This section, which is a work in progress, begins with a preamble situating the Mandara montagnards in broader context.


Mandara montagnards

The term ‘Mandara montagnards’ is commonly applied to the indigenous peoples of the Mandara highlands, though it should be recognized that they are often closely related culturally to neighbors on the plains, for example the Wandala, whose chief resides in Mora, the Gisiga who live south of Maroua, and the Pabir and Bura who live some distance west of the Margi Dzirngu (literally Margi of the mountain). These all speak languages of the Central branch of the Chadic family of languages. This is not true of the Choa (or Shuwa) Arabs who speak Arabic, a language of the Semitic family which is distantly related to Chadic. The Kanuri speak a Saharan language of a different phylum, and the Fulbe a West Atlantic language of a third language phylum (Niger-Congo or Congo-Kordofanian). In fact the only indigenous phylum not represented in this area is Khoi-San, which includes the Khoisan and Khoekhoe languages of southern Africa.

Ethnic groups in the Mandara mountains. By no means all are named; this is one of the most ethnically differentiated (but not necessarily diverse) regions in the world.
Hide women dancing and young men drumming at their bull festival, Skala tla, the women in their dyed calabash hats

Hamman Yaji, Lamido Madagali, and slaving in the early 20th century

The next topic is one that fascinates the montagnards. In the first decades of the 20th century Hamman Yaji, the Fulbe ruler of Madagali, engaged in a highly organized program of raiding montagnard peoples and their relatives on the plains for slaves and livestock. The fear and terror that he inspired remain fresh in montagnard minds today. Extraordinarily, from 1912 to 1927 when he was arrested and exiled, he kept a diary. This was published by James Vaughan, an anthropologist who had worked in and around Gulak in the 1960s, and Anthony Kirk-Greene, a former District Officer, in 1995 accompanied by their well-informed commentaries. However their book is not easily available in the Mandara mountains so under the heading the Hamman Yaji years, I am making the diary available, together with a map and an annotated index that serves as a companion to the reader. In addition, a paper entitled ‘A close reading of Hamman Yaji’s diary: slave raiding and montagnard responses in the mountains around Madagali (northeast Nigeria and northern Cameroon’ represents my interpretation of how the period was experienced by people of the mountains.

The Hamman Yaji Years

The documentation provided here consists of:

transcript of the translation of Hamman Yaji’s diary by Assistant District Officer L.N. Reed.
reader’s companion in the form of an annotated index to the diary.
map of the Madagali region and its surrounds in the period 1900-27
A paper by N. David entitled “A close reading of Hamman Yaji’s diary: slave raiding and montagnard responses in the mountains around Madagali (northeast Nigeria and northern Cameroon)”. This was uploaded to this website in 2012 and is available here.

Another paper by Nicholas David entitled “Patterns of slaving and prey-predator interfaces in and around the Mandara mountains (Nigeria and Cameroon)”, published in Africa in 2014, makes extensive use of these materials and is available from the Library page..

Hamman Yaji’s diary was recovered by the force arresting him in 1927 and translated by ADO Reed. It is a unique document that provides a remarkable insight into the mind and actions of a ruler struggling to find his way in the turmoil of the latter stages of the European ‘Scramble for Africa’, the First World War and its aftermath. This transcript by Judy Sterner attempts to reproduce the look of Reed’s typescript.

The annotated index, however incomplete and imperfect, is an essential companion to the diary. The serious reader will print its 12 pages out to avoid having to keep moving between windows.

So too is the map, which should be kept open while you read. In preparing it I have used a part of the Tactical Pilotage Chart, sheet K-3C (St Louis MO, Defense Mappping Agency Aerospace Center 1986) as the base map and have made reference to:

The Moisel (1912-13) mapsheets for Mubi, Maroua, Dikoa and Kousseri (poor and partial black and white copies)
Nigerian 1:100,000 mapsheets for Madagali, Duhu, Mubi, Uba and Gwoza, and 1:50,000 sheets for Madagali NW and SW and Duhu NE and SE. These were published either by the Directorate for Overseas Surveys for the Nigeria Government in the late 1960s or, in the 1970s, by Federal Surveys, Nigeria.
Various archival sources and my and Judy Sterner’s fieldnotes 1984-2008.

It is amazing that the data for Max Moisel’s remarkable maps were collected before the events recorded in Hamman Yaji’s diary! Nonetheless the maps of all periods are hard to work with. The surveyors were untrained in the languages of the peoples amongst whom they worked and transcribed names erratically, often not understanding whether the name they elicited was that of geographical feature, an ethnic group, a clan, a chief or something else. Furthermore, it is inevitable that, in the turbulent Hamman Yaji years, there was considerable movement of people together with abandonment and relocation of villages and the foundation of new ones. A massive movement of population (and in some cases names) down from hills to plains has occurred since Hamman Yaji’s day. Thus many of the names appearing in the diary are no longer extant and cannot be assigned to a place or group, and, conversely, many of the names appearing on recent maps either did not exist in Hamman Yaji’s day or referred to different locations or groups. We welcome readers’ assistance and corrections.

The paper on the Hamman Yaji years is a work in progress (note the version number and date in the header on the first page). It is intended to complement the excellent introductory chapters by Vaughan and Kirk-Greene in The diary of Hamman Yaji (1995) by emphasizing the perspective of montagnards facing a new technology of destruction wielded by a clever, effective and energetic leader, demonstrably able to motivate and control a tough bunch of followers.

A proposal for an International Mandara Mountains Peace Park

A third topic relates to our wish to assist with the development of the Mandara Mountains in a sustainable and “pro-poor” manner that will directly benefit the montagnards on both sides of the Nigeria-Cameroon frontier.

In 2007 and 2008 we made formal presentations regarding the park to appropriate national government agencies of the two countries. In addition we made many informal presentations to traditional and state (or regional) authorities in both Nigeria and Cameroon. Although our ideas were enthusiastically received, it was only in the Nigerian NCMM’s Sukur Management Plan for 2017-21 that the Peace Park – which might possibly become a UNESCO World Heritage Transboundary Park – was adopted as policy. We are informed that bilateral discussions have begun but have been held up by a combination of Boko Haram activity in the area and the violent troubles in Anglophone west Cameroon.

Our original proposal (J. Sterner and N. David 2007-2008. ‘The case for the Mandara Mountain International Peace Park’ Borno Museum Society Newsletter 72/73 & 74/75: 41-50) has now been replaced by updated versions in English and French. We are still posting an earlier presentation on the Peace Park now converted to a .pdf file.

Sukur Culture