The origins of
Sukur titles have clearly been borrowed and mainly from Bornoan (Kanuri)
and Wandala sources (Table 1). The greater number of the former and the
chronologies of the Borno and Mandara states might lead one to conclude,
somewhat surprisingly, that the influence of Borno was both greater and
earlier in this region than that of Mandara. However borrowings may well
have been indirect and staggered in time. Thus their potential for recovering
history remains limited pending a full scale analysis of titles in the
Mandara mountains. Sterner (2003: 218-21) provides the groundwork for
such a study.
1. Origins of Sukur titles
*Cama, an envoy sent
by the Hidi to other chiefs, is probably borrowed from the Kanuri
"Chima," and there means fiefholder (Benasheikh 1983). Although
cama at Sukur may well have been title holders, the term is
less a title than a job description.
Sukur and her Margi and Kapsiki-speaking neighbours
tend to share a basic set of titles, some ultimately Bornoan and others
Wandala, and some share forms of titles that could be Sukur in origin
(Tlyam mbərəm and Mbəzəfwai). Another title, Fatə Tliɗi, translatable as "father
of the chief," occurs in Margi, Kapsiki, Mofu-Gudur and likely elsewhere.
Most casted groups have a chief of smiths whose most important ritual
function is probably to divine on matters concerning the community as
a whole; their presence is also required at many if not all important
ceremonies. However at Sukur and in the Margi polities of Sukur origin,
the chiefs of smiths fulfil different functions, and like chiefs and some
priestly title holders have hairlocks, though theirs are worn on the back
and not the top or front of the head. What is clear is that Sukur has
more titles than any other group in the Mandara Mountains.
As titles were borrowed from one group to another,
they became disassociated from their original functions (Table 2). Thus,
for instance, Tlagama, possibly the earliest Wandala title, was there
first an earth priest (Mohammadou 1982b: 132), and later chief minister
of state (Barkindo 1989: 122). The Bornoan Midala, royal administrator/inspector,
becomes a war leader at Sukur, Wula Mango, Sirak and Muduvu. Similar titles
do not imply similar structure of government. The great elaboration of
titles at Sukur and their distribution among the kin groups is indicative
of their use as an integrative device (David & Sterner 1996). In other
cases titles may have been borrowed almost in jest.
Table 2. Comparisons of associated duties
||Other (B = Borno; W
H = Hausa)
||junior assistant to chief
||B: royal administrator/ inspector
||chief of sacrificers
||B: indigenous authority of village unit (Benasheikh
||barber/drummer smith, 'installs' other chiefs
||W: priest of earth cult/later chief minister of state
||1. judge & supporter of chief
2. chief's personal attendant
|W: ?Sultan's envoy to Gamergu at Isga
||W: chief of butchers/tax collectors
There is an institution at Sukur that can provide
us with a glimpse of how titles are adopted and change. The Soje Hidi,
literally soldiers (from the English) of the chief, are neighborhood-based
work groups that operate in the same year as initiation, that is every
According to some this institution was previously called Hidi mbadlavai
(mbadlavai = male initiates). Each
Soje Hidi has a set of titled officers who oversee the organization of
work parties for weeding fields amd otehr matters. The laborers are largely
young men, although their wives and other women sometimes take part. The
Soje title holders ensure that beer and food are prepared, that participants'
houses are tidy, and that everyone works hard. The entire process has
a military flavour. The present titles, several of them Hausa and others
English, are Hidi, Wakili, Alkali (judge), Mufti, Dan Sanda or Inspector
(see image right), Doctor, Sergeant, Corporal, Treasurer, Timekeeper,
and President (of the junior men). Some have replaced earlier titles that
included Dogari, Native Administration Policeman, and Bature, meaning
white man in Hausa, who filled the role
now played by the inspector.
|Soje Hidi clear the northern paved way near the
end of the rains in mid-September 1996.
This institution dates back at least to the 1920s
when some Sukur worked on Hamman Yaji's farms. It may well be much older,
and have, as the name Hidi mbadlavai suggests, involved primarily the
initiates, who used to be older than they are today. We suspect that they
were largely responsible for the building of the paved ways and the house of the Hidi.
Appointment of title holders, inheritance
and the transfer of titles
There is considerable disagreement in Sukur regarding Hidi's power to appoint and divest holders of offices, some saying that
he can change all title holders except Mbəzəfwai, by which is probably
meant all those with priestly functions. When Hidi Gəzik came to power
he in fact changed only Wakili, Makarma and the senior Tləfu. The first
two represent his "kitchen cabinet", and the former senior Tləfu
had supported another candidate for the chieftaincy. The other title holders
in the supporters category are today of lesser importance than they were
in the past.
