Construction of the historical sequence of chiefs of the Dur dynasty at Sukur requires the integration of written and oral historical sources interpreted in the context of Sukur kinship and dynastic politics within the Dur clan. The historical sources are archival, primarily from the Nigerian national archives, and consist primarily of the reports of Assistant District Officers (ADOs). They collected oral traditions that they could not, lacking in-depth knowledge of Sukur culture, fully contextualize or comprehend, especially as some believed that Sukur’s reputation in the region must rest upon a fictitious imperial past. Nevertheless they contain precious data that can be reinterpreted in the light of later work. Anthony Kirk-Greene, himself a former ADO, synthesized the archival materials in his 1960 paper “A Nigerian Ichabod….” The most important and vital historical source is undoubtedly the diary of Hamman Yaji, Fulbe ruler (Ardo or Lamido) of Madagali, which he maintained from 1912-1927 (Vaughan and Kirk-Greene 1995). Unfortunately his predatory perspective offers few insights into Sukur’s internal affairs. Other sources are few but provide rich fragments of information.

Our own collection of oral traditions began in 1991 with the collection of a list of chiefs from Hidi Ziraŋkwadə. He gave us a Hidi called “Mbutə Patla.” We dutifully wrote this down and only later realized we were having our legs pulled, and that the magnificent baobab on the Patla outside the chief’s house was being referred to. As time went by we became more knowledgeable and better able to detect and follow up inconsistencies and unlikelihoods. We sought information from a wide range of mainly elderly men and women of several clans, title-holders and others, within Sukur and in neighboring communities. Several we interviewed repeatedly as our knowledge grew and we became better able to ask appropriate questions and to distinguish between good and unreliable informants.

Please note that some of the spellings in the following diagram have been superseded by Michael Thomas’s linguistic research and do not conform with the (hopefully!) correct spellings in the accompanying text..

From 1923, when Hidi Nzaani was installed, onwards, we can be precise about sequence and dates, but before that time our chronology is provisional and progressively more so as we reach back into the 19th century and perhaps beyond. The upper limit of living memory is represented by a very old lady interviewed in 1992 who was born in the reign of Hidi Hammado. At any time horizon, knowledge of one’s own forebears is almost always more accurate than of their contemporaries in other clans. Women who become incorporated into other clans through marriage are often better informants on kin and affinal relations. Where knowledge fails there is a tendency to link historical characters to glorious others, to Hidi Ngaaka for example. Correspondingly, less distinguished ancestors are forgotten. A most reliable informant descended from Hidi Mbakə told us that Mbakə’s father was not Ngaaka but a relative named Juwun. The levirate – the marriage of a widow to a brother or clansman of the deceased – both complicates and simplifies, since the children are incorporated into the household of the new husband and, for most purposes, become his children. Thus Juwun might have been a brother of Ngaaka or might represent a forgotten generation. In Africa, as Igor Kopytoff once reminded ND, most inheritance is between brothers.

The Dur clan is divided into two categories: families that might aspire to the chieftaincy and those who provide the Makarama, a senior advisor and supporter of the chief. These are known respectively as the Dur civi Hidi (meaning “in the way of being Hidi”) and the Dur civi Makarma. There are two Makaramas, one of whom is a senior supporter and advisor of the chief and is appointed by him, while the other, the Makarma bin huɗ, plays a necessary part in the installation of the chief. His title is vested in his lineage. It is however far from certain that this division has remained constant through time, and there may well be Dur families who are ineligible for either office. The more visible division within the Dur is between Hidi Mbakə’s descendants and their supporters who became the Dur Təka section of the clan, the remainder coming to be called the Dur Tə Dlagam (Dur of the tree-lined path). This division dates from Hidi Matlai’s time but is sometimes inappropriately projected onto earlier generations. Hidi Tlagəma’s and Hidi Hammado’s descendants are both Tə Dlagam but it is wrong to assign Tlagəma and Hammado to a section that did not exist in their time. It is even worse to make Tlagəma and Hammado brothers on the grounds that they are both Dur Tə Dlagam!

Disagreements between informants are best evaluated in the light of the tendencies just discussed. Where one is unable to decide which, if any, version of events or relationships is correct, the conflicts between informants almost always reveal important information about process. Examples will be given below.

The Dur chiefs of Sukur

The following three parts cover major periods of Sukur history. Tables provide outline information and a text, with a subsection for each chief, enlarges and comments on the information to hand. Navigation is facilitated by hyperlinks from each subsection to the genealogy chart above, and from chiefs’ names in the chart to the coresponding subsection. According to modern practice, the second names of chiefs given are those of their fathers. Question marks indicate uncertainty. Dates prior to 1923 are, with the exception of the killing of Ardo Bakari of Madagali, best estimates.

Part 1, from legend to history

Hidis of SukurDateNotes
Hidi Watsə Dlawaibefore mid- 19th CA historical figure? Perhaps the father more historic than the son?
Hidi Ngaaka Mbaŋgəmid-19th CThe first clearly historical Hidi and acknowledged as a great one
Hidi Bagana Mbaŋgəmid-late 19th CDied of smallpox
Hidi Mbakə Ngaaka?later 19th CFounder of the Dur Təka section, violently deposed by his successor
H. Hammado Mbaŋgəca 1890-95

First chief of the Dur Tə Dlagam section. Killed in office by Kuraatə’s Dur Təka supporters

Hidi Kacima Hardo?1895

Associated with Yanna clan. Installed perhaps as a compromise candidate but ruled only briefly before being killed by by Kuraatə’s Dur Təka supporters.

