Sukur Legends.

A Dur Təka elder in the reception area in front of his house

Gudul, Mpsakəli, Cakiri, and variants of these names are all taken to refer to Gudur, 25 km south east of Mokolo, on the eastern edge of the Mandara mountains. Montagnards are usually familiar with at least two of these names and accept that they refer to the same place. But to what precisely the names Mpesakili and Cakiri refer is uncertain, though Gudur is the name of a ritual paramount chieftaincy of which the powerful Bay Gudal was the chief (David and Sterner 2020).

Dalatə, senior elder of the Kuləsəgəi descent group and representative of the chiefly dynasty that preceded that of the Dur.
Tanning a ram's hide to make a Sukur loinskin. Click on the skin to see the final product.
At a send-off party for ND and JS in 1993 young men of the village reenact the transfer of clothing - and of power - between old and new dynasties.

Səku means altar, usually a pot, thus səku da (altar + father) and səku juk (altar + father’s father [FF]) are ancestor pots. Səku yam (altar + water) is presumably a pot, which may or may not have something, e.g., rainstones, in it. The kafai has been likened to a sickle or curved sword which, when lifted up, forms a rainbow and stops the rain. The Tluwala described it as a sword. The Mofu-nord kwalay (Vincent 1991a: 626), Mofu-Gudur kwalay (Barreteau 1988), and Mafa kwaray (Barreteau & Le Bléis 1990) all have the same meaning: rainbow, drought, in particular a halt in the rains during the rainy season. The Mofu-Diamaré and Mofu-Gudur kwalay are stones, while the Mudukwa Mafa kwaray has been described as a rainbow, a stone, a serpent, or like lightning (Hinderling 1984 III: 325).

The view east from Mt Muva across the Sukur plateau with the Wula hills in the distance.
Ɗepda, Arnado (chief of) Wula (1992)
The megalithic entrance to the Mbuk enclosure attached to the house of the chief. The left megalith is associated with and named after the giant Fula and the right one with his brother Dəvə.

Theme 1. The 'wild man' and dynastic change

Several stories tell not of the initial occupation of Sukur but of the arrival of an individual, sometimes a hunter, who becomes integrated into Sukur life and by one means or another takes the chieftaincy from its former owners. Such legends were collected early in the 20th century. Strümpell (1922/23) visited Sukur brieflyin 1906/07 and recorded the story of Watsu, a prince of Borno who emigrated and became chief of Sukur. Meek (1931a I: 312-13) alao mentions a man from Borno:

There is a story which is sometimes told of the stranger from Bornu and sometimes of the leader of the immigrant family from Mpsakəli [Gudur]. He arrived near Sukur with a ram and was met by the daughter of a blacksmith who gave him some water to drink, because he was thirsty. The girl then ran home to spread the news, and the men of the settlement came out to find the stranger. But they could not see him; they only heard his voice saying that he would become visible to them when they summoned the blacksmith’s daughter. So they sent for the girl, and he became visible and was escorted to the town, where the blacksmith’s daughter was given to him in marriage. The priests of the local cult had been dying every year, so the people decided to make the stranger their priest-chief. The stranger thereupon slew the ram at the door of the palace, and stepping over its body entered the palace and ruled for many years, during which the people never lacked an abundance of corn.

What are we to make of these stories? First, we should note that those that connect the Sukur ruling house to Borno or to the Wandala were only collected in the early years of European contact when Sukur notables might have seen some political advantage in presenting themselves as related to the indigenous powers that were then benefiting from colonial policies of Indirect Rule. Second, it should be recognized that the story of a “wild man” whether a hunter or not, arriving with or without a cow and taking over the chieftaincy is not limited to Sukur but is a historical cliché. Jouaux (1989: 263-64) describes an almost identical legend from Gudur and comparable ones are found over a much larger area. According to John Boston (1970), writing on the Igala of southern Nigeria, the immigrant often represents the importance of achievement while his marriage to a member of the ruling dynasty emphasizes the legitimacy of authority gained through descent.

