The Title Holders

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On this page we introduce the institution of title holding in Mandara montagnard societies and go on to list and describe the functions of title holders of Sukur and the rain priest of Wula. On a separate page we consider the origins of titles, the appointment of title holders and the benefits they receive, before proceeding to brief conclusions on the nature of the system of title holding as it exists and existed at Sukur.

In even the smallest chiefdoms in the Mandara mountains there are, besides a chief and senior elders of clans, a number of other persons, perhaps only two or three, variously referred to as dignitaries, nobles, princes, notables, council members and the like. To describe them as a "court" or as a "council" misrepresents the scale, complexity and formality of the societies of which they form part. They are counselors rather than councilors, and we prefer to use the term "title holders." Individually and as a group they play essential roles in the governance of their societies, and they embody much of the political history of their respective communities, history that is not written down nor necessarily remembered, but which can be teased out of their responsibilities, rights and relationships. Understanding the title holders is a key to understanding both the present and past of Mandara montagnard societies.


Hidi Gezik (left), seated on his rock in the inner residence, consults with title holders and others. His junior Tlufu, wearing his cap flattened on his head as a sign of respect, is seated on his left. Opposite them sit the senior Tlufu (blue trousers) and Dalatë, whose frontal hairlock is just visible.

Title holders, who, with occasional exceptions (though not at Sukur), are all male elders, fall into three categories:

the chief and his supporters, close political associates of his or closely related clans,
persons who hold their offices at the pleasure of the chief and who may be described as his retainers; they constitute his political as opposed to domestic household and are often drawn from clans of relatively recent origin, and
persons with priestly functions generally drawn from clans regarded as autochthonous or at least very long established.
As is to be expected in societies in which patrilineal descent is so important an element in establishing a person's entitlements and responsibilities, titles are frequently inherited within families or clans, and this principle limits the chief's freedom of action to a degree in good part dependent upon his personal charisma and political skills. It also tends to blur the distinctions between categories that correspond to different political constituencies.

The chief's supporters represent those members of his and closely associated clans who for reasons of descent or by political choice have identified themselves with the chief and whom he trusts not to intrigue against him. Other sections of the chiefly clans are in actual or potential competition for the chieftaincy, while associated clans - at Sukur the Këmavu'd, Karando, and Shagwam - have invested in the existing political regime even though factions within them may favor different claimants to the chieftaincy.

Though this is less true of Sukur than of other Mandaran communities, the clans that provide the chief's retainers are for the most part small, sometimes deriving from a single immigrant taken into a chief's household, or for other reasons, e.g., smith-potter caste status, posing no political threat to the regime. Such title holders, like freedmen officials in the Roman empire, depend upon the chief, and, having no other constituency to back them, maintain him in return. They may on the other hand transfer allegiance from one member of the chiefly house to another. At Sukur a number of title holders in this category are drawn from larger, well-established, clans.

The clans with priestly titleholders vary in size but have as a group lost or given up much though not all of their former political power over people, while retaining their ties to local spirits and managing that relationship for the benefit of the community as a whole. While we know of no instances in which such clans have regained the chieftaincy, oral traditions make it clear that there is a tension between the chiefly and the priestly clans. Such tensions are clearly expressed at Sukur in the traditions relating to Hidi Kacima, possibly not a Dur but a Yena clan member. Regime change is not inconceivable. It behooves a wise chief to cultivate his relationship with the priestly clans and the conferral of titles is one tactic in this strategy.

Sukur, in part because of its antiquity as a political entity and in part because during its heyday as an industrial chiefdom it attracted immigrants, has the largest number of title holders and clans of any Mandara montagnard society. We list them below and then describe their characteristics and functions as groups and individually.

TABLE: Sukur clans, titles and holders' functions
by inferred phases of cultural development

(i) indicates that the title is normally inherited within a patriline, potentially reverting to the clan.

† indicates clans that share a praise name with the chiefly clan Dur

* indicates clans that share the praise name Habega

Phases 3 and 4 - The Dur revolution and the period of village industry:
Title-holders with duties that are primarily secular
and/or closely tied to the person of a Dur Hidi

Dur Hidi Chief
Dur RowHidi Heir apparent (unused at present except as leader of the initiates)
Dur Wakili Deputy Chief (post-colonial title)
Dur Makarama Senior advisor and supporter
Dur Makarama bin ghu'd (i) Role in installation of chief; formerly envoy to Gudur
Shagwom † Fa të Hidi Senior advisor to chief
Karando † Midala (i) War leader (role ritualized)
Kėmavu'd † Tlėmuziy (i) Ritual duties associated with Muziy hill ceremony and Yawal
Kwabala* Tlufu, senior (i) Supporter of Hidi and formerly judge
Gadė Tlufu, junior (i) Chief's "chamberlain"
? Birima Junior "chamberlain" (formerly)
Rėvay Tlagama (i) Chief's barber and drummer (a smith)
Kwazhuwa Tlėgėm (i) Chief's drummer (a smith)
Zoghiy Dzarma (i) Chief's herald
Yena* Tlyamburum Tėka(i?) Chief's "ear" in lower Sukur
Kigi Tlyamburum Jira(i?) Chief's "ear" in upper Sukur
Mėldėng* Tlėsuku (i) Chief's "chaplain"

Phase II - The community of clans:
Titleholders with priestly functions

Kulėsėgey Dalatė (i) Senior priest and representative of earlier dynasty
Gadė Mbėsefwoy (i) Priest
Habega Oy* Mbėsefwoy (i) Priest
Habega Ghumtuva* Mbėsefwoy (i) Priest
Manjam* Mbėsefwoy (i) Priest, liaison with Wula rain-maker3
Rėvay Mbėsefwoy (i) Priest (of the farmer clan section)
Xwatlė Mbėsefwoy (i) Priest
Yena* Jirduk Priest
Kigi Barkuma Priest

Phase I - The small egalitarian society:
Titleholders with priestly functions

Dumsa Tlėduv (i) Priestly functions
Tuva Hidi 'Day (i) Chief of the smiths and senior funerary smith. Title now extinct.
Tuva ‘Day Kur’ba (i) Priestly function; responsible for burying the chief

Navigate within this long document by moving back and forth between this table and the individual titles discussed below.

Before proceeding to a discussion of the titles, we should note that two clans, Baking and Bërdlëng, are no longer represented on Sukur mountain. The Midala title used to be vested in Bakyang and it is hard to believe that Karando previously held no title at all. Kwasha, a recently arrived clan, is the only one definitely known not to have held a title.

The Title Holders

Curiously there is no sakun word that unambiguously denotes the title holders. Ndahay pë kë mburum, meaning "persons at the head of the community," comes closest to it, while pishili designates those title holders who are privileged to enter the chief's house at any time. Title holders carry a thin wooden staff with a short fork at one end (jif dlegaw).