1. Hidi Watsə Dlawai, before mid-19th century

Hidi Watsə’s name was recorded as Watsu by Strümpell (1922-23) in 1906/07. He was described to Strümpell as an emigré Bornoan prince, who after becoming ruler of Sukur, was said to have briefly conquered and controlled the Mandara plateau across to its eastern border. It is implied that cavalry was an important arm of his forces. As David and Sterner (1995) have argued, Sukur was never, and could not have been, a great military power. Watsə appears more an adventurer than a conqueror of an “empire” that did not last his lifetime, and is associated with tall stories about spirits and the sacrifice of “Matakam” (probably Mafa) captives. In contrast to this legendary figure, a very different Watsə is the first Hidi to be integrated into the Dur kinship structure as the FFFFF of a respected informant (who also gave us the name of Watsə’s father, Dlaway, who may have been a Hidi). According to this informant Watsə was killed by his son Mbaŋgə who married one of his wives and fathered on her the future Hidi Hammado. The legendary and the historical are perhaps united in the statement that he introduced horses to Sukur. If so these might well have come from Borno and been traded during his chieftaincy for Sukur iron.

2. Hidi Ngaaka Mbaŋgə, mid 19th century

Mbaŋgə, questionably a son of Watsə and never Hidi himself, begot the line of all but perhaps one of its subsequent chiefs. Small wonder that his name frequently reappears in Dur genealogies. He fathered Hidi Ngaaka, recognized by all as one of the great Hidis, and very possibly the chief of whom the explorer Heinrich Barth (1965 [1857-59] II: 116-17, note), who traveled through the region in 1851, wrote:

The Prince of Sugúr overawes all the petty neighboring chiefs; and he is said to possess a great many idols, small round stones, to which the people sacrifice fowls of red, black, and white color, and sheep with a red line on the back.

Barth (1965 II: 100) never visited Sukur himself but his Kanuri companion Bíllama was knowledgeable and provided Barth with

... much interesting information about the country before us, chiefly with reference to Sugúr, a powerful and entirely independent pagan chief in the mountains south from Mándará. With regard to this latter country, I perceived more clearly, as I advanced, what a small province it must be, comprehending little more than the capital and a few hamlets close around.

By Ngaaka’s time if not well before the Sukur iron market must have been flourishing.



3. Hidi Bagaana Mbaŋgə, mid-late 19th century

Hidi Bagaana, another of Mbaŋgə’s sons, is mainly remembered today as the father of Fuca and grandfather of Njacu and Taymusə, pretenders to the Hidiship during the Hamman Yaji years. Nothing else is known of him except that he died of smallpox and is not buried in the chiefly cemetery at Dazha but near the chief’s house under Muzi hill.

4. Hidi Mbakə Ngaaka, mid-late 19th century

After Bagana, the chieftaincy passed down a generation to a nephew, Mbakə son of Ngaaka. We do not know on what basis chiefs acceded to office at that time and it is unlikely to have been a matter of simple inheritance. In Sukur as in much of Africa certain responsibilities such as care for ancestors pass ideally from eldest son to younger brothers in order of age, before devolving upon the next generation. However, polygyny offers men the opportunity to beget legal offspring over many years, and they may also inherit children, with the result that age differences between children of one sociological father can amount to several decades. (Notice the wildly differing ages of living men of different generations and lines on the descent chart above.) It may be that Hammado, Mbakə’s uncle (FB) was at this time insufficiently mature or politically astute to take on the chieftaincy. And there may have been other contenders. In any case Mbakə won and for some time held the chieftaincy, but at the cost of dividing chiefly clan Dur into two factions, his own descendants — the Təka — and other potential claimants to the chieftaincy — the Tə Dlagam, that have ever since competed for the office. Because these factions are recruited on kinship lines we have termed them clan sections.
Of Mbakə’s chieftaincy we otherwise know nothing at all, though it is said that he was violently deposed by his probable successor, his uncle Hammado.

5. Hidi Hammado Mbaŋgə, ~1890-95

Hammado is the first chief with a Muslim name, the first of the Dur clan’s Tə Dlagam section, and the great-grandfather of present Hidi Gəzik. As the son of Mbaŋgə, he was of a generation senior to his predecessor. While this may merely indicate that he was a much younger son of his father, reversion of the chieftaincy to a senior generation may indicate the appointment of a compromise candidate in the face of irreconcilable conflict between factions. And indeed Mbakə’s death introduced one of the “intermediate periods” in Sukur history during which competition for the chiefaincy led to the rapid and often violent deposition, and sometimes assassination, of installed chiefs. Such periods may well have been associated with natural disasters: droughts, plagues of locusts or epidemics.

Some disagreement between our informants notwithstanding, the weight of evidence – and our understanding of Sukur politics – leads us to believe that Hammado preceded Kacima. There are parallels in the events surrounding their deaths that at one time led us to ask whether they might not be one and the same person. However, the evidence for their separate identities is overwhelming. Even the murder of chiefs is subject to custom. Of Hammado’s performance as chief we know nothing, but his death is remembered in great detail, even if some aspects of it are sometimes misattributed to his successor. Hammado had sent his son Kilepu to a meadow to cut grass for his horse and was himself engaged in divination in a room in the chief’s house dedicated to that purpose. We know the names of two of his kinsmen who participated and his Makarma was also present. The following account of his death was told by a Mədləŋ elder with close connections to the chiefly house.

