Title Holder

On this page we introduce the institution of title holding in Mandara montagnard societies and go on to list and describe the functions of title holders of Sukur and the rain priest of Wula.


.n even the smallest chiefdoms in the Mandara mountains there are, besides a chief and senior elders of clans, a number of other persons, perhaps only two or three, variously referred to as dignitaries, nobles, princes, notables, council members and the like. To describe them as a “court” or as a “council” misrepresents the scale, complexity and formality of the societies of which they form part. They are counselors rather than councilors, and we prefer to use the term “title-holders.” Individually and as a group they play essential roles in the governance of their societies, and they embody much of the political history of their respective communities, history that is not written down nor necessarily remembered, but which can be teased out of their responsibilities, rights and relationships. Understanding the title-holders is a key to understanding both the present and past of Mandara montagnard societies.


The late Hidi Gəzik Kənakakaw (left), seated on his rock throne in the inner residence, consults with title-holders and others. His junior Tləfu, wearing his cap flattened on his head as a sign of respect, is seated on his left. Opposite them sit the senior Tləfu (light blue trousers) and Dalatə, whose frontal hairlock is just visible.

Title-holders, with occasional exceptions (though not at Sukur), are all male elders, and fall into three somewhat overlapping categories:

 the chief and his supporters, close political associates of his or closely related clans,
 persons who hold their offices at the pleasure of the chief and who may be described as his retainers; they  constitute his  political as opposed to domestic household and are often drawn from clans of relatively recent  origin, and
 persons with priestly functions generally drawn from clans regarded as autochthonous or at least very long established.

As is to be expected in societies in which patrilineal descent is so important an element in establishing a person’s entitlements and responsibilities, titles are frequently inherited within families or clans, and this principle limits the chief’s freedom of action to a degree that is in good part dependent upon his charisma and political skills. It also tends to blur the distinctions between categories that correspond to different political constituencies.

The chief’s supporters represent those members of his and closely associated clans who for reasons of descent, shared history, or by political choice have identified themselves with the chief and whom he trusts not to intrigue against him. Other sections of the chiefly clans are in actual or potential competition for the chieftaincy, while associated clans – at Sukur the Kəmavuɗ, Karandu, and Shagwam – have invested in the existing political regime even though factions within them may favor different claimants to the chieftaincy.

Though this may be less true of Sukur than of other Mandaran communities, the clans that provide the chief’s retainers are for the most part small, sometimes deriving from a single immigrant taken into a chief’s household, or for other reasons, e.g., smith/potter caste status, posing no political threat to the regime. Such title-holders, like freedmen officials in the Roman empire, depend upon the chief, and, having no other constituency to back them, maintain him in return. They may on the other hand transfer allegiance from one member of the chiefly house to another. At Sukur a number of title-holders in this category are drawn from larger, well-established, clans.

The clans with priestly title-holders vary in size but have as a group lost or given up much though not all of their former political power over people, while retaining their ties to local spirits and managing that relationship for the benefit of the community as a whole. While we know of no instances in which such clans have regained the chieftaincy, oral traditions make it clear that there is a tension between the chiefly and the priestly clans. Such tensions are clearly expressed at Sukur in the traditions relating to Hidi Kacima, possibly not a Dur but a Yanna clan member. Regime change is not inconceivable. It behooves a wise chief to cultivate his relationship with the priestly clans and the conferral of titles is one tactic in this strategy.

Sukur, in part because of its antiquity as a political entity and in part because during its heyday as an industrial chiefdom it attracted immigrants, has the largest number of title-holders and clans of any Mandara montagnard society. We list them below and then describe their characteristics and functions as groups and individually.

TABLESukur clans, titles and holders’ functions
by inferred phases of cultural development

(i) indicates that the title is normally inherited within a patriline, potentially reverting to the clan.
† indicates clans that share a praise name with the chiefly clan Dur
* indicates clans that share the praise name Habega

Phases 3 and 4 – The Dur revolution and the period of village industry: Title-holders with duties that are primarily secular and/or closely tied to the person of a Dur Hidi.

DurTliɗi (Hidi)Chief
DurRwa TliɗiHeir apparent (unused at present except as leader of the initiates)
DurWakiliDeputy Chief (post-colonial title)
DurMakarmaSenior advisor and supporter
DurMakarma bin huɗ (i)Role in installation of chief; formerly envoy to Gudur
Shagwom †Fa tə TliɗiSenior advisor to chief
Karandu †Midala (i)War leader (role ritualized)
Kəmavuɗ †Tləməzui (i)Ritual duties associated with Muzui hill ceremony and Yawal
Kwabala*Tləfu, senior (i)Supporter of Hidi and formerly judge
GadəTləfu, junior (i)Chief’s “chamberlain”
?BirimaJunior “chamberlain” (formerly)
RəvayTlagama (i)Chief’s barber and drummer (a smith)
KwazhuwaTləgəm (i)Chief’s drummer (a smith)
ZwahəiDzarma (i)Chief’s herald
Yanna*Tlyam mbərəm Təka(i?)Chief’s “ear” in lower Sukur
KigiTlyam mbərəm Jira(i?)Chief’s “ear” in upper Sukur
Məldəng*Tləsəku (i)Chief’s “chaplain”

Phase II – The community of clans: title-holders with priestly functions

KuləsəgəiDalatə (i)Senior priest and representative of earlier dynasty
GadəMbəzəfwai (i)Priest
Habega Oy*Mbəzəfwai (i)Priest
Habega Humtəva*Mbəzəfwai (i)Priest
Manjam*Mbəzəfwai (i)Priest, liaison with Wula rain-maker3
RəvayMbəzəfwai (i)Priest (of the farmer clan section)
HwatləMbəzəfwai (i)Priest
Yanna*Jir dək’uPriest

Phase I – The small egalitarian society: title-holders with priestly functions

DəmsaTləduv (i)Priestly functions
TəvwaTliɗi Ɗai (i)Chief of the smiths and senior funerary smith. Title now extinct.
Təvwa‘Day Kur’ba (i)Priestly function; responsible for burying the chief

Navigate within this long document by moving back and forth
between this table and the individual titles discussed below.

Before proceeding to a discussion of the titles, we should note that two clans, Bakyaŋ and Bərdləng, are no longer represented on Sukur mountain. The Midala title used to be vested in Bakyaŋ and it is hard to believe that Karandu previously held no title at all. Kwasha, a recently arrived clan, is the only one definitely known not to have held a title.

The title-holders

Curiously there is no sakun word that unambiguously denotes the title-holders. Ndahay pə kə mbərəm, meaning “persons at the head of the community,” comes closest to it, while pəshili designates those title-holders who are privileged to enter the chief’s house at any time. Title-holders carry a thin wooden staff with a short fork at the top end (jif dlegaw).