The chief and his supporters


Hidi means chief in sakun and the title is applied to chiefs beyond Sukur. During the period of village industry the chief ruled Sukur subject to the threat of deposition by other factions of his Dur clan and the checks and balances of the clan system. Although he carried out no priestly duties, those that might have been his being delegated to Tlësuku, he played a central role in community ceremonies, especially the 'Bër initiation and Yawal, the latter festival celebrating his chieftaincy and the chiefly clan. He exerted a form of domain over the land of Sukur; for example he designated land for the use of newcomers. It is said that he or his sons might on occasion seize livestock and that a powerful Hidi could arrogate to himself all the mahogany trees on a hillside. He judged his people, fined and punished them. It would seem that Dzarma and Tlagama acted as his henchman in such matters, probably acting in concert with other members of his household and of clan Dur.

He negotiated with other chiefs regarding access to raw materials for the iron industry and with local and long distance traders visiting the weekly iron market, from which he greatly benefited. Partly in return for his facilitation of the iron industry he received goods and
services from his people in a form of tax. Until complaints were made to the Mandate administration in Hidi Matlay's times, the chief received a hind leg of all bulls that were ceremonially slaughtered. He still receives a token quantity of meat. He is regarded by many neighbor chiefs as their ritual senior and played, and still may play, a part in their installation, sending Tlagama with other representatives to shave their heads, leaving a hairlock into which some of their predecessor's hair would be woven.

The regalia of chieftaincy include a central hairlock, always hidden by a cap, and an iron staff and bracelet, both with attached with iron medicine envelopes, used only on certain ceremonial occasions.

Hidi Gezik in a less formal moment.

The powers of Sukur chiefs depended upon their personalities, political skills and the larger political situation. Although the independence of Sukur had been severely damaged by Hamman Yaji and subsequently diminished in the course of the Mandate, its chiefs still retained considerable freedom of action at the local level. From 1961, when Northern Cameroons became part of Nigeria's then Northern Region, Sukur and its neighbors began to be more effectively integrated into regional and later state administrations. Successive chiefs lost power as their right to administer justice was reduced and their chiefly role was combined with that of servant of the state. Until 1993 when a Sukur District was created, the chief acted as the representative of Sukur and several satellite settlements vis à vis the Adamawa state government, but he has now been de facto demoted to the lower status of village head.



The term, which literally means child (ruwi) of Hidi, has several senses. Most generally it is used to refer to younger men of the chiefly patriline or section who are or more precisely were, potentially at least, in contention for succession to the chieftaincy. French ethnographers sometimes call these the "princes." As a title it referred to the heir apparent, ideally but not often actually a son of the chief, who would act for him in the his absence including judging cases. From about 1960 the title was no longer used in this sense since a) appointment of the Hidi came to depend more and more upon negotiations with administrators and the chiefly hierarchy headed by the Lamido of Yola, and b) the tasks formerly delegated to RowHidi fell to Wakili.

According to one source, when the chief died the RowHidi would inherit at least one of his wives. If the RowHidi were the son of a 'day wife he would inherit a 'day wife on his father's death.

A son of former Hidi Zirangwodë and Wakili (behind) relax during the 'Bër initiation ceremony.

During the 'Bër initiation ceremony one of the youths of Dur clan - and in former times no doubt a RowHidi close to the chief - is appointed leader of the initiates with the temporary title of RowHidi. Cohorts of initiates are remembered by the names of their RowHidis. The leader is assisted by a second-in-command called Ronza (ruwi + perhaps [i]nza to remain or be seated), a title that does not otherwise exist. It is the privilege of clan Kigi to provide the Ronza.


The title is borrowed from Arabic via Hausa where it has the general sense of representative (Abraham 1962).

The first Hidi to have a Wakili was Nzaani (1923-34), seemingly because he had to leave the village to wait on the District Head and British administrators, and Wakili's main job was at that time to accompany Hidi on these journeys. It would seem that the role changed to become that of the chief's spokesman and envoy as the state administration demanded ever more frequent interaction between visits of representatives of the various communities to the seats of the local government to which they are assigned. For Sukur this was Gulak until very recently but has now become Madagali with the creation of a Northern Madagali Local Government Area.

Conversely, if the Hidi is absent, Wakili now acts as his deputy. Wakilis have always been of the chiefly clan and fairly close relatives, e.g., cousins, of the chief.

Makarama (or Makarma)

This title, of Bornoan origin (Forkl 1985), is held by a senior member of the chiefly clan. According to Shaw (1935) there were two Makaramas, the chief's "executive officer[s]", one with special responsibility for Sukur's upper and the other for the lower wards. It would seem unlikely that, if Shaw is correct, these corresponded with the two offices as they exist at present.

In 1992 the Makarama was Putanga Jaweli; by 1996 hehad died and been replaced. The Makarama is appointed by the Hidi, and acts as his close advisor; he is his supporter on ceremonial occasions, and was formerly his supporter in arms. He also assists the Makarama bin ghu'd at the installation of the Hidi. It would seem that there has been in the past considerable and variable overlap in the duties of the RowHidi, Wakili and Makarama - to the point that RowHidi might also be Makarama.

Zerahë, a former Makarama, displays the head of the bull he has sacrificed to celebrate a son's initiation.


Makarama bin ghu'd

Bin ghu'd literally means "ties the belly" and refers to a critical element in the installation of a Hidi when this titleholder ties a black turban around his waist. Unlike the Makarama, the Makarama bin ghu'd, who stems from a patriline that has never held the chieftaincy, holds his office by inheritance. Today it would seem that his duties are entirely ceremonial. However, the Makarama bin ghu'd was formerly one of Hidi's envoys to Gudur and, it seems, the leader of a delegation engaged in a primarily ritual enterprise. The present title holder remembers his father going on such a mission to Gudur at the time of the last locust plagues in the early to mid-1930s.

Fa të Hidi

Fa të Hidi (literally "father of the chief") is accurately described by Shaw (1935) as "the titular father and personal advisor" of the chief. He is appointed by the chief and, at least since Nzaani's time, has always been an elder of Shagwam clan, though he could, we were told, be chosen from Këmavu'd or Karando, the other two clans allied to Dur. While Fa të Hidi is appointed by the chief, it is said that he can not be dismissed by him, a sophisticated political mechanism for ensuring that his advice will be disinterested.

Fa të Hidi observes The Zoku sacrifice at Mixyrux.

The Fa të Hidi gives fatherly advice to the chief as requested and on his own account; mostly he seems to be called upon and may be asked to pass information on to other counselors. As the Hidi's titular father he does not clap his hands as do other elders to mark approval of chiefly statements - a gesture combining aspects of prayer and agreement somewhat akin to the use of "Amen" - but snaps one index finger over the back of the other (making quite a noise).

