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The Sukur people of Sukur Kingdom in Madagali of Adamawa State


The Sukur people of Sukur Kingdom in Madagali of Adamawa State


The Sukur ethnic group has drawn so much national and international attention because of its immense and spectacular history and culture. The Kingdom of Sukur, in present-day Madagali LGA of Adamawa State, is now a World Heritage Site because of its exceptional landscape which graphically illustrates a form of land use that marks a critical stage in human settlement and its relationship with the environment.

The cultural landscape of the Sukur Kingdom has survived for many centuries and continues to do so at a period when this type of traditional human settlement is going into oblivion because of modernism and science. There are about 16,000 people that constitute the Suklur ethnic group.

They were renowned for their traditional technology, especially that which has to do with the mining, refining and smithing of iron ore. Technology which is defined as “the science of the application of knowledge to practical purpose is also the totality of the means employed by a people to provide itself with the objects of material culture (Webster’s International Dictionary, Vol. III).” Kalu (1988:51-52) observed that the following steps are involved from conceptualization to creation:

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Thinking innovatively and inventively;

Converting that thought process into empirical reality in the form of usable materials;
Passing on the thought process and the methods of conversion to others for utilization to the environment.
The Sukur are highly innovative and inventive people and their ability to transfer this skill of iron smelting and casting to the next generation is highly remarkable.

The Sukur people of Sukur in Madagali of Adamawa State

The word “Sukur” means” vengeance” in Marghi and Kilba languages (Sterner 1998) and “ta Sukur” means “feuding” in the Bura language. The ancestors of the Sukur people fled from violence or “Sukur” and that was why their settlement was named Sukur. The early historian, Barth refers to Sukur (Sugur) as “the natural stronghold of a pagan king whom my [Barth’s] companion constantly called Mai Sugur.”

There are close links between the Damay and the Sukur. An elderly clan member of the Dur chiefly dynasty narrated that one Kup (who was believed to be the first Dur King of Sukur Kingdom) came with two brothers: Dalli and Vagana. Dalli was the third born while Vagana was the eighth child, all of them were of the same mother. They left their home because of an epidemic that was ravaging the house of their father (the chief of Gudur) with four objects: sukuyam, sukujud, sukuda and kafay.

When they reached Ticini River, it was flooded and so they used the kafay [the kafay has been likened to a sickle or curved sword which when lifted up, forms a rainbow and stops rain] to strike the river and parted the waters. But after crossing the valley, Vagana asked for the kafay to be returned to the other side (the Wula territory) but he refused. Kup and Dalli went up to Sukur and it was then that Kup became Hidi.



The Sukur people of Sukur in Madagali of Adamawa State
The Sukur people of Sukur in Madagali of Adamawa State

But another version of this story maintained that it was the senior brother, known as Sakun who crossed the Tacini River with the aid of the kafay and when the two brothers requested for the kafay, he refused to give it to them. It is the Sukur brother who has and retains the kafay, which gives power over the Tacini River while the two brothers kept the sukuyam.

These two brothers are presumed to be the ancestors of Wula and Gulak. The Sukur people, just like the Higi ethnic group claim descent and origin from Gudur. Gudur used to be a magico-religious centre from which many northern Mandara communities or elements within them, claim descent, and to which delegations used to be sent in times of trouble to obtain medicines against various plagues.

The Lamido of Madagali, Hamman Yaji, conquered and plundered the area in the early 1900s. Hamman Yaji kept a personal diary inside which he recorded all his major campaigns.

He recorded that between 1912 and 1920, Sukur Kingdom was raided seven times and that these raids produced 144 Sukur slaves, one horse, a hundred cattle and twenty-four other animals.

The diary revealed that sixty-six people were killed by the late Hamman Yaji during the raids. Hamman Yaji being a very deceptive and vicious man, it was said, took charge of the Kingdom of Sukur and collected tax from the inhabitants but he kept this as a secret from the Europeans.