The chief and his supporters


Tliɗi, usually written Hidi, means chief in sakun and the title is applied to chiefs beyond Sukur. During the period of village industry the chief ruled Sukur subject to the threat of deposition by other factions of his Dur clan and the checks and balances of the clan system. Although he carried out no priestly duties, those that might have been his being delegated to Tləsəku, he played a central role in community ceremonies, especially the Ɓər initiation and Yawal, the latter festival celebrating his chieftaincy and the chiefly Dur clan. He exerted a form of domain over the land of Sukur; for example he designated land for the use of newcomers. It is said that he or his sons might on occasion seize livestock and that a powerful Hidi could arrogate to himself all the mahogany trees on a hillside. He judged his people, fined and punished them. It would seem that Dzarma and Tlagama acted as his henchman in such matters, probably acting in concert with other members of his household and of clan Dur.

He negotiated with other chiefs regarding access to raw materials for the iron industry and with local and long distance traders visiting the weekly iron market, from which he greatly benefited. Partly in return for his facilitation of the iron industry he received goods and services from his people in a form of tax. Until complaints were made to the Mandate administration in Hidi Matlay’s times, the chief received a hind leg of all bulls that were ceremonially slaughtered. He still receives a token quantity of meat. He is regarded by many neighbor chiefs as their ritual senior and played, and still may play, a part in their installation, sending Tlagama (with other representatives) to shave their heads, leaving a hairlock into which some of their predecessor’s hair would be woven.

The regalia of chieftaincy include a central hairlock, always hidden by a cap, and an iron staff and bracelet, both with attached iron medicine envelopes, used only on certain ceremonial occasions.

The powers of Sukur chiefs depended upon their personalities, political skills and the larger political situation. Although the independence of Sukur had been severely damaged by Hamman Yaji and subsequently diminished in the course of the Mandate, its chiefs still retained considerable freedom of action at the local level. From 1961, when Northern Cameroons became part of Nigeria’s then Northern Region, Sukur and its neighbors began to be more effectively integrated into regional and later state administrations. Successive chiefs lost power as their right to administer justice was reduced and their chiefly role was combined with that of servant of the state. Until 1993 when a Sukur District was created, the chief acted as the representative of Sukur and several satellite settlements vis à vis the Adamawa state government, but he has now been de facto demoted to the lower status of village head.

Hidi Gəzik in a less formal moment.

Rwa Tliɗi

The term, which literally means child (rwa) of Hidi has several senses. Most generally it is used to refer to younger men of the chiefly patriline or section who are or more precisely were, potentially at least, in contention for succession to the chieftaincy. French ethnographers sometimes call these the “princes.” As a title it referred to the heir apparent, ideally but not often actually a son of the chief, who would act for him in the his absence including judging cases. From about 1960 the title was no longer used in this sense since a) appointment of the Hidi came to depend more and more upon negotiations with the civil administration and the chiefly hierarchy headed by the Lamido of Yola, and b) the tasks formerly delegated to Rwa Tliɗi fell to Wakili.

According to one source, when the chief died the Rwa Tliɗi would inherit at least one of his wives. If the Rwa Tliɗi was the son of a ɗai wife he would inherit a ɗai wife on his father’s death.

During the Ɓər initiation ceremony one of the youths of Dur clan – and in former times no doubt a Rwa Tliɗi close to the chief – is appointed leader of the initiates with the temporary title of Rwa Tliɗi. Cohorts of initiates are remembered by the names of their Rwa Tliɗis. The leader is assisted by a second-in-command called Rwa Nza (The literal meaning appears to be the young man who condoles or sympathizes with the Rwa Tliɗi ), a title that does not otherwise exist. It is the privilege of clan Kiggi to provide the Rwa Nza.

A son of former Hidi Ziraŋkwadə and Wakili (behind) relax during Ɓər.


The title is borrowed from Arabic via Hausa where it has the general sense of representative (Abraham 1962).

The first Hidi to have a Wakili was Nzaani (1923-34), seemingly because he had to leave the village to wait on the District Head and British administrators, and Wakili’s main job was at that time to accompany Hidi on these journeys. It would seem that the role changed to become that of the chief’s spokesman and envoy as the state administration demanded ever more frequent interaction between visits of representatives of the various communities to the seats of the local government to which they are assigned. For Sukur this was Gulak until very recently but has now, with the creation of a Northern Madagali Local Government Area, become Madagali.

Conversely, if the Hidi is absent, Wakili now acts as his deputy. Wakilis have always been of the chiefly clan and fairly close relatives, e.g., cousins, of the chief.


This title, of Bornoan origin (Forkl 1985), is held by a senior member of the chiefly clan. According to Shaw (1935) there were two Makarmas, the chief’s “executive officer[s]”, one with special responsibility for Sukur’s upper and the other for the lower wards. It would seem unlikely that, if Shaw is correct, these corresponded with the two offices as they exist at present.

In 1992 the Makarma was Putanga Jaweli; by 1996 he had died and been replaced. The Makarma is appointed by the Hidi, and acts as his close advisor; he is his supporter on ceremonial occasions, and was formerly his supporter in arms. He also assists the Makarma bin huɗ at the installation of the Hidi. It would seem that there has been in the past considerable and variable overlap in the duties of the Rwa Tliɗi, Wakili and Makarma – to the point that Rwa Tliɗi might also be Makarma.


Zirahə, a former Makarma, displays the head of the bull he has sacrificed to celebrate a son's initiation.


Makarma bin huɗ

Bin huɗ literally means “ties the belly” and refers to a critical element in the installation of a Hidi when this title-holder ties a black turban around his waist. Unlike the Makarma, the Makarma bin huɗ, who stems from a patriline that has never held the chieftaincy, holds his office by inheritance. Today it would seem that his duties are entirely ceremonial. However, the Makarma bin huɗ was formerly one of Hidi’s envoys to Gudur and, it seems, the leader of a delegation engaged in a primarily ritual enterprise. The present title-holder remembers his father going on such a mission to Gudur at the time of the last locust plagues in the early to mid-1930s.

Fa tə Tliɗi


Fa tə Tliɗi (literally “father of the chief”) is accurately described by Shaw (1935) as “the titular father and personal advisor” of the chief. He is appointed by the chief and, at least since Nzaani’s time, has always been an elder of Shagwam clan, though he could, we were told, be chosen from Kəmavuɗ or Karandu, the other two clans closely allied to Dur. While Fa tə Tliɗi is appointed by the chief, it is said that he can not be dismissed by him, a sophisticated political mechanism for ensuring that his advice will be disinterested.

The Fa tə Tliɗi gives fatherly advice to the chief as requested and on his own account; mostly he seems to be called upon and may be asked to pass information on to other counselors. As the Hidi’s titular father he does not clap his hands as do other elders to mark approval of chiefly statements – a gesture combining aspects of prayer and agreement somewhat akin to the use of “Amen” – but snaps one index finger over the back of the other (making quite a noise).