He plays a minor role in certain ceremonies. He observes the sacrifice at Mixyrux during the Zoku ceremony that purifies the village. At Yawal he dances on a particular flat rock on the south side of the Patla. Near the end of the rains he places a granary cover on a nearby rock, the "yim Fa të Hidi."


The title is of Bornoan origin and was not mentioned by Shaw; MacBride (1937) describes him as "War leader & priest of the Tson cult." In 1992, Bizha Usmana, the then incumbent, a Karando in his 70s since deceased and succeeded by a nephew, told us that in the past Midalas called out the fighting men by standing on a rocky height, blowing a cerak flute, threatening to go into the field alone if necessary, and declaring that "Vultures are eating my meat in the bush," which is to say that enemies are robbing Sakun of its livestock.

In the time of the Mandate, his father was the last to have done this. However, the Midala's leadership in war was always rather ritual than military, and is now entirely symbolic.

Midala on his rock during the Zoku campaign to drive evil out of Sukur.

The Midala title was once vested in the Bakyang clan but has been held by Karando for at least four generations. Bizha Usmana, who listed eleven Karando Midala predecessors, told us that the transfer took place in the following manner:

A long time ago the Karando clan tried to persuade the [mid- to late 19th century] Hidi Bagaana to give them the Midala title. The Bakyang Midala called out his men and those of Karando to fight off an enemy, but when they arrived at the border of Sukur, revealed that this was a ruse. A fight between Bakyang and Karando ensued and men died. On their return the Hidi blamed the Bakyang and gave the title to Karando.

If this story is true it may well provide the reason the Bakyang migrated west to Mëldëng mountain and on into Margi territory. A Bakyang elder denied this (as did a Mëldëng elder), but confirmed that an ancestor, whom he named as Ruta, had held the office, and told the following story:


Mëldëng mountain west of Sukur across the Nawu valley.


[At sometime before Hamman Yaji] the Duwa [Kapsiki of Rhoumzou] kept on attacking; many Sukur were killed and the people wept at the battlefield. The senior elder of Bakyang was stubborn and strong. He said to the Hidi, " I will follow you and we will see what is going on." So he went to the battlefield and himself fought the Duwa, killing them so that they ran away. Then he returned home. The Hidi said "I will make you to be close to me, will make you Midala." The new Midala lived next to Karando neighbors who at that time held the Fa të Hidi post.

At present the Midala leads the armed procession - an expedition to drive out evil and the spirits of the dead - during the Zoku ceremony. Shortly afterwards, in a remarkable rite of purification of both the chief and his house, he projects water, in a motion that combines tossing and pouring, from a calabash through a hole in the enclosure wall into the Hidi's hands and utters a prayer. On the first day of the Yama pë Patla ceremony (sometimes known as Tëkayis and held on 28 November in 1992) he makes an offering of beer at pair of deep grindstone-mortars (tson) resting one on top of the other next to Buge, the megalithic throne room on the Patla. He also has other lesser ritual responsibilities.
At Zoku, Midala leads a ritual war party to drive evil and the spirits of the dead out of Sukur and towards the Kapsiki.


The title can probably be construed as "tlë", a prefix seemingly of Wandala origin and meaning "person responsible for" and Muziy, a hill just north of the Hidi's house. He is a minor title holder of Këmavu'd clan whose title has been in his patriline for an indefinite period and was last held by his father's father. Formerly he played a part in a ceremony, long lapsed, held on Muziy hill during which Tlësuku prayed to Zhigila on behalf of the community and, atypically, a cow was slaughtered rather than a bull. Nowadays his only duty is to clear the paved way to the Ndilloey dance ground before the Yawal ceremony, and on that occasion to cook and bring eight bowls of millet porridge and a large bowl of bean sauce for the Hidi's musicians, who scarcely taste it before the children rush in and grab what they can.

Tlëmuziy is the last of the titles held by the three clans allied to Dur. Although their holders may be influential, none carry any real power and the most significant office, that of Midala, was only reassigned from Bakyang to Karando in the later 19th century. Previously no title was vested in that clan although Karando men were eligible to be appointed Fa të Hidi. We suggest that the interests of these clans are so firmly aligned with the Dur, with whom they share the Gëdëm praise name, that their loyalty does not require to be assured with any more substantial offices.

The chief's retainers


The title is of Wandala origin. Shaw (1935) describes the title holder as the "principal (or final) voice or veto in the selection of the Hlidi." This seems mistaken. At present there are two Tlufu, commonly described as senior and junior.

The senior Tlufu, appointed by the Hidi from the Kwabala clan, now has mainly ceremonial duties. At first planting he is part of the delegation sent with gifts to the Wula rain priest (Tluwala) whom he lodges on visits to Sukur. The present incumbent stated that in former times Tlufu acted on ceremonial occasions, for example at Yawal when coups were likely, as Hidi's body guard, being expected to defend him, if necessary to the death. If the Tlufu ran away, Dur would burn his house down! With RowHidi or Makarama, the senior Tlufu would act as a judge in the Hidi's absence, also participating in trials before the chief by giving him judicial advice.

In olden times, we were told by former chief Zirangkwadë in 1991, there used to be only one Tlufu, but people complained that he lived too far away in Sukur's lower wards. Therefore Hidi appointed a junior one to live near his house in Jira.

The junior Tlufu, not previously reported, is also appointed by the Hidi and is from clan Gadë. His responsibilities include entering the chief's granaries (which the Hidi is spiritually too highly charged to do) to distribute grain to his wife or wives, acting as the Hidi's dresser and accompanying him on ceremonial occasions and dancing with him at 'Bër. At Zoku he cooks the food offered to the dead by the chief and on this and other occasions he plays the tim drum. Although these duties can be described as those of a chamberlain, he also acted more or less as the chair of a meeting of title holders and other men held during Zoku.

The junior Tlufu, cap crushed down on his head and carrying a fly whisk and the chief's iron staff, dances with the chief at 'Bër.

The office has been held in Gadë for at least three generations. We suspect that whether or not the number of Tlufu has increased from one to two - and a third "honorary" Tlufu was appointed by the previous Hidi - some domestic offices formerly performed by the Birima have been taken on by the junior Tlufu.

The selection of the two Tlufus from clans that hold no other titles is indicative of an enduring chiefly policy aimed at integrating Sukur as a political entity. In this case the clans are both resident in the lower wards of Sukur where acceptance of the Dur dynasty is less established than in Jira. The granting of titles - and of course the good treatment of title holders - helps to bind the Kwabala and Gadë clans, or at least the close relatives of the office holders, to the chief. The appointment by Chief Gezik of a man in his late thirties or early forties to serve as senior Tlufu exemplifies his policy of engaging with the younger men ("as the old do nothing but drink beer".!).