Hammado divined, saw that the future looked bad and told his Makarma. Meanwhile other Dur [who had waited in ambush at the meadow] killed Hammado’s son and cut off his genitals, sticking them on a spear tip. Then they set off back to the Hidi house. Hammado heard the voices of the approaching crowd and his Makarma told him, “You should be happy; perhaps your people are bringing a thief they have caught, or perhaps an animal they have killed in the bush.” But Hammado said, “No, you are wrong; it is nothing good.” Then people [Dur] came in arms onto the Patla [ceremonial area], shouting and posturing with their weapons. Hammado came out of the Hidi house [onto the Patla] and stood by the small baobab tree behind the Mpsakali shrine. Meanwhile people blocked the gate to the Hidi house. Then Hammado was speared and said to his Makarma, “I am right it is not a good day for me,” to which his Makarama replied, “You are wrong, it is good to kill you like this.” The chief’s body was cut into pieces and quickly buried near Gumzum. Only his head was buried at Dazha [the chiefly cemetery] the next day.

(Below) Bugə, the megalithic throneroom on the Patla with, behind and to the right, a granary cover over the Mpesakali shrine near which Hidi Hammado was killed.



Another version of the same story mentions Hammado’s cap, which fell off when he was attacked, revealing his sacred and never-to-be-seen hairlock. The event is of metaphorical significance as is indicated by Hammado’s instruction to his sister’s son and later chief Usaani to pick it up and keep it. Neither kinsman present at the divination was harmed.

6. Hidi Kacima Hardo?, ~1895

Kuraatə, the ranking Dur Təka claimant, undoubtedly engineered Hammado’s death but failed at this time to win the chieftaincy. Perhaps his brutality antagonized other Dur and lead to the search for a compromise candidate. Kacima came from a different Dur line than all previous and subsequent Hidis. He is closely associated with the Yanna clan, and is even claimed by some Yanna as their own. He ruled briefly at a time when, in the Sukur phrase, “the village was spoiled”; his hold on the chieftaincy was weak and it appears that Kuraatə’s party drove him out of the Hidi house, later deceitfully enticing him back to his death. The following account was told by a senior Yanna elder in 1996.

Kacima was a Yanna who lived at Hwuɗum inselberg on the plain. He was called to be Hidi and was installed in the Hidi house. The Dur were angry at this and plotted against him. They went to his brother who had many cattle and asked him why Kacima and not he was Hidi. “Why not drive out your brother and become Hidi in his stead?”

The Dur came to the Hidi house and told Kacima that he and his brother would be killed. Kacima escaped via the [then existing private] east entrance but was spotted [by an onlooker from Muŋwolai hill across the valley] and chased. Attempts to spear him failed and he taunted his attackers saying that “Unless you throw slag at me, you will not be able to kill me.” They threw slag at him; he removed his cap and locusts spread out from it. Then he was speared and killed in Bahwa [below the chief’s house].

But his brother was not made Hidi and the Yanna men were cursed by their kəni [mother’s brothers and a very bad curse] and by the senior women of the clan, saying that they would have no more Hidis.

The story, told a century after the events it describes, conflates elements of truth, error, historical cliché and an original ingredient that is likely of historical significance. Another version adds that Kacima, when attacked in the Hidi house, made four sorties out onto the Patla, spearing two Dur on each of the first three, before challenging them to throw slag at him on the fourth. The episode of the murder of the chief’s son is in this version rather unconvincingly assigned to the time of Kacima rather than of Hammado, while the mention of iron slag, believed to have the magical property of counteracting defensive amulets and spells, is a cliché told also of Hammado.

Since elders in other clans agree with Dur that Kacima was indeed a member of the chiefly clan, we can dismiss the claim of Yanna affiliation. (We had hoped to confirm this once and for all by checking whether the son of Kacima’s brother Ngamra resident in Rhoumzou in 1996 is a Dur or a Yanna.) More probably his mother was Yanna, and Kacima would have looked to the men of her clan, linked to him as mother’s brothers, for support – which, the last sentence of the quote might suggest, was withdrawn from his faction after his death. The reference to living off Sukur mountain on a small – and barely defensible – inselberg has interesting implications for the history of settlement, as does the mention of large numbers of cattle. (Other reports lead us to think that there may well have been another contemporary Kacina, a true Yanna and a successful man, who lived on Hwuɗum near Mildo with his several wives.) The attempt to manipulate Kacima’s brother appears only in one version of the story but is true to the spirit of Dur political infighting. The locusts are uniquely associated with Kacima, coming out of his cap in the version above and in another coming to the village when a man cuts a branch from a tree growing on his grave. There were widespread plagues of locusts around 1880 though this seems too early. The “spoiling” of the village mentioned above more likely refers to the drought and associated epidemics of 1890-93 (Beauvillain (1989 I:117).

The murder of Kacima having removed the last obstacle and demonstrated Kuraatə’s resolve, he was installed as chief.


Part 2, the Hamman Yaji years

Events in SukurDateEvents in Madagali; Hamman Yaji’s diary entries; notes
Hidi Kuraatə Mbakə in power1895-1912Ardo Bakari of Madagali killed by Lt Dominik in 1902 and succeeded by Hamman Yaji (Kirk-Greene 1960:74)
Kurt F. Strümpell is the first European to visit and describe Sukur1906-1907Strümpell (1922-23) is Resident of the Adamaua administrative area of German Kamerun. He collects historical and linguistic information and describes the language of Sukur as a Kapsiki dialect.
Hidi Kuraatə dies and is succeeded by Hidi Tlagəma Ngaaka, who is deposed after only nine days191222-9-12 … I raided Sukur and we killed two men. Kaunga was killed. [This is the third entry in Hamman Yaji’s diary]
20-10-12 … I sent some soldiers to Sukur. They found three boys and managed to reach the Arnado’s house.
22-10-12 … I divided my soldiers into two parties, one to go to Muduvu and the other to go to Sukur and Juyel. …

Ndushəkən Mbakə and Njacu Fuca compete for Hidiship.