He plays a minor role in certain ceremonies. He observes the sacrifice at Mixyrux during the Zwaku ceremony that purifies the village. At Yawal he dances on a particular flat rock on the south side of the Patla. Near the end of the rains he places a granary cover on a nearby rock, the “yim Fa tə Tliɗi.”

Fa tə Tliɗi observes the Zwaku sacrifice at Mədlirəh hill.


The title is of Bornoan origin and was not mentioned by Shaw; MacBride (1937) describes him as “War leader & priest of the Tson cult.” In 1992, Bizha Usmana, the then incumbent, a Karandu in his 70s, since deceased and succeeded by a nephew, told us that in the past Midalas called out the fighting men by standing on a rocky height, blowing a carak flute, threatening to go into the field alone if necessary, and declaring that “Vultures are eating my meat in the bush,” which is to say that enemies are robbing Sakun of its livestock. In the time of the Mandate, his father was the last to have done this. However, the Midala’s leadership in war was always rather ritual than military, and is now entirely symbolic.

The Midala title was once vested in the Bakyaŋ clan but has been held by Karandu for at least four generations. Bizha Usmana, Midala in the 1990s, who listed eleven Karandu Midala predecessors, told us that the transfer took place in the following manner

A long time ago the Karandu clan tried to persuade the [mid- to late 19th century] Hidi Bagana to give them the Midala title. The Bakyaŋ Midala called out his men and those of Karandu to fight off an enemy, but when they arrived at the border of Sukur, revealed that this was a ruse. A fight between Bakyaŋ and Karandu ensued and men died. On their return the Hidi blamed the Bakyaŋ and gave the title to Karandu.

If this story is true it may well provide the reason the Bakyaŋ migrated west to the Məldəng massif and on into Margi territory.

A Bakyaŋ elder denied this (as did a Məldəng elder), but confirmed that an ancestor, whom he named as Ruta, had held the office, and told the following story.

[At sometime before Hamman Yaji] the Duwa [Kapsiki of Rhoumzou] kept on attacking; many Sukur were killed and the people wept at the battlefield. The senior elder of Bakyaŋ was stubborn and strong. He said to the Hidi, ” I will follow you and we will see what is going on.” So he went to the battlefield and himself fought the Duwa, killing them so that they ran away. Then he returned home. The Hidi said “I will make you to be close to me, will make you Midala.” The new Midala lived next to Karandu neighbors who at that time held the Fa tə Hidi post.

At present the Midala leads the armed procession (seen here) – an expedition to drive out evil and the spirits of the dead – during the Zwaku ceremony. Shortly afterwards, in a remarkable rite of purification of both the chief and his house, he projects water, in a motion that combines tossing and pouring, from a calabash through a hole in the enclosure wall into the Hidi’s hands and utters a prayer. On the first day of the Yama pə Patla ceremony (sometimes known as Təkayis and held on 28 November in 1992) he makes an offering of beer at pair of deep grindstone-mortars (tson) resting one on top of the other next to Buge, the megalithic throne room on the Patla. He also has other lesser ritual responsibilities.

The Məldəng massif west of Sukur across the Nawu valley
Midala on his rock during the Zwaku campaign to drive evil out of Sukur.


The title can probably be construed as “tlə”, a prefix seemingly of Wandala origin and meaning “person responsible for” and Muzui, a hill just north of the Hidi’s house. He is a minor title-holder of Kəmavuɗ clan whose title has been in his patriline for an indefinite period and was last held by his father’s father. Formerly he played a part in a ceremony, long lapsed, held on Muzui hill during which Tləsəku prayed to Zhigəla on behalf of the community and, atypically, a cow was slaughtered rather than a bull. Nowadays his only duty is to clear the paved way to the Ndilləi dance ground before the Yawal ceremony, and on that occasion to cook and bring eight bowls of millet porridge and a large bowl of bean sauce for the Hidi’s musicians, who scarcely taste it before the children rush in and grab what they can.

Tləməzui is the last of the titles held by the three clans allied to Dur. Although their holders may be influential, none carry any real power and the most significant office, that of Midala, was only reassigned from Bakyaŋ to Karandu in the later 19th century. Previously no title was vested in that clan although Karandu men were eligible to be appointed Fa tə Tliɗi. We suggest that the interests of these clans are so firmly aligned with the Dur, with whom they share the Gədəm praise name, that their loyalty does not require to be assured with any more substantial offices.

The chief's retainers


The title is of Wandala origin. Shaw (1935) describes the title-holder as the “principal (or final) voice or veto in the selection of the Hlidi.” This seems mistaken. At present there are two Tləfu, commonly described as senior and junior.

The senior Tləfu, appointed by the Hidi from the Kwabala clan, now has mainly ceremonial duties. At first planting he is part of the delegation sent with gifts to the Wula rain priest (Tluwala) whom he lodges on visits to Sukur. The present incumbent stated that in former times Tləfu acted on ceremonial occasions, for example at Yawal when coups were likely, as Hidi’s body guard, being expected to defend him, if necessary to the death. If the Tləfu ran away, Dur would burn his house down! With Rwa Tliɗi or Makarma, the senior Tləfu would act as a judge in the Hidi’s absence, also participating in trials before the chief by giving him judicial advice.

In olden times, we were told by former chief Zirangkwadə in 1991, there used to be only one Tləfu, but people complained that he lived too far away in Sukur’s lower wards. Therefore Hidi appointed a junior one to live near his house in Jira.

The junior Tləfu, not previously reported, is also appointed by the Hidi and is from clan Gadə. His responsibilities include entering the chief’s granaries (which the Hidi is spiritually too highly charged to do) to distribute grain to his wife or wives, acting as the Hidi’s dresser and accompanying him on ceremonial occasions and dancing with him at Ɓər. At Zwaku he cooks the food offered to the dead by the chief and on this and other occasions he plays the tim drum. Although these duties can be described as those of a chamberlain, he also acted more or less as the chair of a meeting of title-holders and other men held during Zwaku.

The junior Tləfu, cap crushed down on his head and carrying a fly whisk and the chief's iron staff, dances with the chief at Ɓər.

The office has been held in Gadə for at least three generations. We suspect that whether or not the number of Tləfu has increased from one to two – and a third “honorary” Tləfu was appointed by the previous Hidi – some domestic offices formerly performed by the Birima have been taken on by the junior Tləfu.

The selection of the two Tləfus from clans that hold no other titles is indicative of an enduring chiefly policy aimed at integrating Sukur as a political entity. In this case the clans are both resident in the lower wards of Sukur where acceptance of the Dur dynasty is less established than in Jira. The granting of titles – and of course the good treatment of title-holders – helps to bind the Kwabala and Gadə clans, or at least the close relatives of the office holders, to the chief. The appointment by Chief Gəzik of a man in his late thirties or early forties to serve as senior Tləfu exemplifies his policy of engaging with the younger men (“as the old do nothing but drink beer”.!).

