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Theme 1. The 'wild man' and dynastic change
Several stories tell not of the initial occupation of Sukur but of the arrival of an individual, sometimes a hunter, who becomes integrated into Sukur life and by one means or another takes the chieftaincy from its former owners. Such legends were collected early in the 20th century. Strümpell (1922/23) visited Sukur briefly around 1907 and recorded the story of Watsu, a prince of Bornu who emigrated and became chief of Sukur. Meek too mentions a man from Bornu (1931a I: 312-13):
|Gudur, Mpesakili, Cakiri, and variants of these names are all taken to refer to Gudur, 25 km south east of Mokolo, on the eastern edge of the Mandara mountains. Montagnards are usually familiar with at least two of these names and accept that they refer to the same place. But to what precisely the names Mpesakili and Cakiri refer is uncertain, though Gudur is the name of the place and community of which the powerful Bay Gudur was the chief.|
|Meek (1931a I: 312) states that the stranger from Gudur who became chief of Sukur did so through his 'wealth and power.' Versions obtained by JS and ND in 1992-93, and an earlier one by Shaw, a district officer, indicate that there have been two changes in chiefly kin groups: from Tuva to Kulësëgey and from Kulësëgey to Dur, the present chiefly kin group. Shaw (SNP 17/3 25073, 1935: Appen. A: 44-45) describes the first transfer of power from Tuva to Kulësëgey:|
|The following version, recorded in 1992 from a very old Dur man close to the ruling house, tells of how the Dur took over the chieftaincy from Kulësëgey:|
|What are we to make of these stories?
First, we should note that those that connect the Sukur ruling house to
Borno or to the Wandala were only collected in the early years of European
contact when Sukur notables might have seen some political advantage in
presenting themselves as related to the indigenous powers that were then
benefiting from colonial policies of Indirect Rule. Second, it should be
recognized that the story of a "wild man" whether a hunter or
not, arriving with or without a cow and taking over the chieftaincy is not
limited to Sukur but is a historical cliché. Jouaux (1989: 263-64)
describes an almost identical legend from Gudur and comparable ones are
found over a much larger area. According to John Boston (1970), writing
on the Igala of southern Nigeria, the immigrant often represents the importance
of achievement while his marriage to a member of the ruling dynasty emphasizes
the legitimacy of authority gained through descent.
Thus we need not believe the literal truth of
the Sukur legends, nor argue whether the Dur took over not only the chieftaincy
but also the story from the Kulesegey (or alternatively whether the latter
appropriated a story told by those who supplanted them). The corpus of
stories is consistent in suggesting that Sukur has seen a succession of
chiefly dynasties brought about by outsiders or outside influence. This
succession is expressed not only in stories but also in rituals. For example
it is the task of 'Day Kur'ba to bury his 'brother' the Hidi, whom he
may not see in life, and Dalatë plays an important role both in initiation
and during the Yawal ceremony that celebrates the Hidi and his Dur kin
|Theme 2. Relations
between Sukur, Wula, Mabas, and the Margi of Gulak
In the Mandara Mountains stories involving brothers are common devices for accounting for relationships within or between communities. Just such a story is frequently used to explain the origins of, and relationships between, Sukur and some of her immediate neighbours. These stories are of considerable antiquity and were first recorded by early Western visitors to Sukur.