Njacu rules in Təka and Ndushəkən in Jira.

1912-191727-12-12 … the pagans of Sukur brought me two cows as a peace-offering.
12-5-13 … I sent my soldiers to Sukur and they destroyed the house of the Arnado and took a horse and 7 slave-girls and burnt their houses.
20-7-13 … I sent my people to Sukur and we killed 15 and wounded very many and captured 15.
10-3-15 … the Christian named Mr. Gaya left Madagali and went to Duhu.(The rest of this page is occupied with trading affairs, gifts to him from pagans and others and his own movements. He also states he divided the pagans of Sukur into two separate sections).
19-10-16 …I sent my soldiers to Sukur and they captured 18 slaves.
Njacu killed by Ndushəkən faction.191716-8-17 … I sent Fadhl al Nar with his men to raid Sukur and they captured 80 slaves, of whom I gave away 40. We killed 27 men and women and 17 children.
While Ndushəkən is still Hidi Jira, Taymusə Fuca negotiates with Hamman Yaji, who appoints Kamburawa, of Yanna clan, head of a new settlement on the plain beneath Sukur mountain.
19-2-18 … (This page contains little of interest: he appointed one Bulama Kabarawa chief of Sukur; he received presents from various pagans …
Ndushəkən flees to Mogode.1920

23-10-20 … while I was at Nyibango I heard that the pagans [sic] named Diskin [i.e,. Hidi Ndushəkən] had raided Wappara, so I made arrangements and sent Fadhl al Nar with his men to raid the pagans of Sukur. They captured from them 39 slaves and 24 goats and killed 5 men.

The British take over administration of the region from the French. Hamman Yaji, appointed District Head, is warned to cease raiding (Vaughan 1995:14-15)

In the up to two year absence of Ndushəkən, Taymusə rules as Hidi in Təka although still unable to establish residence in the chief’s house. He celebrates Ɓər at least once presumably in 1922.1920-2219-12-20 … I welcomed the Judge Mai Madubi. He spent the night and then on Monday I met him and he told me what he had to say.
20-4-22 … my slave Risku the Ardo of Wula raided the pagans of Kurang and they brought me news of what had happened in the matter of the burning of their houses.
10-6-22 … I arrested 3 men of the pagans of Sukur and Damai on a charge of fighting with each other. I also had a talk with Arnado Mildu, Banera, and I fined him 10s. for his evil talk.
Ndushəkən returns and is killed by Hamman Yaji’s menlate 1922 or early 1923“About 1923” (MacBride 1937:9)
Nzaani Kuraatə “having previously purchased Hamman Yaji’s favour” (MacBride 1937:9) is installed as Hidi in 1923.19235-2-23 … Arnado Sukur gave me 2 small slaves, one a boy and the other a girl.
Taymusə and followers driven out to Yaza.1924-2616-10-25 … I asked my scribe Amin to forgive me for speaking a little harshly to him regarding Arnado Sukur.

Sukur first visited by the British ADO, Capt. H.H. Wilkinson.

Hidi Nzaani interviewed by Meek in Madagali. [Meek 1931; MacBride 1937:2; Yolaprof 4747 (1947) ACC 49; ]


4-2-27 … the Christian Mr. Wilkinson came down from the hill of Damai and Muduvu and made a boundary between them giving the grassy land to Damai and the wooded area to Muduvu. He also presented Arnado Sukur with a gown.
3-3-27… I left my house at Nyibango with the Christian Mr. Wilkinson and spent the night on the Sukur hill.
5-3-27 … we started the fast in the village of Sukur.
7-3-27 … I left my house at Sukur and went to the pagans of Wula, where we spent 3 days.
9-3-27 … we left there and came to Kurang, where we spent 2 nights.
6-6-27 … I started off to meet the Christian Mr. Wilkinson and the Emir al Yemen of Adamawa at Michika. On the way I received a letter from them summoning me and Arnado Sukur and Wakaltu. So I met them. (Marginal note: the Christian said that he did not forbid the pagans to cultivate my farms. He also said: “Why have you prevented Arnado Sukur from coming to me with his people?)…
7-6-27 I left my house in Humuchi and went to Michika and took my leave of the Christian Mr. Wilkinson and the Emir al Yemen Adamawa. He gave Arnado Sukur a gown to wear and a crown (presumably a fez is meant)….

Wilkinson arrested Hamman Yaji on 26 Aug. 1927 (K4637 SNP Box 1, 1927). Hayatu, great grandson of Emir Modibbo Adama, was appointed Madagali District Head on 6 Oct. 27 (Yolaprof 4747, 1947, ACC 64)

Nzaani “absconds” to Rhoumzou and eventually settles in Teghum, a village on the Mədləŋ massif to the west of Sukur.1934“A prolonged inquiry in January, 1934, disclosed the arbitrary nature of Jainyi’s [Nzaani’s] procedure and might have led to charges of embezzlement had he not absconded to Humzu in French territory before its conclusion” (MacBride 1937: 10)

7. Hidi Kuraatə Mbakə, ~1895-1912

Kuraatə’s accession ended a period of instability characterized by (if not necessarily ultimately due to) internal factional conflict, but his rule extended into another brought about from the outside by the depredations of the Fulbe of Madagali. Sukur’s broader relations with the Fulbe are to be discussed elsewhere, and we will deal here only with those issues closely touching the chieftaincy. According to Kirk-Greene (1960:74), Kuraatə was Hidi in 1902 when Ardo (chief) Bakari of Madagali is said to have fled to the hills to escape a German patrol led by Lieutenant Dominik. Bakari was killed by Dominik in that year and succeeded by his son, Ardo Hamman Yaji. The first Hidi to be precisely located in time, Kuraatə was also the first to meet a European. (Unfortunately Kurt Strümpell’s account of his visit to Sukur in 1906 or1907 does not include the name of the chief though he was almost certainly Kuraatə.).