The Tləfu title can also be used more or less informally as when a man who had been adopted into the village as a boy (a cirmuyin) was later described as a tlufu to Hidi Zirangkwadə. In this case we suspect that the incumbent was responsible only for menial tasks ahd did not, for example, dance with the chief on formal occasions. He was, in effect, a part time junior steward to the chief.

Birima (and "Dala")

According to the Reverend Kulp (1935) the term Birima, which is of Bornoan origin, referred to:

… the eunuchs who guarded the royal household in Sukur … The hut in which the children of the royal household slept was on a rock above the huts of the eunuchs and guarded by them. The path leading up to the children’s hut ran by the hut of the eunuchs. There was no other way of reaching it.

Shaw (1935) says that Birima was “responsible for the royal corn-bins,” and Kirk-Greene (1960) has him “in charge of royal concubines and children.” Although one might be tempted to see “concubines” as a misreading of “corn-bins,” Kirk-Greene is following Kulp, but he also wrote of castrated royal bodyguards who were still alive when he visited Sukur in the 1950s (see under Tləgəm below).

In the 1990s we found opinions confused regarding these (or this) relatively unimportant title-holders. The junior Tləfu claimed that Birima titles were vested in Habega Oy and Bərdləng clans, but that the previous incumbents had moved away. The Hidi and Fa tə Tliɗi agreed that Birimas, who, unlike among the Margi, were never slaves, assisted the Tləfu, looking after work in the chief’s house. They also stated that before the time of Hamman Yaji, certain slaves captured in war were emasculated and put to work in the Hidi house. We also heard of “Dala”, suppposedly yet another title. Chief Gəzik told us he thought Dala had been a minor official of Kigi clan who had a room at the north end of the Hidi house and some responsibility for slaves and for animals brought by northern traders that remained unsold at the close of the market. He was not a counselor; the office lapsed at some time before 1960. Meanwhile Tlagama informed us that there used to be only one gatekeeper, a man called Zlangelma, who was on duty from dawn to dusk and went home at night.

At present an elder of clan Zwahəi, said to be acting as Birima, accompanies the Hidi at Yawal, carrying a bowl into which Hidi will supposedly urinate if necessary.

What are we to make of all this? We suggest that there was never an retainer with the title “Dala,” but that one or more free-born Birimas, appointed by the Hidi of the time, carried out a variety of tasks about the Hidi house, some of which have now become the responsibility of the junior Tləfu. One of the Birimas may have been called Dala. These minor title-holders seem to have been separate from gate keepers – some of whom were slaves and eunuchs – employed at various times and in various numbers to manage access to the chief’s house. Such traffic control would surely have been necessary in the time of the iron trade, especially if the chief had more than a few wives and children.


Hidi Gəzik, preceded by men of clan Dur and followed by drummers, process to the Yawal dance ground. Immediately behind him, wearing a pale blue robe is th acting Birima, carrying a small bowl.


The title is of Wandala origin. MacBride (1937) describes him as “Head of the barber smiths; confers Hair-lock on new Llidi and on those chiefs whose appointments are confirmed by the Llidi”.

The present incumbent has held the office since before Hidi Matlay’s abdication in 1960. He is a smith of clan Rəvai in whose patriline the office has been passed down from father to son for generations. He confirmed that his father had been responsible for feeding the Hidi’s slaves that were for sale and said that he remembered him doing it. If this is so, then, given Tlagama’s age, traffic in slaves must have continued into Nzaani’s (1923-34) chieftaincy. It certainly did elsewhere in the region.

According to one usually reliable source Tlagama was also responsible for the order and cleaning of the iron market. No one paid him a market tax, although he might receive small gifts (an onion was suggested!). Tlagama denied this and also that his predecessors bore any responsibility for protecting the Hidi, suggesting that keeping order was Makarma’s task. However, we received several indications from others that Tlagamas were called upon by chiefs to enforce their commands and decisions (see under Dzarma below)

Tlagama with his Kalangu rwa daŋ drum

The present Tlagama described his duties as follows:

 to shave the head and dress the hairlock of the Hidi at his installation and later as required,
 to play the squeeze drum (ruwi dang) when the Hidi appears on various occasions including Yawal, and
 to shave heads of chiefs of other communities as part of their installation ceremonies.

This constituted ritual recognition of what is accepted in the region as Sukur’s seniority, due, we suggest, not to political overlordship past or present but rather to its antiquity as a socio-political entity in the region and perhaps its preeminence in the iron trade. Tlagama has himself been, either accompanying his father or on his own, to shave the heads of the chiefs of Kurang and Damay on the Sukur plateau; Kamale (Higi); Gulak, Kojiti, Palam, Maiva, Vapura (all Margi); Wula and its Muduvu offshoot; Mabas; and Vamay (possibly the Mafa settlement of Mavoumay west of Mokolo).


The origin of the title is unknown but appears to include the same Wandala prefix as in Tlagama.
The title is not mentioned in the archival sources and Kirk-Greene (1960) appears to confuse Tləgəm with Tlagama when he states that the latter was “the principal castrator … in this part of the northern Cameroons the most skilled operator…Two such victims were alive when I was last in Sukur; both had been castrated and then appointed as dogarai [a Hausa term] or royal bodyguards.”

While Tlagama denied that his forebears acted as castrators, Tlagama told us that his father’s father had been required to emasculate (rather than castrate) Hamman Yaji’s slaves, and this was confirmed by others. Kirk-Greene (1960:87) is almost certainly correct in stating that this practice “reached a peak during the reign of Hamman Yaji … the male prisoners, mostly from Matakam and Moda, were sent up to Sukur for gelding before they entered his compound as custodians of the harem.”

Such brutal surgery was not, Tlagama insisted, the true work of an office that has been held for generations in one smith/potter patriline of the Kwazhuwa clan. The present incumbent, with the chief’s approval, took over from his brother when he moved down the mountain to Rugudum. He beats the ma ka daŋ drum at Ɓər and on other occasions and assists otherwise at ceremonies.

Dalatə (l. with hairlock), Tləgəm and the Habəga Humtəva Mbəzəfwai (r.) on Dlang during Ɓər 1992.


The title is of Bornoan origin; the functions, according to Shaw (1935), are those of “herald or clan crier.” The title is vested in clan Zwahəi; the present holder took over the office from his father’s brother. When bulls are sacrificed Dzarma is authorized to collect the beasts’ windpipes, thought to increase his vocal power.

Dzarma’s duties include:

 At Hidi’s order to cry out announcements regarding special events, days when no work should be done, or if serious sickness requires offerings, and in theory the date of Zwaku (but not other ceremonies). In 1992-93 we heard him cry the date of elections and he also called people to weed Hidi’s fields.

 At Yawal after Hidi dances he cries “Woo’a!