Thus we need not believe the literal truth of the Sukur legends, nor argue whether the Dur took over not only the chieftaincy but also the story from the Kuləsəgəi (or alternatively whether the latter appropriated a story told by those who supplanted them). The corpus of stories is consistent in suggesting that Sukur has seen a succession of chiefly dynasties brought about by outsiders or outside influence. This succession is expressed not only in stories but also in rituals. For example it is the task of Ɗai Kur’ba to bury his ‘brother’ the Hidi, whom he may not see in life, and Dalatə plays an important role both in initiation and during the Yawal ceremony that celebrates the Hidi and his Dur kin group.

Theme 2. Relations between Sukur, Wula, Mabas, and the Margi of Gulak

In the Mandara Mountains stories involving brothers are common devices for accounting for relationships within or between communities. Just such a story is frequently used to explain the origins of, and relationships between, Sukur and some of her immediate neighbours. These stories are of considerable antiquity and were first recorded by early Western visitors to Sukur.

When told by Sukur the story establishes the place of Sukur as the senior brother and introduces the Wula rainmaker whose influence is widespread in the region. We collected versions of these stories at Sukur and Wula. Besides establishing the relationship between the neighbouring groups, some tell us the reason for Sukur’s lack of control over the rains. An elderly man of the Dur kin group related the following version:

Kup [in some versions the name of the wild man who became the first Dur chief of Sukur] came with two brothers, Dalli [3rd born] and Vagana [8th born], all of the same mother. They had left Gudur because of an epidemic that was ravaging the house of the chief which had 50 people living in it. They left their family taking with them four important objects: səkujuk, səkuda, səkuyam and kafai. When they reached the Ticini river [which separates Sukur from Wula], it was in flood. The kafai was used to strike the river and part the waters. After crossing the stream Vagana asked for the kafai and returned to the other side. Kup asked him to give back the kafai but Vagana refused.

Thus Kup and Dalli went on alone to Sukur, while Vagana went to Wula. Kup and Dalli took water at Ndilloey [a part of Sukur now exclusively occupied by smith-potters] and Kup became Hidi. Dalli decided to look for new land and went off to investigate the ridge he could see over to the west – the Gulak mountain.Dalli liked it there, settled with his wife, a Kuləsəgəi, and by her had 16 boys and two girls. The children of his children [presumably marrying Margi] increased in numbers, and Dalli became the first Gulak chief of Sakun line. Other people from Sukur came and joined him on Gulak mountain. One day Dalli, old and tired, decided to move down to the foot of the mountain, he did so and lived there for some two to three years before dying. Kup then inherited his wife and from that time on the children of Dalli have been chiefs of Gulak.

Meanwhile Vagana had gone to Rwa [Wula] where he saw houses and built a hut near them for a while, feeding himself from the bush. When the dry season came he built himself a small hut of the type people build on their farms to shelter from the rains. Later he met and married a Rwa woman and they had children. He still held the kafai and this posed problems for the brothers Kup and Dalli since when they made offerings to their səkuyam for rain, Vagana would hold up his kafai and the clouds would scatter. Dalli and Kup therefore requested again that Vagana give them the kafai, but he again refused and made a counter proposal that they should give him the səkuyam. In the end they accepted and gave it to him. This is why still today the Dur see to it that a cover is placed on the site of the səkuyam as a sign that they brought it from Mpesakali. The true name of the rainmaker is still Vagana; Tluwala is the Ruwa term.

Not surprisingly another version was related by a Kuləsəgəi man that refers to three Kuləsəgəi brothers. Yet another was told by Depa Buba, the Wula rainmaker or Tluwala:

Three brothers came from Cakari [Gudur]. The senior brother [Sakun] crossed the Ticini valley using the kafai to divide the waters. The remaining two brothers told him to send the kafai back, but Sakun kept it. This explains how the Sukur got the kafai and the Tluwala’s people water. The third brother went to Mabas [where there is still a rainmaker]. There were already people at Wula Mango when the three brothers arrived. But there was no one at Wula Kushiri and the future rainmaker built his house there. This has been the home of all Tluwalas since then. The three brothers became the chiefs of Sukur, Mabas and Wula.