The following exchange in the meeting held in Buk
on 24 September 1992 during Zwaku is revealing. (The account given below
represents a précis of what was actually said.)
|Midala, who had heard that reports of
complaints about him were circulating: "Are we all here who have
titles? I have heard that someone else was to be appointed Midala
as it was said that I do not do my work well."
Hidi: "If you cannot do the work and if it is your own
wish to choose someone of your clan [Karandu], then so be it."
Midala: "I have heard that another [Karandu] elder, *
* *, has been appointed by Hidi."
Hidi: "It is not up to me to select anyone of your clan."
Midala: "Formerly, among the elders of Karandu, anyone
who wished to take up appointment as Midala had to bring Hidi a granary
of guineacorn, a basket of eleusine [used in beer making] and a small
sheep. This confirmed him in his post. I have heard that * * * wants
the post. Is he prepared to do this and to move house from Hanjerang
[a neighborhood in Gwafak ward] to Dunggom in order to be close to Hidi?"
* * * : "I am not ready to move my house from Hanjerang."
Hidi to Midala: "I know you as Midala. If you are tired
and wish to give your job to someone else you can do so. I don't know
who has been telling you these things, but it is not me." (Counselors
Midala remained in ofice. This exchange is of
interest for two reasons. First, it makes explicit that in former times Hidis would expect to be compensated by Midala and, by extension, other
title holders for ratifying their appointments. Second, Hidi's ruling
does not conform with earlier practice as described in oral traditions
relating to the Midala title (above) in which Hidi is seen to confer the
title first on Bakyang and later on Karandu.
Presently, it is agreed, if a title holder wishes
to hand over his office - expressed in sakun as handing his forked
stick of office (jif dlegaw) to another - he might engage in informal
discussions with members of his clan, but no clan meeting would be held.
Most titles are vested in clans but in practice held by local patrilines
(juk), resident in Sukur proper, on behalf of their clans. The
office normally descends in the juk along lines of seniority, tempered
by the aspirant's presence on the mountain or willingness to move back
from the plain (as happened in the case of Tləduv Ndiho), his desire
for office and perceived ability to perform the associated duties. In
cases where the title holder is a member of the chief's household (e.g.,
Tləsəku, junior Tləfu, and apparently Midala), the appointee has
to be willing if necessary to move to live close to the chief.
Among the retainers, the smiths are tied by self-interest
to the office rather than to the person of the Hidi. Others, and in particular
the junior Tləfu but also Dzarma, whose office was more important when
it included a police function, must be personally acceptable and loyal
to the chief. The Tlyam mbərəm are now essentially honorific offices but,
before the institution of Bəlama whom the Hidi has been known to change,
the chief is likely to have counted upon their input on matters of public
policy and opinion. Today, in the absence of specific political opposition,
there would be little for the Hidi to gain by divesting such senior elders
of their offices at the considerable risk of offending their clan brothers.
As to the title holders with priestly duties,
their functions become less critical to the community's welfare as more
Sukur adopt Christianity. But although it is now very difficult to obtain
appropriate animals for sacrifice, it would seem that almost everyone
including Christians is keen that they continue their work of protecting
Sukur from sickness and evil and ensuring an abundance of children and
crops. It is unlikely that any chief would have, or would have had, any
reason to remove any of these personages from their offices. Rather it
is in his interest by maintaining good relations with them to maintain
his own position. Nonetheless, we have little doubt that, by influence
rather than decree, Hidi could arrange for a careless or lazy priest to
The formal installation of the Ɗai Kərɓa by
the Hidi is exceptional, emphasizing the symmetry and fraternity between
the representatives of the first and last chiefly dynasties, ɗai (smith) and
mbəlim (farmer), and initiating the special relationship of avoidance and respect
that will one day terminate with the burial of the latter by the former.
However, the installation should be seen as the formal recognition of
this relationship rather than as evidence that the Hidi can appoint whomsoever
he wishes from the Təvwa clan to the post. This he can no more do than
he could in the past have appointed the Tliɗi Ɗai or the senior elder
of any other clan.
Title holders' benefits
Midala's statement (quoted above) indicates that
some if not all title holders used to pay Hidi for ratifying their appointments.