Wa pə kə!” – Attention! wound on head! – three times (as the junior Tləfu thrice offers the chief small balls of porridge, of which Hidi tastes a little from each). This warns people that ceremony is ending and that they should keep out of the way of Hidi’s horse.
 In olden days if a person was suspected of thievery, Dzarma would go to his house and summon him to appear before the chief. If he refused, Dzarma, Tlagama and Tləgəm would go to his house and take all his possessions, stacking them on the Patla until he presented himself for judgement.
 According to more than one report Dzarma was responsible for selling the Hidi’s iron currency bars at the weekly iron market.
 He is also supposed to sacrifice a goat every year on Muva mountain before the harvest. He has not done this for some years.

Dzarma is clearly an important retainer of the chief, serving him as a herald and as an “officer of the peace.” He also has ritual responsibilities though these seem never to have been arduous, and it may be that he assisted the Rəvai Mbəzəfwai [see below] rather than performing rights on his own. This aspect of his work has fallen into abeyance.

Dzarma leads Sukur men dancing at a Damay funeral.

Tlyam mbərəm

This title is indigenous and may be construed as tlyam = hear + mbərəm = settlement or community. There are in fact two of them, one for Təka (Sukur’s lower wards) and one for Jira (the upper wards). The situation is complicated as Tlyam mbərəm Təka holds another title, Jir dək’u, and the person whom we thought was Tlyam mbərəm Jira in 1992-93 was in fact acting both in this role and also as Barkuma. We suspect that the Tlyam mbərəm titles are held at the chief’s pleasure (though in full cognizance of the political implications of their attribution), whereas the others, which fall into the priestly category and are discussed below, are more strictly inherited.

Tlyam mbərəm Təka

The present Tlyam mbərəm is a Yanna and inherited both this office and that of Jir dək’u within his patriline. As Tlyam mbərəm he reports on matters relating to the state of the lower Sukur community and may be called by Hidi for advice or to receive information. In practice it would seem that in these days the various ward heads (Bəlamas), of which he is in fact one, fulfil these functions. As Jir dək’u he has priestly duties that will be considered below.

Tlyam mbərəm Jira

Our understanding of this title and the office of Barkuma is, for the reasons given above, less clear than we would wish. By 1996 a Barkuma had been appointed, and, shortly before we left Sukur, we learned that the real Tlyam mbərəm Jira had resumed his functions.

Besides the responsibilities of a Tlyam mbərəm noted above he may have certain ceremonial duties, but it is not entirely clear which these are and which are the responsibility of Barkuma. During Zwaku in 1992 the acting Tlyam mbərəm Jira/Barkuma went at night with the junior Tləfu through village shouting “Boo va!”, and on the next day provided Midala and his symbolic war party with beer at the Midala rock below Muva mountain. These could all be classified as the tasks of a retainer. Other priestly responsibilities that can be reliably attributed to Barkuma are discussed in the following section.


The title-holders in the retainers’ category so far discussed carry out primarily secular functions. Where they participate in ritual it is generally in a subsidiary role, or perhaps in the case of the two Tlyam mbərəms by virtue of their possessing other titled offices. The Tləsəku on the other hand is both a retainer and a priest, and thus spans these two categories of title-holders.

The Tləsəku title appears to be indigenous and to relate to responsibility for ritual (suku = altar, usually a pot representing one or more deceased family members). Shaw (1935) describes him as “responsible for the Son, the tutelary deity of the Sakun. Also for the affairs of the women of the royal household.” Shaw is mistaken in that tson are grindstone-mortars often used as altars. Zhigəla is the sakun name of the high (sky) god.

The Tləsəku’s office, inherited within a Məldəng patriline, may be described as that of the Hidi’s chaplain. He performs sacrifices and offerings on the chief’s behalf, most if not all addressed to Zhigəla, and, during and after the Hidi’s installation, introduces him to the arcane aspects of the Hidi’s house (Smith and David 1995). He also introduces the Hidi’s brides to their new home, prays over their children, and plays a role in naming ceremonies.

The present incumbent listed the following tasks (“a” through “f” are in the order he gave them):

a) He introduces the new Hidi into his house and slaughters a goat on the tswan Tliɗi altar around which the spirits of dead Hidis congregate.

b) If Hidi or a member of his family is sick, he prays over him (to Zhigəla) and blows pwa over them as a form of blessing (pwa is millet flour here mixed with water). If a diviner indicates that the sickness is the work of spirits (hərəi), Tləsəku takes offerings and places them on civi (paths) as appropriate.

c) He makes offerings on behalf of the chief before harvest (in the 9th month) and indeed makes all the offerings and sacrifices for the Hidi that the latter would, were he a normal person, make for himself, including making offerings on the altars of past Hidis.

d) If a child is born to the Hidi, he blows pwa on the mother and after the period of confinement he (and not the midwife) carries the baby out of the room, introducing it to the community.

e) He introduces new brides to the chief’s house. If one of the chief’s wives leaves him or is divorced and marries someone else but later remarries the chief, she must give a cock and an empty hurəm zwa beer jug to Tləsəku, who reintroduces her into the house.

f) At Yawal he goes in front of Hidi with a small jar (meleleyo) on each shoulder, one filled with beer, the other empty for the Hidi to spit and urinate into if he needs to behind a blanket held by the chief’s sons-in-law. Over a period of days he makes a series of offerings at Yawal də’ɓa (Day 1), Dalak (2), on the Patla (3), at Diɗa and Ndilləi (4) and again on the Patla (5).

g) At Ɓər he prays to God – as always – asking Zhigəla to be with the initiates and let them marry and have children for Sukur, and for Hidi to be healthy and rule in peace treating all equally. At the end of the ceremony he makes a very similar prayer.

h) He plays a role in the chief’s burial.

i) The Tləsəku blows pwa over the Hidi’s daughters when they marry.

j) Formerly the Tləsəku was called upon to sacrifice, though he did not butcher, all animals offered by Dur on ceremonial occasions, e.g., Hən dlə.

k) Formerly he prayed for the community at a sacrificial ceremony on Muzi hills

The Məldəng clan of which Tləsəku is a senior elder is one of those with the praise name Habega. These, according to Shaw, “profess aboriginal status,” and they provide three of the six priestly title holders known as Mbəzəfwai. Like Dalatə, another of this priestly group, Tləsəku wears a hairlock on his forehead. It is difficult to avoid the inference that the priestly role of Tləsəku, though by no means all or even most of his priestly functions, precedes the establishment of the Dur dynasty. His office has in a sense been co-opted into the chief’s service – not imposed by force but rather negotiated in the spirit of reconciliation that is so characteristic of politics in the Mandara mountains. This is even more evident in the case of the next title-holder to be considered: Dalatə.

