Clanship as process

Anthropology text books define clans as “unilineal descent groups whose members are descended from a common ancestor …[who] lived so far in the past that not all members of the clan can explain precisely how they are related to one another …* (Bailey and Peoples 2002:133). This is a simplification in accordance with indigenous ideology. Clan membership is not in fact based solely upon kinship but can be achieved by the adoption of individuals and the merger of groups that share the idea, the metaphor, of unilineal descent. Conversely, supposed links may over time come to be ignored or disregarded. In such circumstances clans divide and their members are bound by new conventions relating to marriage, the tenure of capital (and especially land), and inheritance.

The Sakun word səɗ, which means both seed and clan, expresses the ideology of descent. But at any one time clanship is a structure in process, one in which mergers and divisions are taking place at several scales. Unfortunately we lack evidence to provide a full account of historical changes in Sukur clanship but we can attempt to infer some characteristics of such changes from archival sources and our observations at Sukur in the period 1992-1996.

Clanship, rights and history

Clan membership is fundamental to the life of the Sukur as it bestows critical rights and obligations, specifying the range of potential marriage partners and giving access to the means of subsistence. In return one may be required to support other members of one’s clan even in sometimes violent disputes, or in ceremonies such as Yawal that can make considerable demands on a person’s resources.

It is because of the importance of clanship that a great deal of Sukur history is encapsulated in the histories of individual clans. Since these refer primarily to themselves, the would-be historian is faced with the task of their integration and synthesis.

At the Yawal ceremony, the Dur clan celebrates itself and its holding of the chietaincy. Here male members of the clan, the chief on a horse imported for the occasion, process across the Patla.

The clans of Sukur and Damay in the 1930s

The first listings of Sukur descent groups we have are from Kulp (1935) and Shaw (1935). Kulp gives six names and Shaw those of 17 “kindreds” as against our total of 23 clans. These early observers did not consistently differentiate between the names of clans and the praise names by which it is polite to address clan members. Thus Kulp gives Gidum as the chiefly clan, explicitly noting that daughters of the clan are addressed as Dzuadu. Gədəm and Zwadə are in fact the praise names of Dur men and women respectively. Similarly Kulp’s Habuka (Habəga) is, in variant forms, the name of two descent groups and a praise name shared by both genders in no less than five others. Kulp’s Kighi, on the other hand, is a clan and not a praise name.


Clan name (ND & JS 1990s)Clan/praise name (Kulp 1935)Kulp’s notesClan/praise name (Shaw 1935)Shaw’s comments
TəvwaDuva or Təvwaonly smith clanTəvwaearliest known rulers
Dəmsa  Dimsa‘claim to be the aborigines’
Habəga (and others with same praise name)Habuka‘subject group’ indigenousHabga‘profess aboriginal status’
Kwaɓala  Kwobela‘claim to have accompanied the Dur from Gudur’
Gadə  Gadu‘claim to be the aborigines’
Hwatlə  Hwolbe‘claim to be the aborigines’
KuləsəgəiMithlin‘subject group’Kulsigisucceeded Təvwa, but now ‘plebeian’
Rəvai  Rivaismiths
DurGidam/Dzuaduchiefly from GudurDur or Ngidimchiefly, ‘conquering immigration’
Karandu  Ndakarambu‘dispossessed royal kindred,’ nobility
Shagwam  Shogwom‘dispossessed royal kindred,’ nobility
Kəmavuɗ (?? see text)  Piltada‘dispossessed royal kindred,’ ‘trouble makers’, nobility
Ɓerdleŋ  Birldim‘Fitu/Higi origin’ ‘also found at Gulak’
KiggiKighi‘subject group’Kiggi‘profess aboriginal status’
ZwahəiZuahi‘subject group’Zohi‘claim to be the aborigines’
Kwazhuwa  Kojuwasmiths
Kwasha  Kosasmiths
Mangu Mangu ‘the electorals’
BəgədaAbiacame with Gidum from Mchakili or Gudur and settled at Damaji (Damai)Kojihur‘provide the chiefs’;’ Damai’claim descent from Bol, younger brother of Fula, founder-leader of the Sukur-Dur.’
Baŋsheŋ Banzam  