The chief of Wula told us another version of the story that omitted mention of rainmaker origins but claimed that the eldest of the three brothers remained to found Wula. Mabas has its own story and Muduvu another in which the same cliché is used to explain the differentiation of Wula Mango, Wula Kushiri the home of Tluwala, and Muduvu itself. The chief of Wula’s version does not refer to the kafai and relates, using the cliché format, uniquely to the relations between Wula, Sukur and Gulak and to their present day dynasties (as does the Gulak and one Sukur version). On the other hand, Tluwala’s version links Sukur, Wula and Mabas, but not Gulak, and focuses on powers over water. It is the Sukur brother who has, and retains the kafai, which gives power over the Ticini river — water on the ground — while the Wula brother, Tluwala’s ancestor, and the Mabas brother keep the səku yam, which relates to rain, water from the sky. It can hardly be a coincidence that Tluwala is a rain maker and that Mabas, unlike Sukur, has its own master of the rains. Tluwala’s story would therefore seem to refer to a period preceding the Dur dynasty of Sukur and its Gulak offshoot, one in which the present chiefly Ka-mazə clan of Wula was either not present or did not hold the chieftaincy. In this case the dynasty of Sukur to which the legend refers can only be the Kuləsəgəi. It is therefore of considerable interest that its senior titleholder, Dalatə, does indeed have special powers regarding water from the ground, being responsible for determining where water points and wells should be constructed or dug. Thus while the corpus of three brothers legends is clearly different from the “wild man” legends of theme 1, it indirectly reaffirms the dynastic succession from Kuləsəgəi to Dur that can be inferred from them. Does, we might ask, Dalatə hold the kafai?

Returning to the meanings of the three brothers legends, we note that, although the chief of Wula on occasion denies it, Sukur is still generally regarded by Gulak, Wula, Mabas and several other communities as “senior”. Until recently this was expressed ritually at the installation of their chiefs, on which occasions Hidi sent a delegation that included one of his retainers, Tlagama, to shave their heads, leaving a hairlock into which some of the hair of their predecessor was woven. However every year the chief of Sukur sends gifts via his appointed representatives to the Tluwala in order to obtain rain.


Theme 3. Sukur's Gudur origins

As described under the topic Montagnards, Gudur used to be a magico-religious center from which many northern Mandara communities, or elements within them, claim descent, and to which delegations used to be sent in times of trouble to obtain medicines against various natural disasters such as droughts, plagues and other calamities. Like many Kapsiki, Kamwe (Higi), Wula, and Mabas, many Sukur clans claim Gudur origins, and indeed these are invoked in explanation of Sukur’s ritual seniority over its neighbors. There are claims to Gudur origins in both Kuləsəgəi and Dur versions of the ‘wild man’ stories, and there are others that introduce new elements.

This one was told in 1992 by an old man of the Təka section of Dur:

The first people to arrive in Sakun came from Mpsakəli. Their father [name unknown] never came. Fula built a house on Muva [the highest point near the main Sukur settlement] but had no wife and so left it to his junior brother, Dəvə, who had a wife. Fula built a new house for himself lower down the slope. Dəvə’s line is that of Dur Tə Dlagam, Fula’s of the Dur Təka. The area was otherwise uninhabited at the time. After the brothers the next people to arrive were Kuləsəgəi and after them the Gadə [another clan] and the Ka-Ozha or Manjam [so-called after the area in which they settled in Sukur’s Guzka ward] who allied themselves with the Gadə, later becoming a Gadə section. Others arrived from Mpsakəli in numbers — their order is now no longer known, nor which clan arrived last.

Here there is a double emphasis, on connecting Sukur to prestigious Gudur, and on the legitimation of the Dur descent group’s chieftaincy on the grounds not of trickery, popular support, or superior law-giving, but on their being the first comers. This, once again, is a common African theme (see Kopytoff 1987), and our informant, undoubtedly familiar with the the “wild man” story, apparently saw no conflict between it and his own. Fula and Dəvə are in other tales described as giants who brought two megaliths to Sukur that they had removed from one of the volcanic plugs in Kapsiki country (though the geology is wrong!) to form the north gate of the Buk enclosure, and who, with shamanic assistance, built the house of the chief in a single night. The old man’s story is also interesting because it mentions another descent group, the Gade, and makes it clear that such groups do not only recruit members through descent but can also acquire them in other ways.


Culture Of The Mandara Mountains.