Zwaku, 1992: Tləsəku has sacrificed a bull for a Dur neighbor. After their throats are cut and the blood collected, bulls are placed in this position until offerings of the blood are made and butchering begin
In the early morning of 11 Nov. 1992, Tləsəku (r) leads dancers at the low key Yama pə Patla ceremony as Hidi, on his megalithic throne, watches from behind a blanket.

Title-holders with priestly functions

The title-holders in this category all carry out (or used to perform) important rites on behalf of the community but none are full-time priests. They fall into three groups, the first consisting of Dalatə, the Mbəzəfwais and Jir dək’u, the second containing only Barkuma, and the third the title holders of the smith/potter Təvwa and closely related Dəmsa clans. The Sukur recognize the first group together with Tləduv and Tləsəku, but not apparently Barkuma, as tu hərəi, persons responsible for the most important shrines.

The first set of titles is vested in clans long settled in Sukur and of the farmer caste – or in the case of Rəvai of the farmer section of that clan. The Hidi does not appoint nor can he discharge any of these title holders, nor indeed is there any reason why he should do so. Despite the success of various Christian sects in recruiting adherents, the failure of any of these title-holders to carry out their sacrificial duties would be strongly disapproved by the community. It does, however, appear to have happened in the case of one shrine that is no longer served.

The title is of Bornoan origin and is vested in the Kuləsəgəi clan. Shaw (1935: App. A p. 44, item 2) recognized Dalatə as the heir of the dynasty that preceded the Dur at Sukur, but not that he fulfills important ritual functions. Retention by a representative of the former chiefly clan of responsibilities for maintaining relationships with spirits, particularly those of the land, is typical of dynastic replacement in this region. That this seemingly ancient title is of Bornoan origin might suggest that at least some Bornoan titles are earlier than Wandala-derived titles.

In 1992 the present incumbent described his duties to us. Significantly the first he listed was to take part in the Yawal feast and to pray at Yawal dəɓa on behalf of the community. “Otherwise,” he said, “the Hidi could not come”. The active participation of the representative of the former Kuləsəgəi dynasty in a ceremony that celebrates the chief and the Dur clan is an expression of acceptance of the political status quo and a guarantee of peace within Sukur. The prayer is addressed directly to Zhigəla on behalf of the community.

Dalatə listed his other duties as follows:

2) He sacrifices at hərəi Muŋgwolai, a shrine on the small summit immediately north of his house. This was the former site of the Ɓər initiates’ retreat, but as many died on account of the spirit of the place, the retreat was transferred to the nearby Dlang Mbadlavai (“rocky hill of the initiates”).

3) He has general responsibility for Dlang Mbadlavai, including offering to its spirit. During the first day of Ɓər he seats the initiates on their respective clan rocks on Dlang and exhorts them to unity. On this as on other ritual occasions he should wear a loinskin and no shirt (in 1992 he wore trousers). The absence of a hat reveals the hairlock on his forehead.

4) He assists informally and wearing ordinary clothes in the sacrifice at hərəi Mədlirəh during Zwaku. He expressed this by saying it was his task “to act as Tləfu to” the Mbəzəfwai of clan Gadə (see below).

5) He decides where wells should be dug, going with a special calabash containing pwa or beer mash and offering this to the local spirit. He then acts as chief engineer during the well digging and its revetting with stone blocks. He told us that in the old days only Dalatə did this form of dowsing, but more recently others, including Mbəzəfwais, have undertaken it. Given their special relations with local spirits, this seems appropriate.

The special relationship existing between Dalatə and Hidi is made manifest on several occasions. For example, once he has carried out the ceremony at Yawal dəɓa, he may no more enter the chief’s house. At the bull festival, Hən dlə, Dalatə and Hidi are the last to slaughter their bulls. And, although we cannot vouch for its truth or indeed decipher its precise meaning, we note that according to Shaw (1935), Dalatə “is still given a ‘royal’ burial which is paralleled exactly at Wula.”


The title is indigenous to Sukur and one that we are unable to translate though it may include the element of fwai, tree. Sacrifice on behalf of the community is the primary duty of at least five of the six holders of this inherited title, all drawn from clans long established in Sukur. The Mbəzəfwai are listed below by clan:

1) Gadə clan, resident in Dzuvok. He is the senior Mbəzəfwai in the sense that his sacrifice is regarded vital to the welfare of the community and initiates a series of sacrifices by Tləduv and other Mbəzəfwai. The present incumbent is the senior man of his clan and followed his father and father’s father in the office. In September he performs the sacrifice central to the Zwaku rites of purification undertaken at Mədlirəh hill near where he lives in Dzuvok ward. The sacrifice is offered to Zhigəla on behalf of the whole community. The victim used to be a bull but, since few Sukur are now prepared to contribute to customary rites, on the two occasions we were present, the bull was replaced once by a small goat and once by a piece of skin of a bull bred on the mountain. Dalatə assists and Fa tə Tlidi observes this sacrifice, later reporting to the chief. Before we attended this rite, regarded as essential to the health and prosperity of Sukur, one of the Bəlamas told us that this Mbəzəfwai was the senior one and that:

On the first day of Zwaku he sacrifices a goat at Ŋwa Mixyrux, leaving the goat overnight, unbutchered, in a cleft in the rocks. Next morning he inspects the goat, hoping to find a kind of army ant (mashalak) on the wound, as if they are absent there will be no millet. He butchers the goat and cooks it in water only – but when you taste it, it tastes salty! Then he shouts “Woo’a ru Dwa,” [addressed to the spirits of the dead and meaning “Hey! Go off to the Kapsiki”].

The goat was not in fact left overnight (the excuse made to Hidi was that it was very small and the Mbəzəfwai is lame) but the practice makes good sense to the Sukur in that a swarming of insects is associated with an abundance of guineacorn and pearl millet.

So far as we know the Zwaku sacrifice is the single ritual act carried out by this Mbəzəfwai on behalf of a group larger than his own lineage. He makes no separate sacrifice for his clan.

We shall afford the other Mbəzəfwai briefer treatment but hope at a later date to describe in more detail how their sacrifices, carried out in the 9th month (November) shortly before the millet harvest, creates a ritual barrier around Sukur, protecting it from their enemies, human and of the spirit world.

2) Hwatlə, resident in Daza. Following Tləduv’s sacrifice at Kushir shrine (see below), he begins the sequence of sacrifices that precedes the harvest. He serves the Duŋvuwa shrine at the top of the escarpment leading down to Mataka and Midlu. At Zwaku he sacrifices a chicken and covers the roof of either the divination room or Drizha in the Hidi’s residence.

3) Ka-Ozha, resident in Gwafak. Sacrifices at Manjam shrine on the way to Damay, probably before harvest. After the first good rain, Makarma summons him and, together with other title-holders, he sows the first sorghum in one of Hidi’s fields. He then takes presents provided by the chief to Tluwala, the Wula rain maker. Next day all may sow.