The Tlufu title can also be used more or less informally as when a man who had been adopted into the village as a boy (a cirmuyin) was later described as a tlufu to Hidi Zirangkwadë. In this case we suspect that the incumbent was responsible only for menial tasks ahd did not, for example, dance with the chief on formal occasions. He was, in effect, a part time junior steward to the chief.

Birima (and "Dala")

According to the Reverend Kulp (1935) the term Birima, which is of Bornoan origin, referred to:

the eunuchs who guarded the royal household in Sukur ... The hut in which the children of the royal household slept was on a rock above the huts of the eunuchs and guarded by them. The path leading up to the children's hut ran by the hut of the eunuchs. There was no other way of reaching it.

Shaw (1935) says that Birima was "responsible for the royal corn-bins," and Kirk-Greene (1960) has him "in charge of royal concubines and children." Although one might be tempted to see "concubines" as a misreading of "corn-bins," Kirk-Greene is following Kulp, but he also wrote of castrated royal bodyguards who were still alive when he visited Sukur in the 1950s (see under Tlëgëm below).

In the 1990s we found opinions confused regarding these (or this) relatively unimportant title holders. The junior Tlufu claimed that Birima titles were vested in Habega Oy and Bërdlëng clans, but that the previous incumbents had moved away. The Hidi and Fa të Hidi agreed that Birimas, who, unlike among the Margi, were never slaves, assisted the Tlufu, looking after work in the chief's house. They also stated that before the time of Hamman Yaji, certain slaves captured in war were emasculated and put to work in the Hidi house. We also heard of "Dala", suppposedly yet another title. Chief Gezik told us he thought Dala had been a minor official of Kigi clan who had a room at the north end of the Hidi house and some responsibility for slaves and for animals brought by northern traders that remained unsold at the close of the market. He was not a counselor; the office lapsed at some time before 1960. Meanwhile Tlagama informed us that there used to be only one gatekeeper, a man called Zlangelma, who was on duty from dawn to dusk and went home at night.

At present an elder of clan Zoghiy, said to be acting as Birima, accompanies the Hidi at Yawal, carrying a bowl into which Hidi will supposedly urinate if necessary.

Hidi Gezik, preceded by men of clan Dur and followed by drummers, process to the Yawal dance ground. Immediately behind him, wearing a pale blue robe is th acting Birima, carrying a small bowl.

What are we to make of all this? We suggest that there was never an retainer with the title "Dala," but that one or more free-born Birimas, appointed by the Hidi of the time, carried out a variety of tasks about the Hidii house, some of which have now become the responsibility of the junior Tlufu. One of the Birimas may have been called Dala. These minor title holders seem to have been separate from gate keepers - some of them slaves and eunuchs - employed at various times and in various numbers to manage access to the chief's house. Such traffic control would surely have been necessary in the time of the iron trade, especially if the chief had more than a few wives and children.


The title is of Wandala origin. MacBride (1937) describes him as "Head of the barber smiths; confers Hair-lock on new Llidi and on those chiefs whose appointments are confirmed by the Llidi".

The present incumbent has held the office since before Hidi Matlay's abdication in 1960. He is a smith of clan Rëvay in whose patriline the office has been passed down from father to son for generations. He confirmed that his father had been responsible for feeding the Hidi's slaves that were for sale and said that he remembered him doing it. If this is so, then, given Tlagama's age, traffic in slaves must have continued into Nzaani's (1923-34) chieftaincy. It certainly did elsewhere in the region.

According to one usually reliable source Tlagama was also responsible for the order and cleaning of the iron market. No one paid him a market tax, although he might receive small gifts (an onion was suggested!). Tlagama denied this and also that his predecessors bore any responsibility for protecting the Hidi, suggesting that keeping order was Makarama's task. However, we received several indications from others that Tlagamas were called upon by chiefs to enforce their commands and decisions (see under Dzarma below).
Tlagama with his Kalangu ruwidang drum


The present Tlagama described his duties as follows:
to shave the head and dress the hairlock of the Hidi at his installation and later as required,
to play the squeeze drum (ruwi dang) when the Hidi appears on various occasions including Yawal, and
to shave heads of chiefs of other communities as part of their installation ceremonies.

This constituted ritual recognition of what is accepted in the region as Sukur's seniority, due, we suggest, not to political overlordship past or present but rather to its antiquity as a socio-political entity in the region and perhaps its preeminence in the iron trade. Tlagama has himself been, either accompanying his father or on his own, to shave the heads of the chiefs of Kurang and Damay on the Sukur plateau; Kamale (Higi); Gulak, Kojiti, Palam, Maiva, Vapura (all Margi); Wula and its Muduvu offshoot; Mabas; and Vamay (possibly the Mafa settlement of Mavoumay west of Mokolo).


The origin of the title is unknown but appears to include the same Wandala prefix as in Tlagama.

The title is not mentioned in the archival sources and Kirk-Greene (1960) appears to confuse Tlëgëm with Tlagama when he states that the latter was "the principal castrator ... in this part of the northern Cameroons the most skilled operator...Two such victims were alive when I was last in Sukur; both had been castrated and then appointed as dogarai [a Hausa term] or royal bodyguards."

Dalatë (l. with hairlock), Tlëgëm and the Habega Ghumtiva Mbësefwoy (r.) on Dlang during 'Bër 1992.


While Tlagama denied that his forebears acted as castrators, Tlëgëm told us that his father's father had been required to emasculate (rather than castrate) Hamman Yaji's slaves, and this was confirmed by others. Kirk-Greene (1960:87) is almost certainly correct in stating that this practice "reached a peak during the reign of Hamman Yaji ... the male prisoners, mostly from Matakam and Moda, were sent up to Sukur for gelding before they entered his compound as custodians of the harem."

Such brutal surgery was not, Tlëgëm insisted, the true work of an office that has been held for generations in one smith-potter patriline of the Kwazhuwa clan. The present incumbent, with the chief's approval, took over from his brother when he moved down the mountain to Rugudum. He beats the makadang drum at 'Bër and on other occasions and assists otherwise at ceremonies.


The title is of Bornoan origin; the functions, according to Shaw (1935), are those of "herald or clan crier." The title is vested in clan Zoghiy; the present holder took over the office from his father's brother.When bulls are sacrificed Dzarma is authorized to collect the beasts' windpipes, thought to increase his vocal power.

Dzarma's duties include:

At Hidi's order to cry out announcements regarding special events, days when no work should be done, or if serious sickness requires offerings, and in theory the date of Zoku (but not other ceremonies). In 1992-93 we heard him cry the date of elections and he also called people to weed Hidi's fields.

