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The so-called Bulahay groups (Cameroon)

Name:

In Mafa the word ‘Bulahay’ is etymologically derived from the same word referring to a particularly hard bean and it is used to metaphorically refer to the ethnic Mafa-Bulahay as being as hardheaded like these beans. While the Mafa-Bulahay (see Mafa page) live mainly on the plateau of Mokolo and the northeastern high mountain ranges of Ziver and Upay, neighbouring the Mabas, Vizik and Hide, those Bulahay who don’t refer to themselves as being Mafa live in small groups along the southern fringes of Mafa land.

Five Bulahay group/place names can be identified: Shugule, Mefele, Sirak, Mohour, and Cuvok. On Moisel’s map we find the names ‘Suguli’ (Shugule), ‘Mufulu’ (Mefele?), ‘Muhur’ (Mohour), and ‘Schufuk’ (Cuvok). He does not mention Sirak, which is first mentioned by Zimmermann (1906:462f; see also Sterner 1998:44f). It remains unclear whether Moisel’s ‘Mufulu’ include the Mefele, since he applies the name ‘Mufulu’ to the whole of the Mafa territory of today. It remains to be seen whether the word Mefele or Mufulu can be etymologically derived from Mafa/Mofa/Mofu/Moffu/Moffo as a general name for those montagnards who originate from the eastern fringes of the Northern Mandaras north and south of the river Tsanaga (see also page on the Mofu groups). Lavergne (19944:21ff) indirectly refers to such a possibility, but sees the fall of Gudur (see Mofu-Gudur) at the root of all ethnic reshuffling in the area.

Location:

The Mefele are situated south of Mokoko, while the Shugule are found northwest of Mokolo. The Shugule are next door neighbours to the Mabas. Sirak too lies south of Mokolo, while Mohour is found on the road to Maroua. Cuvok lies east of Mohour, with Mofu-Gudur as their nextdoor neighbours. All Bulahay groups/places belong to the canton Matakam-South (arrondissement Mokolo).

Population:

Haillaire (1991:26) speaks of 5,896 ‘Tchouvouk’ (Cuvok) and 600 Mouhour. Sterner (1998: 296) speaks of 2,000 Sirak. According to Haillaire’s map (ibid:fig5) the population density among the so-called Bulahay is between 20 and 99 inhabitants per square km.

Barreteau (1984:168ff) distinguishes between cuvok and mefele as to dialects of mafa-south (together with mafa, mofu, giziga, merey, dugwor, zulgwa, melokwo, muyang, and wuzlam). While cuvok stays on its own, mefele is sub-divided into mefele (serak and mouhour) and shugule. Barreteau (ibid) refers to mefele as ‘boula hay’)

Language:

Ethnicity:

The term ‘Bulahai’ appears first by Lavergne (1944:22). He sees them as being historically linked to the ‘matakam’ and ‘mofou’, since they originate from the same area (the mofu area) at about the same historical time. Sterner (1998:86f) informs us that the designation Bulahay is not accepted by the people to whom it has been applied (Shugule, Mefele, Sirak, Mohour, and Cuvok), and that each community has its own distinct origins. It remains unclear whether the Cuvok need to be seen as ‘Bulahay’ as well. According to the linguistic evidence only the Shugule and Mefele (Sirak and Mohour) speak ‘boula hay’ (Barreteau, ibid). The so-called Bulahay need to be firmly distinguished from the Mafa-Bulahay, although it is very likely that both have common origins. The so-called Bulahay groups perform male initiation (see Sterner 1998:157ff) similar to the Sukur and Wula, but also to the Mofu groups. The ethnic groups of the Gwoza Hills used to perform male initiation/maturation rites, while the Mafa don’t perform such rites.

First mentioning of the so-called Bulahay is by Lavergne (1944). Sterner and David have done fieldwork in Sirak since 1986, and Sterner explores Sirak and Sukur re- lations in her PhD (ibid 1998). Sterner (ibid:40f) also refers to the Gudur tradition found among the so-called Bulahay groups. Sterner (1998:87ff) informs us that the three main Sirak kingroups (Gwalibay, Gwalay, and Wazam) came from Mogode (Kapsiki), Sir (Kapsiki) and Gudur (Mofu). Muller-Kosack (1997:710f) informs us that the Mohour had strong links with Durum (Mafa proper) as well as with Gudur (Mafa-Gudur). Additional research with special emphasis on regional comparison is necessary to establish a better understanding of the so-called Bulahay groups.

Literature:

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