Kuraatə has a reputation as a strong Hidi, strong enough to die, quite exceptionally, in office. We are not sure when. Hamman Yaji’s diary (Vaughan and Kirk-Greene 1995) begins in 1912 and its third entry describes a raid on Sukur made in September. This was rapidly followed by two further raids in October, and in December Hamman Yaji received two cows sent by “the pagans of Sukur” as a peace offering. The raiding of a village three times in 32 days is unparalled. We suspect that Kuraatə had died and that Hamman Yaji was seizing an opportunity to bring Sukur under his control. In this he failed; however, from this time on there existed two parties in Sukur, one favoring appeasement, the other staunchly arguing for resistance.

8. Hidi Tlagəma Ngaaka, ~1912

Kuraatə’s brother Ndushəkən was his natural successor and leader of the resistance. Njacu Fuca led the opposing party. Fuca’s claim to the chieftaincy was strengthened by his descent from Hidi Bagaana, perhaps by a recognition that after a long reign by a Dur Təka Hidi it was the turn of the Dur Tə Dlagam, and by the support of the inhabitants of (the somewhat confusingly named) Təka, the lower (northern) wards of Sukur Sama. His father Fuca Bagaana had previously moved his family from Jira, as the upper wards of Sukur are collectively known, to Təka. He needed more space for his cattle, and he had also, perhaps not coincidentally, been accused of witchcraft by his neighbors. It appears that by the time Kuraatə died Fuca was already dead and that Njacu had succeeded him as family head.

It is not surprising that there is considerable disagreement about events occurring during the decade following Hamman Yaji’s first recorded attacks on Sukur. Not only did the raiding continue, but Jira and Təka were at odds regarding the appropriate response; many families left Sukur and took refuge amongst the Margi, Kamwe (Higi), and Kapsiki; others living on the plain submitted to Hamman Yaji’s demands and paid him tribute of various kinds. Furthermore Fuca, Njacu and his younger brother Taymusə are sometimes confused. The following account is not definitive but represents the most likely sequence of events. It is reconstructed from interviews with fourteen residents of Sukur, some interviewed more than once, and with several of Fuca’s descendants, the eldest born about 1920, now living on the plain at Damay Kasa.

It is indicative of the multiple divisions within Sukur – Dur Təka versus Dur Tə Dlagam, Dur versus others, Jira versus Təka, appeasers versus the resistance – that the next chief to be installed was Tlagəma Hidi, an old man of an earlier generation, noted primarily for his very long hair, “those from his nose could be tied under his chin, and those from his ears around the back of his neck!” In this case the appointment of a compromise candidate failed to achieve its purpose. He was expelled from the Hidi house after only nine days and retired to his house.

9-11 Hidis Njacu Fuca (~1912-17), Ndushəkən Mbakə (~1912-23), and Taymusə Fuca (~1917-23)

Quite who was responsible for Tlagəma’s deposition is unclear. Both Ndushəkən and Njacu were vying for the chieftaincy, with Njacu relying on support from Hamman Yaji for whom he was acting as an agent. Did the two cows sent to Hamman Yaji in December express Njacu’s gratitude to his patron? It seems that Njacu succeeded in undergoing the critical rite of installation: having the title-holder Makarma bin huɗ, whose task it is, tie a cloth around his upper body in a ceremony on the Patla. But if so the Ndushəkən faction was sufficiently powerful to prevent Njacu installing himself in the Hidi house. Ndushəkən was in at least partial control in May 1913 when Hamman Yaji sent a war party to Sukur that “destroyed the house of the Arnado” or chief – which Njacu was certainly not occupying at the time.

Hamman Yaji may have "destroyed the house of the Arnado" of Sukur, but it is his house, beneath Madagali hill, that now lies in ruins.

We have evidence that Hamman Yaji’s raids were at times selective; this and a subsequent attack were in all probability aimed against Ndushəkən’s supporters in Jira. His next mention of Sukur relates to his division of “the pagans of Sukur into two separate sections” which can reasonably be taken to refer to a divided chiefdom with Jira ruled by Ndushəkən and Təka by Njacu.

In August 1917 Hamman Yaji mounted a particularly brutal raid on Sukur in the course of which he captured 80 slaves, killed 27 men and women, and, the only time this is mentioned in the whole diary, also 17 children. This would seem to have been a punitive raid mounted, we suggest, in response to the killing of Njacu by the Dur of Jira:

Njacu went up to Jira and taunted people including Hacu Mbaŋgə, a Dur, on account of their empty granaries. Later when Kwayelmi was slaughtering a bull in Midala ward and people had assembled to buy meat, Njacu, accompanied by Gawri [a Yanna elder from Təka], arrived and told them they should do a day’s work for Hamman Yaji. Njacu was speared and died near Wutsi’s house in Midala.