4) Habega Humtəva, resident in Duŋgom. He has a shrine marked by a large dəɓa jar in Duŋgom where he also sacrifices before the harvest, burying bones of the goat under or near the pot. He does not tie strips of its skin across any path but it seems that the motivation is similar and that his sacrifice blocks the way to evil coming from the deep Nawu valley. Perhaps in part because he lives closest to the house of the chief, this Mbəzəfwai plays an important role in several ceremonies including initiation and in the installation of the chief.

5) Rəvai, resident in Dalak. Zerahə Madə, the incumbent in 1992-93, had died and been replaced by a nephew when we returned in 1996. He sacrifices before the harvest at Muva shrine located at the north end of Muva and near the way leading to Rhoumzou and Kapsiki territory. His sacrifice is the last in the pre-harvest sequence.

6) Habega ‘wai, resident in Gwafak.  Unlike the others of the same title he does not sacrifice when the millet is nearly ready to harvest although he assists Jir dək’u (see below) at such a sacrifice. He serves the Gulazə shrine, sacrificing there (we think) during Zwaku. His differentiation from other Mbəzəfwai is perhaps explicable in that there are at present only two Habega ‘wai households in Sukur. Their forebears moved some time ago from ‘wai at the south end of Muva to Gwafak. When asked by Hidi (Ziraŋwadə ?) to take responsibility for a shrine at ‘wai he refused, though it would excellent sense if that were the shrine at which his predecessors sacrificed and prayed to block evil invading Sukur from the south

Jir dək’u

Jir dək’u means stallion and is the other title held by the Yanna elder who is also Tlyam mbərəm Təka. As Jir dək’u he has priestly functions comparable to those of a Mbəzəfwai; indeed the Habega ‘wai Mbəzəfwai confirmed to us that Jir dək’u sacrifices before the harvest at hərəi Takur, a shrine on the way to Wula and Kurang, and that on that occasion he prays to Zhigəla and ties strips of the hide of the goat sacrificed across the way. Thus the unexpected absence of a Mbəzəfwai in the fifth clan of the Habega cluster is explained – though not why his title is so named.

In the past Jir dək’u played an important, if at first sight curious, role in a rite carried out in conjunction with the Zwaku purification ceremony. He carried a live mouse around the north and east sides of the Sukur plateau to ‘wai on the southeast side of Muva. There he met Tliɗi Ɗai, who brought a small ritual jar containing the blood of a bull slaughtered for the festival. Jir dək’u then sent the mouse off in the direction of Rhoumzou, carrying with it the evil spirits; it was in effect a scapemouse! Comparable purificatory circumnavigations of the territory are known from Sirak, the Mofu-Diamaré and no doubt occurred elsewhere in the Mandara mountains.



Unlike others in this group, the title is of Wandala origin, perhaps suggesting relative recency. We infer that when members of clan Kiggi returned to Sukur after their exile in Dzu they were accorded a priestly title. However Barkuma is not considered one of the tu hərəi. In 1996 a new Barkuma had been appointed, supposedly by the chief, though it seems more likely that he merely ratified an appointment agreed within a Kiggi section or patriline. The incumbent’s predecessors were Fi Yaŋwa and Kami Kwari, described as brothers though they may not in fact be such close relatives. His duties as he described them to us are listed below, and we have attached the chief’s, our assistants’ and our own comments.

His duties are, he said:

1) to cover the rain shrine (səku yam) near Yawal də’ɓa with a thatch cap after the first rains. This he does with Midala.

2) in the “early rains” to offer two small jars of pwa on Muva at no particular shrine but perhaps on top or on the side of the mountain. He spoke in terms of a family of spirits rather than a single precisely located shrine. In 1992-93 we had heard that at the time of planting Barkuma makes an offering at a large rock on top of Muva. He was said to carry a small beer jar (meleleyo) up on each shoulder and pray on behalf of the Sukur community “to the spirits on behalf of God” to make the village and crops healthy. In the old days a bull is said to have been sacrificed. We suspect that both accounts describe his responsibilities during Zwaku, usually celebrated in September.

Hidi Gəzik told us that:

Barkuma, the junior Tləfu and Tləsəku come during Zwaku to Hidi’s house to cook meat. Barkuma stays that evening then goes with Tləsəku and the junior Tləfu towards his shrine in Muva with meleleyo jars, passing through the gate near Mbuk. His companions turn back at Yawaldə’ɓa while Barkuma continues. Barkuma places one meleleyo at the base of Muva and carries one with a long neck to the summit and puts it on the ground next to a big rock. He turns the mouth of this pot to the rock, and, his back to Sukur, prays. After a prayer to Zhigəla on behalf of Sakun, he pours the beer from the pot onto the ground and goes home.
Our assistants also questioned the absence of a specific shrine on Muva: “putting something anyhow like this can be harmful to the children of the village”.

3) at Hən dlə, the bull festival, Barkuma puts blood from a sacrifice on a certain path (though this may not necessarily be part of his duties as Barkuma).

He probably has other ritual responsibilities. It was only at a late stage in our 1992-93 fieldwork that we thought we had disentangled the Tlyam mbərəm Jira, Barkuma and Dzarma titles, and we are still uncertain to what extent Barkuma and Dzarma perform certain community rites themselves and to what extent one or the other or both act as assistants or acolytes of the Rəvai clan Mbəzəfwai.
On a path through tall sorghum near the Midala's rock, the acting Barkuma (standing) offers beer to members of the expedition sent to drive out evil from Sukur (Zwaku, 1992).


This title, inherited within clan Dəmsa, is one of three held by the Dəmsa (farmer caste) and Təvwa (smith/potter) clans. It is indigenous (though with the possible Wandala prefix) and may mean “responsible for the plain.” In 1992 the office was held by Ndiho Yavarda who had inherited it from his elder brother who, we believe, succeeded his father’s elder brother. Ndiho was an excellent informant, who was most regrettably later killed at a funeral (rin). He has been succeeded by his son.

Tləduv’s role is very similar to that of the Mbəzəfwai; he serves as Dalatə’s assistant at Yawal dəɓa and his most important sacrifice forms part of the same sequence as those of the Mbəzəfwai. It takes place in October at the Kushir shrine, the fig tree where people rest half way down the mountain on the northern paved way. Following on from the Gadə Mbəzəfwai’s Mixyrux sacrifice, it precedes those of the remaining Mbəzəfwai. As in several (probably all but one) of their preharvest sacrifices, strips of the hide of the goat killed are tied across the way from one tree to another, blocking the way to spirits that might wish to enter and harm Sukur.

Tləduv also makes offerings before the harvest at two shrines on the plain to the north of Sukur, at hərəi Muvelim where they used to collect iron ore and “potash” and at hərəi Dlandəv (“stream of the plain”), upstream of a crossing on the way from the mountain to Mefir Sakun. At yet a third shrine, hərəi Goeri, he makes another offering. He takes germinated sorghum, grinds it and boils it, and then puts it into a special calabash (dlehad) and in evening takes the fermenting mash and makes the offering. The next morning he goes very early and offers the mash to two other spirits, carrying his forked staff and speaking to no one on the way. Like the sacrifice at hərəi Kuxir, these offerings are made on behalf of the community.