Dzarma leads Sukur men dancing at a Damay funeral.

At Yawal after Hidi dances he cries "Woo'a! Wa pe ka!" - Attention! wound on head! - three times (as the junior Tlufu thrice offers the chief small balls of porridge, of which Hidi tastes a little from each). This warns people that ceremony is ending and that they should keep out of the way of Hidi's horse.
In olden days if a person was suspected of thievery, Dzarma would go to his house and summon him to appear before the chief. If he refused, Dzarma, Tlagama and Tlëgëm would go to his house and take all his possessions, stacking them on the Patla until he presented himself for judgement.
According to more than one report Dzarma was responsible for selling the Hidi's iron currency bars at the weekly iron market.
He is also supposed to sacrifice a goat every year on Muva hill before the harvest. He has not done this for some years.

Dzarma is clearly an important retainer of the chief, serving him as a herald and as an "officer of the peace." He also has ritual responsibilities though these seem never to have been arduous, and it may be that he assisted the Rëvay Mbësefwoy [see below] rather than performing rights on his own. This aspect of his work has fallen into abeyance.


This title is indigenous and may be construed as tlyam = hear + mburum = community. There are in fact two of them, one for Tëka (Sukur's lower wards) and one for Jira (the upper wards). The situation is complicated as Tlyamburum Tëka holds another title, Jirduk, and the person whom we thought was Tlyamburum Jira in 1992-93 was in fact acting both in this role and also as Barkuma. We suspect that the Tlyamburum titles are held at the chief's pleasure (though in full cognizance of the political implications of their attribution), whereas the others, which fall into the priestly category and are discussed below, are more strictly inherited.

Tlyamburum Tëka

The present Tlyamburum is a Yena and inherited both this office and that of Jirduk within his patriline. As Tlyamburum he reports on matters relating to the state of the lower Sukur community and may be called by Hidi for advice or to receive information. In practice it would seem that in these days the various ward heads (Blamas), of which he is in fact one, fulfil these functions. As Jirduk he has priestly duties that will be considered below.

Tlyamburum Jira

Our understanding of this title and the office of Barkuma is, for the reasons given above, less clear than we would wish. By 1996 a Barkuma had been appointed, and, shortly before we left Sukur, we learned that the real Tlyamburum Jira had resumed his functions.

Besides the responsibilities of a Tlyamburum noted above he may have certain ceremonial duties, but it is not entirely clear which these are and which are the responsibility of Barkuma. During Zoku in 1992 the acting Tlyamburum Jira/Barkuma went at night with the junior Tlufu through village shouting "Boo va!", and on the next day provided Midala and his symbolic war party with beer at the Midala rock below Muva hill. These could all be classified as the tasks of a retainer. Other priestly responsibilities that can be reliably attributed to Barkuma are discussed in the following section.


The title holders in the retainers' category so far discussed carry out primarily secular functions. Where they participate in ritual it is generally in a subsidiary role, or perhaps in the case of the two Tlyamburums by virtue of their possessing other titled offices. The Tlësuku on the other hand is both a retainer and a priest, and thus spans these two categories of title holders.

The Tlësuku title appears to be indigenous and to relate to responsibility for ritual (suku = altar, usually a pot representing one or more deceased family members). Shaw (1935) describes him as "responsible for the Son, the tutelary deity of the Sakun. Also for the affairs of the women of the royal household." Shaw is mistaken in that tson are grindstone-mortars often used as altars. Zhigila is the sakun name of the high (sky) god.

The Tlësuku's office, inherited within a Mëldëng atriline, may be described as that of the Hidi's chaplain. He performs sacrifices and offerings on the chief's behalf, most if not all addressed to Zhigila, and, during and after the Hidi's installation, introduces him to the arcane aspects of the Hidi's house
In the early morning of 11 Nov. 1992, Tlësuku (r) leads dancers at the low key Yama pë Patla ceremony as Hidi, on his megalithic throne, watches from behind a blanket.

(Smith and David 1995). He also introduces the Hidi's brides to their new home, prays over their children, and plays a role in naming ceremonies.

The present incumbent listed the following tasks ("a" through "f" are in the order he gave them):

a) He introduces the new Hidi into his house and slaughters agoat on the tson Hidi altar around which the spirits of dead Hidis congregate.

b) If Hidi or a member of his family is sick, he prays over him (to Zhigila) and blows powa over them (a form of blessing; powa is millet flour here mixed with water). If a diviner indicates that the sickness is the work of spirits (hrriy), Tlësuku takes offerings and places them on civi (paths) as appropriate.

c) He makes offerings on behalf of the chief before harvest (in the 9th month) and indeed makes all the offerings and sacrifices for the Hidi that the latter would, were he a normal person, make for himself, including making offerings on the altars of past Hidis.

d) If a child is born to the Hidi, he blows powa on the mother and after the period of confinement he (and not the midwife) carries the baby out of the room, introducing it to the community.

e) He introduces new brides to the chief's house. If one of the chief's wives leaves him or is divorced and marries someone else but later remarries the chief, she must give a cock and an empty hurumzuwa beer jug to Tlësuku, who reintroduces her into the house.

f) At Yawal he goes in front of Hidi with a small jar (melleleyo) on each shoulder, one filled with beer, the other empty for the Hidi to spit and urinate into if he needs to behind a blanket held by the chief's sons-in-law. Over a period of days he makes a series of offerings at Yawaldë'ba (Day 1), Dalak (2), on the Patla (3), at Dida and Ndilloey (4) and again on the Patla (5).

g) At 'Bër he prays to God - as always - asking Zhigila to be with the initiates and let them marry and have children for Sukur, and for Hidi to be healthy and rule in peace treating all equally. At the end of the ceremony he makes a very similar prayer.

h) He plays a role in the chief's burial.

i) The Tlësuku blows powa over the Hidi's daughters when they marry.

j) Formerly the Tlësuku was called upon to sacrifice, though he did not butcher, all animals sacrificed by Dur on ceremonial occasions, e.g., Hëndlë.

k) Formerly he prayed for the community at a sacrificial ceremony on Muziy hill.

Zoku, 1992: Tlësuku has sacrificed a bull for a Dur neighbor. After their throats are cut and the blood collected, bulls are placed in this position until offerings of the blood are made and butchering begins.
The Mëldëng clan of which Tlësuku is a senior elder is one of those with the praise name Habega. These, according to Shaw, "profess aboriginal status," and they provide three of the six priestly title holders known as Mbësefwoy. Like Dalatë, another of this priestly group, Tlësuku wears a hairlock on his forehead. It is difficult to avoid the inference that the priestly role of Tlësuku, though by no means all or even most of his priestly functions, precedes the establishment of the Dur dynasty. His office has in a sense been co-opted into the chief's service - not imposed by force but rather negotiated in the spirit of reconciliation that is so characteristic of politics in the Mandara mountains. This is even more evident in the case of the next title holder to be considered: Dalatë.