The raid of August 1917 resulted in some Dur and allies leaving Sukur to seek refuge with kin and affines in nearby communities, some of which like Maiva-Palam had already submitted to Madagali. Ndushəkən, however, held out in Jira, though the departure of supporters must have weakened his ability to enforce his suzerainty. And so in Təka Njacu was replaced by his younger brother, Taymusə, who continued to treat with Hamman Yaji. In 1918 Hamman Yaji appointed “Bulama Kabarawa chief of Sukur”, but this probably refers only to the granting of the title of village head (Bulama) and his protection to Kambarawa, a Sukur of Yanna clan who had previously been living with Margi and who now preferred to settle on the plain as Hamman Yaji’s client, rather than to return to Sukur Sama where the two factions were living in a stalemate punctuated by violence.

Hamman Yaji bided his time, very probably collecting “tax” and requiring corvée labour from Taymusə’s adherents in Sukur until October 1920 when it was reported that Ndushəkən had led a raid on “Wappura” (probably Mildo Vapura). Raiding was not a part of Sukur’s traditional political strategy which depended rather on maintenance of friendly relations with neighbors on whom Sukur depended for access to the raw materials for iron making. Why Ndushəkən should have chosen to raid Margi some 10 km away over the plain to the north, passing by other Margi settlements en route, is inexplicable. Possibly Hamman Yaji was misinformed. However this may be, he immediately responded by a retaliatory raid on Sukur – again we may suppose against Jira rather than Sukur as a whole – in the course of which his militia killed five men and captured 39 slaves and 24 goats. The resistance faction was seriously weakened and Ndushəkən fled to Mogode accompanied by many of his followers. Only two months later, in December, a representative the new British administration appears to have commanded Hamman Yaji to stop his raiding, a warning that he apparently if most unwillingly heeded (Vaughan 1995:14).

Until the return of Ndushəkən some two years later, Taymusə was the effective ruler of Sukur though it is not clear whether he was ever formally installed. It is said that, despite the troubles, no biennial initiation ceremony was ever missed, but it is hard to believe that, as one story goes, while Ndushəkən was still in power in Jira, Njacu could have presided over one or two initiations “for the children of all Sukur,” in the course of which the young men visited, as custom requires, the Buk enclosure that forms part of the Hidi house complex. Our informants often confused Njacu and Taymusə, and more probably this story relates to the latter. Ɓer is held in August so it seems most probable that Taymusə’s Ɓer would have been held in 1922. Did the now traditional and once brutal fights during initiation between the young men of Jira and Təka begin at this time, with the superposition of a political on a geographical and clan division of the initiates?

Rhoumzou and Mogode were in territory mandated to the the French and the presence there of Ndushəkən’s Sukur faction would have adversely affected Hamman Yaji’s tax, or more precisely tribute, base. Although there is no evidence of this, he may also have wished for Sukur to resume the industrial scale smelting of iron from which he would surely have found a way to profit. Presumably Ndushəkən was aware of the British Mandate and that Hamman Yaji was no longer raiding (though “his slave Risku” raided Kurang in April 1922). The time was ripe for Ndushəkən’s return and in late 1922 or early 1923 he came back in great style on a horse with a train of followers and drums and horns playing. The very next day, after spending a night in a private house, he set off down the northern paved way to treat with Hamman Yaji. But then, just past the Rak gateway where the descent steepens, he met a group of Hamman Yaji’s men, some of whom were Sukur previously captured and recruited into his militia. After an exchange of insults and challenges a fight broke out in which Ndushəkən was killed. He was hastily buried nearby.

12. Hidi Nzaani Kuraatə, 1923-1934

While he made no entry in his diary, Hamman Yaji is said to have been angry at the news of Ndushəkən’s death, but he seems to have had the political sense to realize that there was now no chance of establishing his client Taymusə as Hidi Sukur. Besides, Nzaani, eldest son of Kuraatə, was both a strong candidate – though theoretically less so than his uncle Mbaŋgə Mbakə – and willing to work with the District Head. There can be little doubt that the two small slaves given to Hamman Yaji in February 1923 by Arnado Sukur were from Nzaani and intended either to seek or thank him for his favor. Nzaani’s performance was such that Hamman Yaji made, it seems, no real objection when some little time later Nzaani drove out theTaymusə faction to Yaza hill on the northern edge of the Sukur plateau and eventually its core members on to Muduvu, a settlement sufficiently distant for their presence there to pose no threat. Less committed members of the faction returned to Sukur.

Hamman Yaji had hidden Sukur’s existence from the British and it was not until February 1927, six months before his arrest, that ADO Captain Wilkinson visited Sukur and met Hidi Nzaani to whom he gave a gown. Wilkinson was not pleased that over the years Hamman Yaji had been collecting and pocketing Sukur’s taxes. Nzaani also traveled to Madagali on occasion for it was there, probably in the dry season of 1927-28, that he and two sons met and were interviewed by the anthropologist Meek (1931 vol. 1:312-20) who obtained an extraordinary amount of information and a word list during their “short conversation”. Nzaani was subsequently to meet other British administrators, ADOs Shirley and MacBride. The latter regarded him as “a most astute and unscrupulous man who is quite capable of so colouring his answer to questions of fact as to suit his political ends” (MacBride 1937:1). In the same document MacBride (1937:9-10) provides an account of Nzaani’s rule and eventual abdication under threat of embezzlement, charges that is worth quoting in full.