In fact, Hamman Yaji tried to conceal the existence of Sukur from the Europeans. The experience of the Sukur under Hamman Yaji remains an open sore in the minds of the Sukur. Till today, they distrust Fulbe.

The Sukur ethnic group call themselves Sakun and not Sukur. The nomenclature “Sukur” or “Sakun” applies to both the people and their language. The Sukur language is classified as a Chadic language. It belongs to the Biu-Mandara sub-branch of the Chadic language. It has recently been classified as a Central Chadic language that is independent within the Wandala cluster of the Wandala-Mafa group (Blench 2003).


The Sukur people of Sukur in Madagali of Adamawa State
Maps showing and localizing Sukur Cultural Landscape

The Sukur language is similar to those of the Higi and Kapsiki ethnic groups, and this had been corroborated by the Sukur people. It would therefore be good to say that the Sukur language should be classified as a member of the Central branch of the Bura-Higi group of languages. A comparison of word lists of Sukur language shows that Sukur language, just like the English language, has roots that can be used nominally and verbally. For example, ngus can be rendered as “death,” “a dead person,” or “die” in English. Distinctions are likely to be made on the basis of tone and verbal auxiliaries. A Sukur clergyman, Reverend Waziri, has translated some portions of the New Testament into the Sukur language by the systematic transcription of the Sukur language into Roman characters.

Sterner (1998:89) quote Meek (1931, 1:312-20) as having estimated the population of Sukur to be 1,300, and that Kirk-Greene (1960:68) states that the “original village” of Sukur was 5,033 in 1953, while Nicholas David (1998:58) calculates that the entire population of Sukur people might not exceed 10,000.




The Sukur people of Sukur in Madagali of Adamawa State
The Sukur people of Sukur in Madagali of Adamawa State

The Sukur landscape which is a cultural landscape that has remained in a state of purity, in spite of the challenges posed to it by modern habits and technology, was enlisted as a World Heritage Site on December 2, 1999.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization [UNESCO] has been promoting and developing the Sukur Kingdom and culture. It has provided motorcycles for site guides, fire extinguishers, fire buckets, and communication equipment.

The Adamawa State Government has tarred the access road to the foot of the Sukur hill, provided electricity, and built an imposing gate along the Yola-Maiduguri road. The Sukur land is situated on a plateau and it has been occupied for centuries. Its earliest inhabitants have left abundant traces on the present-day landscape.

The domesticated landscape of the Sukur plateau is characterized by the extensive terracing that displays a kind of sacred quality that is lacking in other parts of Nigeria. It contains sacred trees, entrances, stone fences and ritual sites.
The Sukur Kingdom lies on the Nigeria side of the Mandara-Cameroun borderlands on the plateau ranging from 1000 to 3000 feet above the Maggar valley. It is located 25 kilometres west of Moloko in Cameroun and 17 kilometres south-west of Madagali in Adamawa state.

The Sukur Kingdom occupies an area of 764.40 hectares. The cultural landscape is bound on the west by the River Navu and on the east by the Muzamah and Guska streams. There are many traditional tombs on the hills and a number of shrines and altars, many of them made of ceramic. The presence of local furnaces, ores and grindstones in Sukur suggests, to a great extent that there was a pre-Sukur Iron Age phase

Social life in Sukur is entirely different from what obtains in other neighbouring ethnic groups in Madagali LGA. In Sukur Kingdom, clan membership is a basic requirement for an individual because it bestows critical rights and obligations on the person.

Non-Sukur people find it cumbersome to negotiate through the intricate clan system. It is based on this clan membership that the range of potential marriage partners and means of subsistence is determined and decided. Clans can be defined as “as unilineal descent groups whose members are descended from a common ancestor who lived so far in the past that the members of the clan can not explain precisely how they are related to one another,” (Bailey and Peoples 2002). There are about 25 different clans in Sukur town some of which are the Tuva, the Dumsa, the Kwabala, the Xwati, the Kigi, the Karando, the Dur and the Mangu.