Title holders with priestly functions

The title holders in this category all carry out (or used to perform) important rites on behalf of the community but none are full-time priests. They fall into three groups, the first consisting of Dalatë, the Mbësefwoys and Jirduk, the second containing only Barkuma, and the third the title holders of the smith-potter Tuva and closely related Dumsa clans. The Sukur recognize the first group together with Tlëduv and Tlësuku, but not apparently Barkuma, as tuhrriy, persons responsible for the most important shrines.

The first set of titles is vested in clans long settled in Sukur and of the farmer caste - or in the case of Rëvay of the farmer section of that clan. The Hidi does not appoint nor can he discharge any of these title holders, nor indeed is there any reason why he should do so. Despite the success of various Christian sects in recruiting adherents, the failure of any of these title holders to carry out their sacrificial duties would be strongly disapproved by the community. It does, however, appear to have happened in the case of one shrine that is no longer served.


The title is of Bornoan origin and is vested in the Kulësëgey clan. Shaw (1935: App. A p. 44, item 2) recognized Dalatë as the heir of the dynasty that preceded the Dur at Sukur, but not that he fulfills important ritual functions. Retention by the clan of the former chief of responsibilities for maintaining relationships with spirits, particularly those of the land, is typical of dynastic replacement in this region.That this seemingly ancient title is of Bornoan origin might suggest that at least some Bornoan titles are earlier than Wandala-derived titles.

In 1992 the present incumbent described his duties to us. Significantly the first he listed was to take part in the Yawal feast and to pray at Yawaldë'ba on behalf of the community. "Otherwise," he said, "the Hidi could not come." The active participation of the representative of the former Kulësëgey dynasty in a ceremony that celebrates the chief and the Dur clan is an expression of acceptance of the political status quo and a guarantee of peace within Sukur. The prayer is addressed directly to Zhigila on behalf of the community.

Dalatë listed his other duties as follows:
2) He sacrifices at hrriy Munggwolay, a shrine on the small summit immediately north of his house. This was the former site of the 'Bër initiates' retreat, but as many died on account of the spirit of the place, the place of retreat was transferred to the nearby Dlang Mbadlavay ("rocky hill of the initiates").

3) He has general responsibility for Dlang Mbadlavay, including making offering to its spirit. During the first day of 'Bër he seats the initiates on their respective clan rocks on Dlang and exhorts them to unity. On this as on other ritual occasions he should wear a loinskin and no shirt (in 1992 he wore trousers). The absence of a hat reveals the horizontal hairlock on his forehead.

4) He assists informally and wearing ordinary clothes in the sacrifice at hrriy Mixyrux during Zoku. He expressed by saying it was his task "to act as Tlufu to" the Mbësefwoy of clan Gadë (see below).

5) He decides where wells should be dug, going with a special calabash containing powa or beer mash and offering this to the local spirit. He then acts as chief engineer during the well digging and its revetting with stone blocks. He told us that in the old days only Dalatë did this form of dowsing, but more recently others, including Mbësefwoys, have undertaken it. Given their special relations with local spirits, this seems appropriate.
The special relationship existing between Dalatë and Hidi is made manifest on several occasions. For example, once he has carried out the ceremony at Yawaldë'ba, he may no more enter the chief's house. At the bull festival, Hëndlë, Dalatë and Hidi are the last to slaughter their bulls. And, although we cannot vouch for its truth or indeed decipher its precise meaning, we note that according to Shaw (1935), Dalatë "is still given a 'royal'burial which is paralleled exactly at Wula."


The title is indigenous to Sukur and one that we are unable to translate though it may include forms of the elements zev; to sacrifice, and/or of fwoy, tree. Sacrifice on behalf of the community is the primary duty of at least five of the six holders of this inherited title, all drawn from clans long established in Sukur. The Mbësefwoy are listed below by clan:

1) Gadë clan, resident in Dzuvok.He is the senior Mbësefwoy in the sense that his sacrifice is regarded vital to the welfare of the community and initiates a series of sacrifices by Tlëduv and other Mbësefwoy. The present incumbent is the senior man of his clan and followed his father and father's father in the office. In September he performs the sacrifice central to the Zoku rites of purification undertaken at Mixyrux hill near where he lives in Dzuvok ward. The sacrifice is offered to Zhigila on behalf of the whole community. The victim used to be a bull but, since few Sukur are now prepared to contribute to customary rites, on the two occasions we were present, the bull was replaced once by a small goat and once by a piece of skin of a bull bred on the mountain. Dalatë assists and Fa të Hidi observes this sacrifice, later reporting to the chief. Before we attended this rite, regarded as essential to the health and prosperity of Sukur, one of the Blamas told us that this Mbësefwoy was the senior one and that:

On the first day of Zoku he sacrifices a goat at ngwa Mixyrux, leaving the goat overnight, unbutchered, in a cleft in the rocks. Next morning he inspects the goat, hoping to find small insects (mashalak) on the wound, as if they are absent there will be no millet. He butchers the goat and cooks it in water only - but when you taste it, it tastes salty! Then he shouts "Woo'a ru Duwa," [addressed to the spirits of the dead and meaning "Hey! Go off to the Kapsiki"].

The goat was not in fact left overnight (the excuse made to Hidi was that it was very small and the Mbësefwoy is lame) but the practice makes good sense to the Sukur in that a swarming of insects is associated with an abundance of guineacorn and pearl millet.

So far as we know the Zoku sacrifice is the single ritual act carried out by this Mbësefwoy on behalf of a group larger than his own lineage. He makes no separate sacrifice for his clan.
We shall afford the other Mbësefwoy briefer treatment but hope at a later date to describe in more detail how their sacrifices, carried out in the 9th month (November) shortly before the millet harvest, creates a ritual barrier around Sukur, protecting it from their enemies, human and of the spirit world.

2) Xwatlë, resident in Daza. Following Tlëduv's sacrifice at Kuxir shrine (see below), he begins the sequence of sacrifices that precedes the harvest. He serves the Dungvuwa shrine at the top of the escarpment leading down to Mataka and Mildo. At Zoku he sacrifices a chicken and covers the roof of either the divination room or Drizha in the chief's house.

3) Manjam, resident in Gwafak. Sacrifices at Manjam shrine on the way to Damay, probably before harvest. After the first good rain, Makarama summons him and, together with other title holders, he sows the first sorghum in one of Hidi's fields. He then takes presents provided by the chief to Tluwala, the Wula rain maker. Next day all may sow.