With his divine authority reinforced by Hamman Yaji’s commission Jainyi [Nzaani] was able to exercise almost absolute power within Sukur, deferring to his Council only in regard to the ritual observances which his office entailed. When Hayatu succeeded Hamman Yaji in 1928 he was for some years fully occupied in abolishing obvious abuses and establishing an order based on respect for his own integrity in the place of the terrorism employed by his predecessor. Sukur gave no trouble to the District Administration; Jainyi was obeyed and saw that tax was promptly collected and that those concerned in crimes too serious to be concealed were delivered to the Court. With more than enough work elsewhere neither District Headman nor Touring Officer had occasion to inquire closely into Sukur’s internal affairs, in the words of Hayatu it was “a closed book; the people were Jainyi’s slaves and he put every obstacle in the way of their advancement” – for, determined to remain their sole intermediary with the Administration, he took pains to keep them in such fear of the latter as to prevent their appearing as voluntary litigants before either Native Court or Touring Officer.

As regards tax Jainyi kept the collection entirely in his own hands and those of one or two personal agents, excluding both Council and ward-heads from any part in it. He collected as much as he could direct from individuals, paid in the amount of the total assessment and retained the balance for himself, no ward-head knowing how much was due from his unit or from the village as a whole. In prosperous years these methods worked to his satisfaction, but in 1933/34 there was an acute shortage of money in the Area and they broke down. A prolonged inquiry in January, 1934, disclosed the arbitrary nature of Jainyi’s procedure and might have led to charges of embezzlement had he not absconded to Humzu [Rhoumzou] in French territory before its conclusion. It is said that he stumbled on a rock in his compound on his way out to the square where the meeting was being held, and, taking this as an omen, decided not to appear again. His subsequent suggestion to Mr. Shaw that he had been asked to visit certain wards from which he was ritually debarred and withdrew in order to avoid doing violence to his conscience was untrue, for I was aware of the existence of such prohibitions and had deferred to them on every occasion of his accompanying me about the village. It should be added that he had previously stopped the people from going to Madagali market and from raising money by the sale of supplies at the Rest-house, and that the general atmosphere of the village improved appreciably on his departure. The Council was left in charge during the next few weeks, and every effort was made to induce Jainyi to return and rehabilitate himself, but without result.

MacBride’s perspective is that of an administration that despite the catastrophic locust plagues of the early thirties – that in some cases resulted in montagnards “pawning” their children to Fulbe to ensure that they would not starve – insisted on the payment of taxes and was not above using force and the burning of houses in the process of “distraint.” A case can be made for Nzaani as a resistance leader, consistently pursuing a policy of minimal accommodation with the external and always more powerful forces that threatened his mountain polity. He is not remembered in Sukur as an avaricious chief.


Part 3, from Mandate to Independence and the Present

Events in SukurDateNotes
Matlai Mbaŋgə installed as Hidi in February 19341934MacBride (1937:11) states that ‘though he [Matlai] is regarded as a usurper by some of the “princes he has the support of the Council” and “but for Hamman Yaji’s interference Malte’s father, Banga, should have succeeded his brother Disikin before Jainyi’s generation could become eligible.”
Hidi Matlai arrested on 4 May 1960, bailed by J. Vaughan, and flees to Cameroon1960Vaughan (in Smith and David 1995:464) states that Matlai was accused of misuse of funds but that his real “crime” was that during the Plebescite he advocated the Northern British Cameroons joining Cameroon.
Hidi Usaani Tlagəma1960- ca 1967Usaani was reportedly deposed by the machinations, involving bribery of government officials, of his successor Zirangkwadə.
Hidi Zirangkwadə Matlai installed, deposed, reinstalled and dies in officeca 1967-83,
In 1983 Zirangkwadə was deposed by the Shagari regime and the Hidiship divided. Gəzik was installed as Hidi of Sukur Sama and Gamdo Buba as Hidi of Mataka and Rugudum. Gamdo and Gəzik were both associated with the Great Nigeria People’s Party. Under Buhari they were both deposed and a single Hidiship under Zirangkwadə reinstated.
Gəzik Kanakakaw1983-4,
Sukur District created 1993.
Luka Gəzik2011 –The present Hidi is the son of his predecessor.

13. Hidi Matlai Mbaŋgə, 1934-60

In February 1934 Matlai, a cousin of Nzaani and like him a grandson of Mbakə, was installed as chief with the approval of the elders. Nzaani, who had been forced by the French to move back into British territory, intrigued against him but was arrested, charged, and sentenced to six months’ imprisonment. He settled and in the mid-1940s died at Teghum. MacBride (1937:10-11) reflected on the transfer of power:

Under Malte Sukur has become susceptible of normal administration, and it is stated that though he is regarded as a usurper by some of the “princes” he has the support of the Council and the people. It should be noted that although in this region it is the general rule that a man must be the son of a former chief to be eligible for the chieftainship there are and have been exceptions – e.g. the last two chiefs of Juyel [Dzuyel] – and that the essential of kingship is nomination by the proper electoral authority and ritual installation in the accepted manner. Moreover it is common after a succession of public misfortunes for relief to be sought in the transfer of the kingship to another branch of the royal house (as was done at the end of the XIX Century); in Sukur Jainyi’s reign had been associated with the oppression of Hamman Yaji, the period of locust invasions, which his tribute to Gudur had failed to check, and, lastly, the general inconvenience of the 1933/34 tax collection which involved two visits by the Touring Officer and a good deal of distraint. In nominating Malte the Council had probably also in mind the irregular manner in which Jainyi rose to power and the fact that but for Hamman Yaji’s interference Malte’s father, Banga [Mbaŋgə], should have succeeded his brother Disikin [Ndushəkən] before Jainyi’s generation could become eligible.

