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The Gvoko (Nigeria and Cameroon)

No etymology is known for the name Gvoko. First mentioning of Gvoko is by White (1941, 1944:132) who mentions the ‘Kuvoko’, while Mathews (1934:25) refers to the Gvoko only as ‘Ngoshi’. First mentioning of ‘Ngosi’ is on Moisel’s map (1912-13). Muller-Kosack (fieldnotes 1995) reports that the word ‘Ngoshi’ means in-law (unclear in which language), and carries negative connotation of incest. The Gvoko don’t like to be called Ngoshi (ibid). Lamang speakers refer to the Gvoko as Ngoshe-Ndahan, what means Ngoshe on top. Nghoshe-Sama means the same, but is Hausa. The Glavda originate from Gvoko (Ngoshe Sama) and their main settlement northeast of Gava is therefore referred to as Ngoshe-Kasa, which means Ngoshe in the plain.



The Gvoko live in the Gwoza Hills south of Dugwhede, towards the boundary of Madagali District. Their southern neighbours are the Hide/Tur. The international boundaries divide Govko land in two, whereby one third is found in Cameroon and two thirds in Nigeria. Their eastern neighbours in Cameroon are the Mafa. In Cameroon Gvoko belongs to the Mokolo Subdivision, Mayo-Tsanaga Division, while in Nigeria it belongs to the Central Distict of the Gwoza Local Government Area. The ‘Gwalaga Resettlement Area’ allows access to the western plains.


Based on Census 1963 (Census 1991is incomprehensible with regard to Gvoko) projections for 1996, Muller-Kosack (1999) estimates 9,788 Gvoko in ‘Gvoko Ndahan’ (Nigeria). Assuming that a third lives in Cameroon he estimates alltogether about 13,000 Govko up in the mountains. The resettlement area of Gvoko in Uvagha/Limankara (Nigeria) count about 3,000 to 4,000 Gvoko, which leads to an estimated total of about 16,500 Gvoko, living in the northern Mandara mountain area. The population density of Gvoko in the mountains is quite high, maybe about 150 inhabitants per sq/km.


Wolff (1971:24) classifies Gvoko as a language of the Mandara group of Biu-Mandara (Central Chadic), but points out that not much is known about the Gvoko language. Barreteau (1984:167f) classifies gvoko (together with hedi/Hide and mabas) under wandala-west. Wolff (1971:73) points out that ‘Ngweshe’ of ‘Ngweshe Ndaghang’ (Gvoko) claim that their language is not understood by their neighbours (this is confirmed by Muller-Kosack, fieldnotes 1995), and that most Gvoko would speak Hide as a second language.

Muller-Kosack reports (fieldnotes 1995) that the Gvoko see themselves as a separate ethnic group. They claim to originate from Uva’i (known as ‘Kwir Uvawa’ in Dughwede), which is in Roumsiki (Kapsiki land of today). This is confirmed by Wolff (1974:24) who speaks of ‘yuwa’e’ in ‘Ghumsiki’, but Wolff (ibid) also mentions ‘Uzoro’, near Madagali, from where they separated. Some went to ‘Gvoko’, while others settled in ‘Turu’, ‘Lohpara’ (Mafa-Kughum), and ‘Ghudugum’ (Hidkala- Hudugum). Wolff (idid) speaks of altogether 13 Govko clans. According to Muller-Kosack (ibid) the Gvoko arrived in Turu together with the Tur/Hide, but had to leave Turu following accusations of incest (a Gvoko boy had impregnated a Hide girl, but both had been unaware of the consequences of sexual intercourse). This is why the Gvoko are negatively referred to as Ngoshi (meaning ‘in-laws’ of the Hide/Tur). As a result they had to leave Turu and settled in Gvoko of today.


The Glavda (see page Glavda) originate from Gvoko (Muller-Kosack, fieldnotes 1995). The story goes that two brothers had a conflict over the ownership of their domestic animals. The one who later became the founding ancestor of the Glavda left Gvoko following a bird, and finally founded Glavda. This is why the Glavda settlement Ngoshe Kasa is referred to by this name (Kasa means plain in Hausa). The Gvoko and the Glavda speak two different languages and form two separate ethnic groups. They don’t share a common ethnic identity. However, up to recent times elders from Glavda attended traditional seasonal celebrations in Gvoko.

No ethnographic monograph or article explicitly dealing with the Gvoko has been published so far. There are a number of unpublished works (e.g. Mathews 1934, Muller-Kosack 1995) around. Wolff (1974:24) refers fairly extensively to the Gvoko and mentions unpublished linguistic field materials (word lists) on Gvoko.


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