4) Habega Ghumtuva, resident in Dunggom. He has a shrine marked by a large dë'ba jar in Dunggom where he also sacrifices before the harvest, burying bones of the goat under or near the pot. He does not tie strips of its skin across any path but it seems that the motivation is similar and that his sacrifice blocks the way to evil coming from the deep Nawu valley. Perhaps in part because he lives closest to the house of the chief, this Mbësefwoy plays an important role in several ceremonies including initiation and in the installation of the chief.

The Habega Ghumtuva Mbësefwoy at his home.

5) Rëvay, resident in Dalak. Zerahë Madë, the incumbent in 1992-93, had died and been replaced by a nephew when we returned in 1996. He sacrifices before the harvest at Muva shrine located at the north end of Muva and near the way leading to Rhoumzou and Kapsiki territory. His sacrifice is the last in the pre-harvest sequence.

6) Habega Oy, resident in Gwafak.

 Unlike the others of the same title he does not sacrifice when the millet is nearly ready to harvest although he assists Jirduk (see below) at such a sacrifice. He serves the Gulazë shrine, sacrificing there (we think) during Zoku. His differentiation from other Mbësefwoy is perhaps explicable in that there are at present only two Habega Oy households in Sukur. Their forebears moved some time ago from Oy at the south end of Muva to Gwafak. When asked by Hidi (Zirangwadë ?) to take responsibility for a shrine at Oy he refused, though it would excellent sense if that were the shrine at which his predecessors sacrificed and prayed to block evil invading Sukur from the south.


Jirduk means stallion and is the other title held by the Yena elder who is also Tlyamburum Tëka. As Jirduk he has priestly functions comparable to those of a Mbësefwoy; indeed the Habega Oy Mbësefwoy confirmed to us that Jirduk sacrifices before the harvest at hrriy Takur, a shrine on the way to Wula and Kurang, and that on that occasion he prays to Zhigila and ties strips of the hide of the goat sacrificed across the way. Thus the unexpected absence of a Mbësefwoy in the fifth clan of the Habega cluster is explained - though not why his title is so named.

In the past Jirduk played an important, if at first sight curious, role in a rite carried out in conjunction with the Zoku purification ceremony. He carried a live mouse around the north and east sides of the Sukur plateau to Oy on the southeast side of Muva. There he met Hidi 'Day, who brought a small ritual jar containing the blood of a bull slaughtered for the festival. Jirduk then sent the mouse off in the direction of Rhoumzou, carrying with it the evil spirits; it was in effect a scapemouse! Comparable purificatory circumnavigations of the territory are known from Sirak, the Mofu-Diamaré and no doubt occurred elsewhere in the Mandara mountains.


Unlike others in this group, the title is of Wandala origin, perhaps suggesting relative recency. We infer that when members of clan Kigi returned to Sukur after their exile in Dzu they were accorded a priestly title. However Barkuma is not considered one of the tuhrriy. In 1996 a new Barkuma had been appointed, supposedly by the chief, though it seems more likely that he merely ratified an appointment agreed within a Kigi section or patriline. The incumbent's predecessors were Fiy Yangwa and Kami Kwari, described as brothers though they may not in fact be such close relatives. His duties as he described them to us are listed below, and we have attached the chief's, our assistants' and our own comments.

His duties are, he said:

1) to cover the rain shrine (suku yam) near Yawaldë'ba with a thatch cap after the first rains. This he does with Midala.

2) in the "early rains" to offer two small jars of powa on Muva at no particular shrine but perhaps on top or on the side of the mountain. He spoke in terms of a family of spirits rather than a single precisely located shrine. In 1992-93 we had heard that at the time of planting Barkuma makes an offering at a large rock on top of Muva. He was said to carry a small beer jar (melleleyo) up on each shoulder and pray on behalf of the Sukur community "to the spirits on behalf of God" to make the village and crops healthy. In the old days a bull is said to have been sacrificed. We suspect that both accounts describe his responsibilities during Zoku, usually celebrated in September.

On a path through tall sorghum near the Midala's rock, the acting Barkuma (standing) offers beer to members of the expedition sent to drive out evil from Sukur (Zoku, 1992).

Hidi Gezik told us that:

Barkuma, the junior Tlufu and Tlësuku come during Zoku to Hidi's house to cook meat. Barkuma stays that evening then goes with Tlësuku and the junior Tlufu towards his shrine in Muva with melleleyo jars, passing through the gate near Mbuk. His companions turn back at Yawaldë'ba while Barkuma continues. Barkuma places one melleleyo at the base of Muva and carries one with a long neck to the summit and puts it on the ground next to a big rock. He turns the mouth of this pot to the rock, and, his back to Sukur, prays. After a prayer to Zhigila on behalf of Sakun, he pours the beer from the pot onto the ground and goes home.

Our assistants also questioned the absence of a specific shrine on Muva, "putting something anyhow like this can be harmful to the children of the village."

3) at Hëndlë, the bull festival, Barkuma puts blood from a sacrifice on a certain path (though this may not necessarily be part of his duties as Barkuma).

He probably has other ritual responsibilities. It was only at a late stage in our 1992-93 fieldwork that we thought we had disentangled the Tlyamburum Jira, Barkuma and Dzarma titles, and we are still uncertain to what extent Barkuma and Dzarma perform certain community rites themselves and to what extent one or the other or both act as assistants or acolytes of the Rëvay clan Mbësefwoy.


This title, inherited within clan Dumsa, is one of three held by the Dumsa (farmer caste) and Tuva (smith-potter) clans. It is indigenous (though with the possible Wandala prefix) and means "responsible for the plain." In 1992 the office was held by Ndiho Yavarda who had inherited it from his elder brother who, we believe, succeeded his father's elder brother. Ndiho was an excellent informant, who was most regrettably later killed at a funeral (riin). He has been succeeded by his son.

Tlëduv's role is very similar to that of the Mbësefwoy; he serves as Dalatë's assistant at Yawaldë'ba and his most important sacrifice forms part of the same sequence as those of the Mbësefwoys. It takes place in October at the Kuxir shrine, the fig tree where people rest half way down the mountain on the northern paved way. Following on from the Gadë Mbësefwoy's Mixyrux sacrifice, it precedes those of the remaining Mbësefwoys. As in several (probably all but one) of their preharvest sacrifices, strips of the hide of the goat killed are tied across the way from one tree to another, blocking the way to spirits that might wish to enter and harm Sukur.
Tlëduv Ndiho sits in the position of the person pumping the bellows of a furnace in Goeri that we cleared and measured in 1993.