In fact, while MacBride is right to emphasize the importance of ritual installation, the existence of any general rule of succession is questionable, especially in the light of the disparity in age often existing between (half-) brothers. Of the Hidis from Ngaaka to Matlai only seven of twelve were the sons of former chiefs.

The “good deal of distraint” mentioned by MacBride has its echo in some rather confusing Sukur oral traditions. It seems that District Head Hayatu came to Sukur at the time of the bull festival, Hən dlə, accompanied by a white man and a Margi from Bebel (just south of Madagali mountain). Hayatu apparently demanded nine bulls and had Matlai communicate it to celebrants. When several Sukur, Dur and others, refused he had their houses burnt down, in at least one case with the bull inside. The presence of an unidentified white man, most probably either ADO Shirley or ADO MacBride, suggests that the bulls were being taken in lieu of cash in payment of the village’s tax obligations. A convincing element of the story is that people are said to have been puzzled as they couldn’t see where the fire was coming from; this was Sukur’s first experience of matches.

Matlai’s reign saw great changes in the powers of the Hidi and in Sukur’s economy. Matlai was rich; a son remembers that he had as many as 15 wives at a time, all of whom lived in the chief’s house. When he acceded to power, chiefs had rights to a hindquarter of each bull sacrificed at village ceremonies, but a man, Mgaarta Micik, living in Rugudum (on the plain) complained of this practice to the authorities in Mubi, who sent representatives to Matlai, requiring him, and chiefs after him, to content himself with much smaller portions. This seems symptomatic of progressively greater government control over the activities of chiefs and their integration into the administration. Matlai has a reputation as a respected and just judge. Under him Mataka began to be settled by migrants from Sukur Sama and he established the market at Mefir Suku. The District Head set up a court for him there where he heard cases that had occurred on Sukur territory and others involving non-Muslims that were referred to him from Madagali.

Matlai was chief during the closing years of Sukur’s iron production. The iron market ceased to function in the late 1940s or early 1950s as metal scrap became widely and cheaply available. To bring in cash and goods from the outside, young men began to leave the village for the latter part of the rains and much of the dry season to work on others’ farms and as weavers of zana matting. Women started to cultivate groundnuts as a cash crop.

James Vaughan (in Smith and David 1995:464) describes Matlai’s fall from power in 1960. This was the time of the plebiscite as to whether the British Northern Cameroons Mandated Territories should become part of Nigeria or join with Cameroon. Matlai was a prominent spokesman for the Cameroon option, “and the Nigerian and British authorities who administered the area feared that his opinion would be too influential among the montagnards. This was his only ‘crime’.” Matlai was arrested by the administration on 4 May 1960, and accused by them of misuse of funds. Vaughan posted his bail and Matlai fled to Cameroon. He returned to Nigeria some time later, and eventually settled in Muduvu Kasa where he had a son-in-law. When he died his body was brought back to Sukur for burial.

14. Hidi Usaani Tlagəma, 1960- ca1967

Usaani, a Dur Tə Dlagam cousin of Matlai and a generation senior to him, was already old when Matlai abdicated under pressure. During his apparently undistinguished reign, Sukur lost administrative control over some plains villages. His quiet deposition or abdication took place between 1964 and 1969. He was still resident in Sukur Sama and perhaps a centenarian when James Wade visited Sukur in 1984

15 and 16. Hidi Ziraŋkwadə Matlai, ca 1967-1983, 1984-91, and Hidi Gəzik Kanakakaw

Ziraŋkwadə, whom we were fortunate to meet in 1991 less than a year before his death, became chief in the mid- to late 1960s. He remained in power during the military governments of Gowon and Obasanjo but was deposed during the brief civilian presidency of Shagari and was replaced by not one but two chiefs. Gəzik Kənakakaw, the great grandson of Hammado, was installed as Hidi of Sukur Sama, while Gamdo Buba was named chief of Mataka and Rugudum. Both were active in the Great Nigeria People’s Party. However they were both deposed shortly after General Muhammad Buhari overthrew Shehu Shagari in a military coup on 31 December 1983. Ziraŋkwadə was reinstated and remained in office until his death in the Hidi house in 1992 after which Gəzik was reappointed while Gamdo Buba, whose name never appears in lists of chiefs, became Gəzik’s Wakili for Mataka and Rugudum.

During this latest period, the power of the chief has further diminished. Some Sukur now prefer to bypass the Hidi’s judgement and take complaints directly to the police or to a recently constituted customary court in Mefir Suku.

Under Mbutu Patla, the great baobab, the Acting District Head (left) discusses the tax rolls with Hidi Gəzik (on the folding chair) and elders
Hidi Ziraŋkwadə on the Patla, June 1991, with Bugə (the throneroom) in the background.

Chiefly authority has been further undermined by the creation in early 1993 of a Sukur District and the appointment of a Sukur, Ezra Makarma, a Roman Catholic living on the plain, as District Head. The spread of various forms of Christianity, especially among younger people in Sukur Sama, also weakens the chieftaincy as, despite the popularity of several ceremonies, the community’s concern for their ritual aspects, over which the chief presides, is diminished. It is fair to say that, while Hidi Gəzik was respected and recognized as a good servant of his people, Sukur are cynical about the means by which chieftaincy is achieved, regarding it as something bought from politicians and administrators in Mubi and Yola.

Culture Of The Mandara Mountains.