Allegiance to one’s clan during the annual Yawal Festival or during times of violence is a responsibility of all the inhabitants of Sukur. Each of these clans also has its own ancestral cemetery and shrine. The younger generation of Sukur people can be found on the base of the hills and the elders are on the hilltop. Climbing up and down the steep slopes expressively represent a cyclical renewal of age-long ties and loyalty to the elder.

The paved ways represent the supremacy of the older generation over the young, thus emphasizing the independence between the spiritual and the temporal. The present Hidi of the Sukur Kingdom who is the spiritual leader of the people also lives on the hilltop.

The villages are situated on the low lying ground below the Hidi’s Palace. The Hidi is seen as a symbolic wife to the inhabitants of Sukur. He has a very large palace that contains the royal palace, a V.I.P guest chamber, a local brewery, council chambers, royal stables, boys quarters, threshing floors, cow fattening sections and others. The palace is surrounded by a very long stone fence. The present Hidi is from the Dur dynasty which came into being in the 17th century.

The Hidi controls the iron casting technology which gives him an absolute monopoly on the supply of tools [hoes, cutlasses, sickles] weapons[ poisoned arrows, spears and missiles] to his subjects. The Sukur people used these tools and equipment to cultivate the soil and defend their land against external aggression.

The people of Sukur also compensate the Hidi with their income taxes. The Dalatu is the most senior titleholder in the Kingdom of Sukur. The Dalatu is responsible for the safety of the Hidi during the annual Yawal Festival. The Dalatu, it was said, has special powers regarding groundwater. He was responsible for determining where water points and wells should be constructed or dug. It is also said that he shaves once a year. This is why his hair is always untidy and rough.

There are basically two types of marriages in the Kingdom of Sukur: primary and secondary marriages. Clans are exogamous and thus men of different clans “marry each others’ daughters.”

The levirate system is practised within the clan, which means that if a man dies and his widow is willing, his brother can inherit his house and with it the responsibility for looking after his wife or wives and young children. The people of Sukur classify marriage into two. Primary marriage is celebrated with much fanfare. Primary marriage can never be fully dissolved. As for secondary marriage, it is contracted and dissolved with less 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 is not alive, nor can he marry a woman living in a second 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.

Yawal Festival: This is a special annual festival observed by the people of Sukur Kingdom every February of the year to celebrate the Hidi and all the members of the Dur chiefly dynasty for being the custodians of Sukur chieftaincy. It is a unique festival that requires the presence of the Hidi and his entourage. Every family in Sukur is expected to attend the Yawal festival. It is only the Dalatu that doesn’t usually grace the occasion. He stays at a distant place to observe the festival with a special interest in the Hidi’s security.

A royal servant would carry a container in his hands to collect the sputum or saliva of the Hidi; it must not fall to the ground. Another royal servant carries a thick woollen material to give cover to the Hidi in case he wants to urinate. The Yawal festival is gradually becoming a fanfare as dignitaries from within and outside the shores of Nigeria have started to attend this historic event. It is a unique festival that requires the presence of the Hidi and his entire clan members.

Every family in Sukur is expected to come and show their allegiance to the Hidi. The Hidi normally appears in a dark red gown and a white surplice on top of it. A turban is used to cover his head. The royal drummers would play the drums and a special bodyguard would lead the Hidi’s procession to the centre of the festival. The bodyguard holds a spear and a shield in his hands.

A few elders normally meet to fix the date of the annual Yawal festival and they do this just a few days before the event. This development does not allow sponsors to be contacted because there will be no time to contact foreign or local tourists who may wish to attend.