What is most striking about this table is that Shaw’s listing is so nearly complete. Indeed his “omissions” are mainly due to the failure to differentiate clans that either share a praise name (e.g., Bakyang and Mədləŋ are subsumed under Habəga) or are otherwise closely linked and often not distinguished by the Sukur themselves (e.g., Gadə and Manjam). One other disagreement is worth noting. His ‘Piltada’ can only be the Kəmavuɗ. We suspect that a descriptive term, based on the root pətla meaning to break or smash, and which is used metaphorically, has been substituted for the name of the clan – but we are unaware of any incident that might explain why were described as trouble makers.

In summary, Kulp’s and Shaw’s data, when compared with our ‘final’ listing of Sukur clans and praise names in the next section, demonstrate a remarkable continuity with the present, modified primarily by movement at a family level down onto the plains. This applies also to to Damay.

Sukur clans and clan sections in the 1990s

After presenting material on clans and sections, praise names, and clan and section origins in tabular form, we show how the interrelationships of clans and sections indicate a system in permanent flux. Clan histories are treated and a synthesis attempted on a separate page connected to each clan and group name in the table below by hyperlinks.

Clan (səɗ) & sectionPraise names (fwal)
Male/Female where different
* = aboriginal and # from Gudur
according to Shaw (1935)
1. ‘Aboriginals’  
Təvwa (smith/potters)
 xidi ɗai
 ɗai kər’ba
Təvwa mbezhir
Gudur or aboriginal
DəmsaDəmsa ghəiGudur or aboriginal *
2a. The Habəga cluster  
YenaHabəgaGudur (* by implication)


HabəgaGudur #
Habəga ’wai
HabəgaGudur *
Habəga humtəvaHabəga YamGudur *
Bakyang (emigrated)HabəgaGudur (* by implication)
Ka-Ozha (or Manjam)
HabəgaGudur via Wula Kushiri
Gudur (* by implication)
Mukuva (Higi)
2b. Other early arrivals  
HwatləHwatləGudur *
GadəGadəGudur *
Mutlin (Tliɗi)
Rəvai (smiths & non-smiths)RevaiGudur
KiggiGaruGudur via Kapsiki/Higi area *
ZwahəiZoghiGudur via Kapsiki/Higi area
Ɓerzleŋ (emigrated)ƁerdleŋHigi area
3. The Gədum cluster  
Dur (chiefly)
 tə dlagam
4. Later arrivals  
Kwazhuwa (smiths)Kwazhuwa ?Gudur, with sojourn in Higi area
Kwasha (mostly smiths)KwashaDzu (Margi)
Ka-Mariya (smiths)Biya/BaldaDamay (Gudur)

It is to be noted that with regard to origins, a higher proportion of clans now claim to have come from Gudur than was apparently the case in the early 1930s. Whether this is due to differences in data collection by observers or to a widening of the desire to attach one’s ancestors to that prestigious magico-religious center is uncertain, but we suspect the latter.

Clan sections: evidence of a system in flux

In talking to Sukur about clanship three phrases are regularly repeated. Clans are exogamous and thus men of different clans “marry each others’ daughters”. The levirate is practiced within the clan, which is to say that if a man dies and his widow is willing, his brother – and potentially any clan brother – inherits his house and with it the responsibility for looking after his wife or wives and young children. Thus clan brothers “inherit each others’ houses”. Sukur differentiate between primary marriages, usually celebrated with considerable ceremony and never entirely dissolved, and secondary marriages that are both entered into and sometimes ended with little formality. (A woman’s first marriage is her primary marriage; men can have more than one primary marriage partner.) A clan brother would never marry a woman whose primary marriage was with a clan brother so long as he was alive, nor can he marry a woman living in secondary marriage with a clan brother. (She would first have to leave her partner, marry a man of a different clan and then leave him.) Men of different clans are not subject to such restraints; they “marry each others’ wives”.