It would indeed be surprising if the process of appointment and holding
of titles did not involve an ongoing series of prestations (gifts, counter-gifts
and exchanges) between chief and title holder although this is likely
to have been more sustained in the supporter and retainer categories.
In the heyday of the iron trade the chief's house must have been a busy center
of redistribution. The following story was told by a senior elder of clan
|In olden times Hidi owned everything - all the farms, all the mahogany
trees. After harvest everyone would bring their grains to a place
called Ir Kindək [the Place of Granaries, located close to the chief's
house] and it would be stored there. When people needed grain Hidi
would send Dzarma to shout that there would be a distribution and
people would come with baskets to be given grain. This went on until
one day Tləfu, who distributed the grain, lifted off a granary cap
and found the dead, desiccated, body of a man inside with grain in
each of his hands. From that time on Hidi said that people should
build their own granaries to keep their grain.
We need not accept the literal truth of this tradition,
though it is possible that in bad times the chief served as a lender of
last resort, but it emphasizes that the Hidi is perceived as having been
at the heart of economic activity. The quantities of meat accruing to
the Hidi at the greater feasts would have exceeded his and his family's
ability to consume or process. Much redistribution would have taken place
and much of it through the title holders.
In today's cash economy the Sukur are less dependent
upon social relationships and more upon their individual or household
production and the sale of foodstuffs, craft items and, especially for
the younger men, their labor. The frequency and intensity of prestations
linking Hidi and his people, the title holders in particular, are certainly
much reduced but still continue even if nowadays in a more or less token
manner. When bulls are slaughtered a small portion is offered to the chief
and he in turn redistributes part of it and of animals he has slaughtered
on his own account. For example Fatə Tliɗi receives a heart and some other
There is however one major benefit of office that still accrues to certain
title holders: the usufruct of farms (fields) attached to the title. Many
of these are in the Hidi's gift, though of course subject to the qualifications
regarding the passing on of offices discussed in the previous section.
In the category of supporters, Wakili and Makarma,
and also Midala, are granted such farms, and, amongst the retainers, Tləsəku,
the junior Tləfu, Dzarma, Tlagama, Tləgəm and Tlyam mbərəm Jira.
Birima, a somewhat menial position, did not attract a farm.
Amongst the priests, there are Dalatə, Tləduv and Ɗai Kərɓa,
who has the biggest farm of all according to the chief, who also told
us that a farm was associated with the Tliɗi Ɗai title. However, while
we do not question that farms are perquisites of these offices, we are
far from certain that the chief controls or controlled their attribution.
Those with no farms associated with their offices
include the Fatə Tliɗi and the Makarma bin huɗ. This is consistent with
a desire to avoid a conflict of interest affecting the advice given by
the former and similarly to encourage political neutrality in the latter.
Somewhat surprisingly the senior Tləfu has no farm allotted to him, possibly
because he lives and has always lived too far from Jira, where the fields
are located, to benefit from their usufruct; perhaps he was and is compensated
in other ways. The same would seem to apply in the case of Tlyam mbərəm
Təka. None of the six Mbəzəfwai nor apparently Jir dək'u or Barkuma
held farms associated with their offices. Their responsibilities, although
important, were limited to certain ritual performances for which most
of the materials consumed, animals if not perhaps beer and pwa, were
provided by public subscription - or more probably, in the case of sacrificial
victims, somewhat arbitrary seizure. We suspect that the titles and the
position of influence accruing to the office holder by virtue both of
the title and of his seniority within his clan may have been, for the
most part, their own reward. We have no information regarding Tləməzui.
The institutional system of Sukur titles can be
approached from several perspectives. Read historically in conjunction
with other information, for example legends of origin and clan histories,
we find that these different sets of data intersect, and that, despite
imperfections in our ethnographic materials, they mutually support our
inferences and suggest avenues for future study, for example a detailed
analysis of the diffusion of titles through montagnard societies. Considered
broadly in their political aspect, the title holding system can be seen
as an apparently effective mechanism for integrating the exceptionally
large number of Sukur clans into a political whole. A closer look reveals
how the system is adapted and can to some extent be manipulated to manage
a complex political entity in which the chiefly clan is divided against
itself but stands together with certain allies against the rest of the
community. From an economic point of view, the system is largely paid
for through the attribution, whether by the chief or by their clans, of
farms to title holders, but it also provided the structure for a complex
of prestations that, certainly in precolonial times though less so today,
helped to bond Sukur together economically. Our research is however inadequate
to address the question of the relationships, political, economic, social
and other, between title holders and the clans of which they formed part.