron. Xidis also undoubtedly underwrote the construction of the paved ways that brought them up onto the plateau, public works that could not have been achieved by forced labor but must have been realized by a Dur hegemony (in the Gramscian sense) generally accepted by the people of Sukur. We have written of these arrangements and of the Sukur village industry mode of production elsewhere and will not pursue them here (David 1995; David and Sterner 1996)

Northern paved way On the other hand it is appropriate to point out that clan histories support this reconstruction. While at Sukur entire families of farmers and smith-potters were involved in smelting, the labor demands of agriculture were such that farmers could not undertake the task of transforming iron blooms into tools, weapons, ornaments and the currency bars used in trade. Specialist smiths were required for this task and must, here as elsewhere, have been eagerly recruited. Thus it is not in the least surprising that all three of the clans arriving in Sukur during this period were smith-potters, at least two spoken for as 'day to farmer clans. This is

Judy Sterner, leaving Sukur in 1996, descends the northern paved way just below Ndilloey and the site of the former iron market.

not to deny that there was also movement of smiths away from Sukur. Van Beek (1981:116-17)) cites several examples of Kapsiki communities claiming that their smiths came either directly or indirectly from Sukur.

By the 1950s the iron industry was in steep decline, there was less and less work for smiths, who had substantially less access to farmland than members of the farmer caste. They therefore left in disproportionate numbers to take up agriculture and other

 

opportunities in the plains settlements that in the a fifth, recent, phase of Sukur history were rapidly increasing in size as a plebiscite brought Sukur and the rest of the the Northern Mandated Territories into a newly independent Nigeria.

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