Go to Ethnic Units

The Gisiga (Cameroon)

Go to Bibliography


The etymology of the name Gisiga/Giziga remains unclear. First mentioning of the ‘Gisiga’ is by Stumpell (1922:60), who identifies them as the eastern neighbours of the ‘Muffu’ (see page Mofu groups). R. Lukas (1973:46) claims that the name ‘Gisiga, Gizga’ has been given to them by the Fulbe, and that it is also the name for their chiefly clan. J. Lukas (1970:46) informs us that the Gisiga call themselves ‘Marva’, pl. ‘Marvahay’, which lies at the root of the word ‘Maroua’, the town named by the Fulbe, and founded by the ‘Gisiga’ (Marva). Fourneau (1938:171) doesn’t give an etymology of the name ‘Guissiga’, but Pontie (1973:13) points out that ‘Guiziga’ could possibly be derived from: ‘ngi zi ka’, which signifies an insult. Pontie (ibid) does not say what the literal meaning of these Gisiga words is. In Mafa the word ‘zi’ (zay) would refer to any kind of excreta (Muller-Kosack 1999). Pontie (ibid) finally translates ‘Guiziga’ as an ethnonym signifying ‘those who eat any kind of food whatsoever’, and explains that the clan ‘Pedizam’ first referred to themselves as ‘Guiziga Pedizam’. Pontie (ibid) explains that the ‘Pedizam’ were considered as pariah for a long time, and that they are said to have nourished many wizards on their clanly bosom. Muller-Kosack (1999) finds it difficult to believe that the Gisiga would use an insult derived from their own language for an autonym, and tends to agree with R. Lukas (ibid) who proposed that the ethnonym Gisiga is a Fulbe invention.


The northern Gisiga (Gisiga Marva) live north and west of Maroua Town, where they are ethnically integrated with the Mofu of Dugur (especially Tsere). The southern Gisiga (Gisiga Lulu and Muturua), live south of Maroua in the plain of Diamare with the Mandara mountains in the west and the towns Mindif and Kaele in the east.

Lembezat (1961:112) speaks of 44,000 and Podlewski (1966:59) counts 55,000 Gisiga. Podlewski (ibid:108-110) estimates 80,000 Gisiga for 1980. Pontie (1973:17) estimates a population density of about 29 inhabitants per square km.


Barreteau (1984:168f) distinguishes between giziga-north (giziga of Maroua, Dogba, and Tchere/Tsere) and giziga-south (giziga of Loulou, Moutouroua, and Midjivin). They are both closely related dialects of mafa-south and are classified together with dugwor (Dugur and Mikiri), mofu-north (Douroum, Douvangar, Wazang) and mofu-south (Mokong, Gudur, Zidim), etc.


Pontie (1973:35f) informs us that the three Gisiga chieftaincies, Muturua, Lulu (Tsabai) and Bi-Marva (Maroua) had already existed for about one hundred years before the arrival of the Fulbe (see page Fulbe) at the beginning of the 19th century. The most influential ancestor historically of the Gisiga was Bildinguer. Bildinguer and his companions, who were close relatives, came from Gudur (ibid:28f). They founded the chieftancy of Lulu as well as the chieftancy of Muturua. Bildinguer himself founded Rum at his arrival in Muturua. Due to the fact that the Fulbe took Maroua in 1809, it is much more difficult to reconstruct the ancestral links of the Bi-Marva (ibid:32f). Strumpell (ibid) raises doubts whether the Gisiga Marva and the Gisiga of Rum (Muturua) are related. Pontie (ibid) discusses the three known hypotheses that the Gisiga Marva either originated from Lere (in Chad) or from Wandala or from Bagirmi. He is of the opinion that the the chieftancies of Marva, Maturua and Lulu were all founded around the same time at the end of the 17th and the beginning of the 18th century. Pontie assumes that the Marva, at their arrival in Marva (Maroua), moved on to intermarry with the Mofu in the north (Mofu-Diamare). Like the Gisiga Muturua and the Gisiga Lulu, the Gisiga Marva absorbed smaller groups of non-Gisiga origin under their rule.


Main ethnograhic literature is Pontie’s monograph on the Gisiga from 1973. Earlier ethnographic writing is Strumpell (1922-23), Cournarie (1935), but especially Fourneau (1938). Also of note is Lembezat (1950, 1961). Oussoumanou (1977) describes marriage in Gisiga. Bello-Pontie (1974) describes Gisiga women. Seignobos & Donfack (1996) document parts of the agro-system of the Gisiga and Peul. J. Lukas (1970) describes the language of the Gisiga. Other linguistic literature is by De Waard (1971) and Beavon & Yonki (1982).


Go to Ethnic Units

Go to Bibliography