Tlëduv also makes offerings before the harvest at two shrines on the plain to the north of Sukur, at hrriy Muvelim where they used to collect iron ore and "potash" and at hrriy Dlandëv ("stream of the plain"), upstream of a crossing on the way from the mountain to Mefir Sakun). At yet a third shrine, hrriy Goeri, he makes another offering. He takes germinated sorghum, grinds it and boils it, and then puts it into a special calabash (dlehad) and in evening takes the fermenting mash and makes the offering. The next morning he goes very early and offers the mash to two other spirits, carrying his forked staff and speaking to no one on the way. Like the sacrifice at hrriy Kuxir, these offerings are made on behalf of the community.

Other of Tlëduv's duties align him closely with the Tuva title holders. In 1992 he told us that when the chief dies, he slaughters a goat at a place where there is a deep hole in the ground and pours the blood into the hole. A hoe with (exceptionally) a socket riveted to the blade and the Hidi's loinskin are placed in the hole, which is then covered by a stone. These three items go direct to Mpsakali (Gudur) where they inform the chief of the Hidi's death. Tlëduv also plays a role in the chief's actual burial, helping to dig the tomb and actually to seat his body on a low stool within it. Little wonder then that many Sukur regard him and his Dumsa clan as 'day whereas they are in fact mbilim, of the farmer caste.

Hidi 'Day

The title is indigenous and means "chief of the smith-potters," and indeed was held in a senior section of clan Tuva different from that of the 'Day Kur'ba. But it has now lapsed, the last incumbent having been Dalli Kaigama who died in the mid-1980s.

Hidi 'Day specialized in burial, being called on from all over Sukur and its satellite settlements. His duties included dressing the corpse, carrying it on his shoulders to the grave and placing it in the grave. He supervised other funerary smiths. However, he was not involved in the burial of the Hidi. He also did the surgery necessary to remove the fetus from a pregnant woman who died in order for it to be given separate burial.

He went about with his own sub-cylindrical drinking vessel made of grass, sewn in a tight spiral like young boys make for themselves (mbulari) hat), which he carried over his shoulder on a strap or cord. On the inside a line of squirrel tail hairs was incorporated into the vessel. He wore a hairlock at the back of his head but no cap. These were his insignia. He appears to have been the last of the smiths specializing in burial and who were regarded as dirty in a way that others are not and apparently were not.

Hidi 'Day also specialized in protecting women from spirits. The woman would provide him with a puppy and/or other items suggested by the diviner and he would take them off and bury them, the puppy alive, in an upturned pot as an offering to the spirit.

He also had a responsibility at Zoku when he carried a pot containing the blood of a bull slaughtered for the festival around the west and to the south end of the Sukur plateau to Oy where he met Jirduk (see above).

'Day Kur'ba

This title, held by a section of the Tuva clan, is indigenous. Its meaning"smith of the rock slab" refers to a large flat slab in Ndilloey where they live. In the 1990s the incumbent was Tizhe, son of Jamaare, who had preceded him in the office. Tizhe was a very old and feeble man with poor sight who has since died. He had not been formally replaced when we visited Sukur in June 2004 and it is possible that his office may, like that of Hidi 'Day, be allowed to lapse.

We interviewed Tizhe and other Tuva elders in 1992 and they told us that in olden days it was 'Day Kur'ba who shaved the Hidi's head and that, when a 'Day Kur'ba was to be installed the Hidi sent people to summon him and confirmed him in office by tying a turban around his waist. The last time a 'Day Kur'ba was installed, Midala, one of the Tlufus and Tlagama come to the 'Day Kur'ba's outer court with an old Tuva man as a witness. They brought a large cow skin and a male goat and tied a turban around his waist. He then remained for nine days in a shelter built of mats outside his house. At the end of this period the goat hide was made into a loinskin which the 'Day Kur'ba put on. He could now reenter his house and was shaved by Tlagama, who left a hairlock. In the final phase of installation the 'Day Kur'ba and his people went to the Patla. The Hidi came out with beer. He took a calabash and, in a form of blessing, blew a mouthful over the 'Day Kur'ba, saying, "We will not meet again until I die. If you need to communicate with me, we will do so through our children." Then they departed to their respective houses.

'Day Kur'ba, old and frail, dances on a rock near his home in Ndilloey away from the main Yawal celebration

During ceremonies the 'Day Kur'ba does not come up to the Patla but stays below on his rock beside the paved way. When a Hidi dies, the wife who cooks for him sends food to 'Day Kur'ba. Similarly if the latter dies, his wife sends food to the Hidi. For nine months after his installation Tlagama continues to shave the 'Day Kur'ba.

This form of installation parallels that of the Hidi in the tying of a turban around the waist, and in the period spent in a mat shelter. It emphasizes a special relationship between them that is expressed in other ways. 'Day Kur'ba is the first to slaughter his bull at Hëndlë and, we were told, celebrates his own Yawal in Ndilloey concurrently with the Hidi's.

While the best known duty of the 'Day Kur'ba is to direct the Hidi's funeral, Tizhe regarded his most important responsibility as propitiation of hrriy Ndilloey, a dangerous spirit associated with a baobab; if a man climbs up he risks coming down with a vulva in place of a penis, or he may be afflicted with a smallpox-like rash.

Other title holders

The following titles, one the imposition of an exterior power and the other held in Wula, are not counted as Sukur titles although their holders play active roles in Sukur life.


The title is of Bornoan origin (though it may not have come directly to Sukur but have passed through Hausa and fulfulde, the language of the Fulbe) and in Sukur is applied to the heads of the six mountain wards, those of Rugudum and Mataka on the plain and some small satellite settlements. First mentioned by Hamman Yaji in his diary for 1914, the office was adopted by the British Mandate authorities and survives to the present. All serve at the Hidi's pleasure though probably now with considerable input from the Sukur District Head.

Hidi, seated in a folding chair center, and Blamas meet with the deputy District Head (left) to discuss the reorganization of Sukur's wards.

Although they are not title holders in the same way as others, unless like Tlyamburum Tëka they are both, and they do not carry a forked staff, Blamas act for the chief and are his counselors, participating as respected elders in meetings including the one held annually and formally in Mbuk during Zoku.

Tluwala, the Wula rain priest

Resident in Wula's Kushiri quarter, Tluwala's family has close connections with Sukur where his Ka Ozha clan is known as Manjam. He prays for rain for Sukur and numerous other communities and also to abate the squalls that threaten the millet before the harvest. The title, which appears to include the Wandala "tle" prefix, is inherited and the present incumbent is the son and grandson of rain priests.

The indigenous explanation of why Sukur relies on Tluwala for its rain is contained in its origin legends. A much fuller account of Tluwala and his responsibilities is given by Sterner (2003:202-04).

* * *

This concludes the long list of twenty-four Sukur titles and, as of our last count, twenty-six title holders. Further information on the origins of titles, the appointment of title holders and other matters is given in a separate file.

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