Other of Tləduv’s duties align him closely with the Təvwa title-holders. In 1992 he told us that when the chief dies, he slaughters a goat at a place where there is a deep hole in the ground and pours the blood into the hole. A hoe with (exceptionally) a socket riveted to the blade and the Hidi’s loinskin are placed in the hole, which is then covered by a stone. These three items go direct to Mpsakəli (Gudur) where they inform the chief of the Hidi’s death. Tləduv also plays a role in the chief’s actual burial, helping to dig the tomb and to seat his body on a low stool within it. Little wonder then that many Sukur regard him and his Dəmsa clan as ɗai whereas they are in fact mbəlim, of the farmer caste.

Tliɗi Ɗai

The title is indigenous and means “chief of the smith/potters,” and indeed was held in a senior section of clan Təvwa different from that of the Ɗai Kərɓa. But it has now lapsed, the last incumbent having been Dalli Kaigama who died in the mid-1980s.

Tliɗi Ɗai specialized in burial, being called on from all over Sukur and its satellite settlements. His duties included dressing the corpse, carrying it on his shoulders to the grave and placing it in the grave. He supervised other funerary smiths. However, he was not involved in the burial of the Hidi. He also did the surgery necessary to remove the fetus from a pregnant woman who died in order for it to be given separate burial.

He went about with his own sub-cylindrical drinking vessel made of grass basketry, sewn in a tight spiral like young boys make for themselves as a hat (mbulari), which he carried over his shoulder on a strap or cord. On the inside a line of squirrel tail hairs was incorporated into the vessel. He wore a hairlock at the back of his head but no cap. These were his insignia. He appears to have been the last of the smiths specializing in burial and who were regarded as dirty in a way that others are not and apparently were not.

Tliɗi Ɗai also specialized in protecting women from spirits. The woman would provide him with a puppy and/or other items suggested by the diviner and he would take them off and bury them, the puppy alive, in an upturned pot as an offering to the spirit.

He also had a responsibility at Zwaku when he carried a pot containing the blood of a bull slaughtered for the festival around the west and to the south end of the Sukur plateau to the area called’wai at the south-west end of Mt Muva. Here he met Jir dək’u (see above).


Ɗai Kərɓa

This title, held by a section of the Təvwa clan, is indigenous. Its meaning “smith of the rock slab” refers to a large flat slab in Ndilləi where they live. In the 1990s the incumbent was Tizhe, son of Jamaare, who had preceded him in the office. Tizhe was then a very old and feeble man with poor sight who has since died. He had not been formally replaced when we visited Sukur in June 2004 and it is possible that his office may, like that of Tliɗi Ɗai, be allowed to lapse.


Ɗai Kərɓa, old and frail, dances on a rock near his home in Ndilləi away from the main Yawal celebration

We interviewed Tizhe and other Təvwa elders in 1992 and they told us that in olden days it was Ɗai Kərɓa who shaved the Hidi’s head and that, when a Ɗai Kərɓa was to be installed the Hidi sent people to summon him and confirmed him in office by tying a turban around his waist. The last time a Ɗai Kərɓa was installed, Midala, one of the Tləfus and Tlagama come to the Ɗai Kərɓa’s outer court with an old Təvwa man as a witness. They brought a large cow skin and a male goat and tied a turban around his waist. He then remained for nine days in a shelter built of mats outside his house. At the end of this period the goat hide was made into a loinskin which the Ɗai Kərɓa put on. He could now reenter his house and was shaved by Tlagama, who left a hairlock. In the final phase of installation the Ɗai Kərɓa and his people went to the Patla. The Hidi came out with beer. He took a calabash and, in a form of blessing, blew a mouthful over the Ɗai Kərɓa, saying, “We will not meet again until I die. If you need to communicate with me, we will do so through our children.” Then they departed to their respective houses.

During ceremonies the Ɗai Kərɓa does not come up to the Patla but stays below on a special rock associated with him beside the paved way. When a Hidi dies, the wife who cooks for him sends food to Ɗai Kərɓa. Similarly if the latter dies, his wife sends food to the Hidi. For nine months after his installation Tlagama continues to shave the Ɗai Kərɓa.

This form of installation parallels that of the Hidi in the tying of a turban around the waist, and in the period spent in a mat shelter. It emphasizes a special relationship between them that is expressed in other ways. Ɗai Kərɓa is the first to slaughter his bull at Hən dlə and, we were told, celebrates his own Yawal in Ndilləi concurrently with the Hidi’s.

While the best known duty of the Ɗai Kərɓa is to direct the Hidi’s funeral, Tizhe regarded his most important responsibility as propitiation of hərəi Ndilləi, a dangerous spirit associated with a baobab; if a man climbs up he risks coming down with a vulva in place of a penis, or he may be afflicted with a smallpox-like rash.

Other title-holders

The following titles, one the imposition of an exterior power and the other held in Wula, are not counted as Sukur titles although their holders play active roles in Sukur life.


The title is of Bornoan origin (though it may not have come directly to Sukur but have passed through Hausa and Fulfulde, the language of the Fulbe) and in Sukur is applied to the heads of the Sukur Sama wards, those of Rugudum and Mataka on the plain and some small satellite settlements. First mentioned by Hamman Yaji in his diary for 1914, the office was adopted by the British Mandate authorities and survives to the present. All serve at the Hidi’s pleasure though probably now with considerable input from the Sukur District Head.

Hidi, seated in a folding chair center, and Bəlamas meet with the deputy District Head (left) to discuss the reorganization of Sukur's wards.

Although they are not title-holders in the same way as others, unless like Tlyam mbərəm Təka they are both, and their office does not of itself qualify them to carry a forked staff, Bəlamas act for the chief and are his counselors, participating as respected elders in meetings including the one held annually and formally in Mbuk during Zwaku.

Tluwala, the Wula rain priest

Resident in Wula’s Kushiri quarter, Tluwala’s family has close connections with Sukur where his Ka-Ozha clan is known as Manjam. He prays for rain for Sukur and numerous other communities and also to abate the squalls that threaten the millet before the harvest. The title, which appears to include the Wandala “tle” prefix, is inherited and the present incumbent is the son and grandson of rain priests.

The indigenous explanation of why Sukur relies on Tluwala for its rain is contained in its origin legends. A much fuller account of Tluwala and his responsibilities is given by Sterner (2003:202-04).

* * *

This concludes the long list of twenty-four Sukur titles and, as of our last count, twenty-six title-holders. Further information on the origins of titles, the appointment of title-holders and other matters is given in a separate file.

Culture Of The Mandara Mountains.