When told by Sukur the story establishes the place
of Sukur as the senior brother and introduces the Wula rainmaker whose
influence is widespread in the region. We collected versions of these
stories at Sukur and Wula. Besides establishing the relationship between
the neighbouring groups, some tell us the reason for Sukur's lack of control
over the rains. An elderly man of the Dur kin group related the following
|Suku means altar, usually a pot, thus sukuda (altar + father) and sukujuk (altar + father's father [FF]) are ancestor pots. Sukuyam (altar + water) is presumably a pot, which may or may not have something, e.g., rainstones, in it. The kafay has been likened to a sickle or curved sword which, when lifted up, forms a rainbow and stops the rain. The Tluwala described it as a sword. The Mofu-nord kwalay (Vincent 1991a: 626), Mofu-Gudur kwalay (Barreteau 1988), and Mafa kwaray (Barreteau & Le Bléis 1990) all have the same meaning: rainbow, drought, in particular a halt in the rains during the rainy season. The Mofu-Diamaré and Mofu-Gudur kwalay are stones, while the Mudukwa Mafa kwaray has been described as a rainbow, a stone, a serpent, or like lightning (Hinderling 1984 III: 325).|
|Not surprisingly another version was related by a Kulësëgey man that refers to three Kulësëgey brothers. Yet another was told by Depa Buba, the Wula rainmaker or Tluwala:|
|The chief of Wula told us another version
of the story that omitted mention of rainmaker origins but claimed that
the eldest of the three brothers remained to found Wula. Mabas has its own
story and Muduvu another in which the same cliché is used to explain
the differentiation of Wula Mango, Wula Kushiri the home of Tluwala, and
Muduvu itself. The chief of Wula's version does not refer to the kafay and
relates, using the cliché format, uniquely to the relations between
Wula, Sukur and Gulak and to their present day dynasties (as does the Gulak
and one Sukur version). On the other hand, Tluwala's version links Sukur,
Wula and Mabas, but not Gulak, and focuses on powers over water. It is the
Sukur brother who has, and retains the kafay, which gives power over the
Ticini river -- water on the ground -- while the Wula brother, Tluwala's
ancestor, and the Mabas brother keep the sukuyam, which relates to rain,
water from the sky. It can hardly be a coincidence that Tluwala is a rain
maker and that Mabas, unlike Sukur, has its own master of the rains. Tluwala's
story would therefore seem to refer to a period preceding the Dur dynasty
of Sukur and its Gulak offshoot, one in which the present Ka-maze clan of
Wula was either not present or did not hold the chieftaincy. In this case
the dynasty of Sukur to which the legend refers can only be the Kulësëgey.
It is therefore of considerable interest that its senior titleholder, Dalatë,
does indeed have special powers regarding water from the ground, being responsible
for determining where water points and wells should be constructed or dug.
Thus while the corpus of three brothers legends is clearly different from
the 'wild man' legends of theme 1, it indirectly reaffirms the dynastic
succession from Kulësëgey to Dur that can be inferred from them.
Does, we might ask, Dalatë hold the kafay?
Returning to the meanings of the three brothers
legends, we note that, although the chief of Wula on occasion denies it,
Sukur is still generally regarded by Gulak, Wula, Mabas and several other
communities as 'senior.' Until recently this was expressed ritually at
the installation of their chiefs, on which occasions Hidi sent a delegation
that included one of his retainers, Tlagama, to shave their heads, leaving
a hairlock into which some of the hair of their predecessor was woven.
However every year the chief of Sukur sends gifts via his appointed representatives
to the Tluwala in order to obtain rain.
|Theme 3. Sukur's Gudur origins
As described under the topic Montagnards, Gudur used to be a magico-religious center 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. Like many Kapsiki, Higi, Wula, and Mabas, most Sukur claim Gudur origins, and indeed these are invoked in explanation of Sukur's ritual seniority over its neighbors. There are claims to Gudur origins in both Kulësëgey and Dur versions of the 'wild man' stories, and there are others that introduce new elements.
This one was told in 1992 by an old man of the
Tëka section of Dur.
|Here there is a double emphasis, on connecting Sukur to prestigious Gudur, and on the legitimation of the Dur descent group's chieftaincy on the grounds not of trickery, popular support, or superior law-giving, but on their being the first comers. This, once again, is a common African theme (see Kopytoff 1987), and our informant, undoubtedly familiar with the the 'wild man' story, apparently saw no conflict between it and his own. Fula and Deve are in other tales described as giants who brought two megaliths to Sukur that they had removed from one of the volcanic plugs in Kapsiki country (though the geology is wrong!) to form the north gate of the Mbuk enclosure, and who, with shamanic assistance, built the house of the chief in a single night. The old man's story is also interesting because it mentions another descent group, the Gade, and makes it clear that such groups do not only recruit members through descent but can also acquire them in other ways.||