The prevalence of shrines and altars in and around the Sukur landscape is a clear indication that a good number of Sukur people still practice traditional religious beliefs. There are however many Christians among the Sukur. The evangelical efforts of Rev Waziri, the man who translated portions of the Bible into the Sukur, has been responsible for the increasing number of Christians in Sukur. There are few Sukur Muslims and this might perhaps be so because the Sukur people associate Islam with the earlier Fulbe domination as represented by Hamman Yaji.

The Sukur people are basically farmers and this has been their main occupation for centuries. The Sukur land is characterized by agricultural terracing that creates a scenic parkland typical of the traditional Mandara inhabitants as well as that of the more southerly Koma Hill dwellers on the Atlantica Mountains (Netting 1968).

The Sukur farmer cultivates guinea corn, maize, sesame seed and groundnuts. Cattle rearing is also highly practised in the Sukur Kingdom. The people of Sukur have a unique and distinct method of cattle fattening. Homesteads for the fattening of cattle are constructed locally. The pens have apertures big enough for ventilation and nurture of cattle but not wide enough for their escape.

They have to be demolished to release the fattened calf to the admiration of kinsmen and buyers. Cattles are capital commodities given out as gifts during marriages and they are also associated with individual and clan prestige.

One of the business activities that have been associated with the Sukur people is that of metallurgy. The Sukur people are said to be very adept in the mining of iron ore, smelting and smithing. There is a far greater density of slag and other smelting debris in the Sukur landscape than anywhere else in the Mandara Mountain region.

The Sukur iron smelting industry was the basis of commercial and military dominance of the region in pre-colonial times. It was reported that the Sukur iron smelting industry was so prevalent that almost every family owned at least a dabal (iron bar). This dabal is used as dowry and for the settlement of other business transactions. It is this dabal that was used to produce hoes, cutlasses, knives, poisoned arrowheads and spears.

The responsibility for collecting iron slag across the multiple water channels situated on the Sukur landscape lies with the women and at such times, the men would, in turn, go for the procurement of fuelwood. The wood is used in the furnace to produce heat to smelt the iron slag. The multiple hills scattered all over Sukur have economic potential because of their water harvesting, cattle rearing, game conservation and mutually sustainable eco-cultural tourism resources. The various threshing floors, granaries, sheep and goat corrals provide income for the people of Sukur, especially the womenfolk.

The people of the Sukur Kingdom have had a stable government under the control of the Dur chiefly dynasty since the 17th century. They had enjoyed relative peace until the emergence of the Lamido of Madagali, Hamman Yaji, who conquered and plundered the kingdom.


The people of the Sukur Kingdom are gradually embracing western education. Many Sukur people are actively involved in the local politics of Madagali. The Sukur Kingdom had a commissioner in the cabinet of former Adamawa State Governor Boni Haruna.

The Sukur people are deeply conservative; they still cling to their traditional ways of life. They are known for excelling in the art and science of iron smelting.

Most people believe that the name Sukur refers only to the land, but to the people, language and culture as well. It has also been assumed by the Sukur people and outsiders that the mere designation of Sukur as a World Heritage Site will automatically bring development to the place and dramatically transform a lot of the Sukur people. Without a conscious effort by the Federal, State and Local Governments to develop it, Sukur will remain backward. All levels of government should provide the necessary amenities that will attract people to visit the area.

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It has been reported that tourism is a major source of foreign exchange and countries like Egypt, Morocco, Italy, Kenya and South Africa have benefited immensely from tourism. It is commendable that the Sukur Kingdom was the first World Heritage Site to be named in Nigeria. This is a rare feat. But the fact that the Sukur Kingdom had been designated a World Heritage Site is not enough; the government has to do all it could to make the area attractive to tourists. The state government needs to provide good roads, electricity, clean drinking water, security, tourist guides, and also educational institutions for the people. These things are absent right now and this has made the Sukur people sceptical about the World Heritage Site designation. The Adamawa State Government needs to develop Sukur to generate potential tourist revenue from it.


1 Comment
  1. Vance Nighbor says

    it is a excellent content

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