Such are the norms, but as the table below indicates there is in fact considerable variation.

Clan/Section Pairs
‘marry each others’ daughters’
‘inherit each others’ houses’
‘marry each others’ wives’
Praise name shared or different
Standard BETWEEN clans
Təvwa ɗai k./T. tliɗi ɗai
Mədləŋ həi/M. ləiwaɗ
Gadə/Ka-Ozha (Manjam)
Kuləsəgəi mutlin/K. zagwam
Dur təka/D. tə dlagam
2nd but not primary   marriages
Formerly but no     longer
Standard WITHIN clans

The sections of the Təvwa clan marry each other’s daughters but in other ways behave as if they were the same clan. Perhaps the latitude allowed in seeking marriage partners can be attributed to the small numbers of smith/potters and the prohibition, now just beginning to weaken, against marriage between the smith/potter and farmer castes. A different pattern characterizes the Mədləŋ sections which behave as a single clan except in the matter of the levirate; they claim not to “inherit each others’ houses”. The reason for this is obscure and may in fact express what has happened rather than what should happen; if indeed there is a norm it may be connected with the possible smith/potter status of the ancestor of the ləiwaɗ section. Gadə and Ka-Ozha have the same pattern of behaviors but have different praise names. The Manjam, by which name the Ka-Ozha are known to many Sukur, take that name from a neighborhood in Guzka ward where they once lived. They are members of a trans-ethnic descent group that extends to Wula Kushiri where they retain the designation Ka-Ozha, the clan of the Tluwala rain maker. Although closely associated with Gadə, they have separate histories and titles, and it is clear that since they do not “inherit each others’ houses” and have different praise names the two kin groups are not (as yet?) fully integrated as a clan.

The division of the Kuləsəgəi into Mutlin and Zagwam sections is a case of a change in residence leading to social division. Both the social and geographic distances are minimal, and apart from a difference in praise names (which requires confirmation) the two groups operate as a single clan. This is not true of the two Dur sections where political conflict would seem to have led to a degree of differentiation limited primarily by a mutual interest in the Dur clan retaining the chieftaincy, for which strength in numbers is required. Kiggi and Zwahəi are clans said to have been founded by two sons of the same father. They came separately to Sukur and the two groups in the village, the first large, the later less so, seem to be drawing closer and closer together, as is indicated by the recent agreement not “to marry each other’s wives”. As the Sukur say, they “cook together”; they are close allies and the first guests invited to any ceremony.
Marrying each others' daughters. A woman's first marriage is accompanied by major exchanges of gifts between her and her husband's kin groups.

In summary, although the structuring of society by clanship is fundamental element of social order, the clans of Sukur are not set in stone. A variety of political, historical, demographic, migratory and other factors are bringing about change and have acted in similar ways in the past.

Sukur knowledge of clan relations

The average Sukur is, from our naive anthropological perspective, remarkably ignorant regarding the clan system as a whole. Thus for example the Təvwa are commonly regarded as the ɗai (smith/potters) of the Dur. A neighbor of the Dəmsa in Goeri does not distinguish them from the Təvwa … despite one clan being made up of smith/potters and the other of farmers. “They cook together”, he says.

But of course the Sukur are not anthropologists, nor are there amongst them significantly fewer or more intellectuals than in other societies and traditions. The average Sukur knows what he or she needs to know about clanship, and takes appropriate action when she or he meets a possible partner or is otherwise confronted with a situation in which clanship is a factor. Clanship is in this manner incorporated into the Sukur “habitus”, the norms, values, attitudes, and behaviors of their group.

Culture Of The Mandara Mountains.