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The Hurza (Cameroon)


First mentioning of ‘Horza’ (Hurza) is by Major Denham in 1826 (1985:175, vol 1). Mouchet (1947:111ff) says that no etymological meaning of the name has been given to him. He speaks of the Massif Hurza, comprising seven local groups of various origin, of which 6 speak the same language and share the same customs. The odd one out is of Mada origin. The names of the six local sub-units are Maya, Vale, Mboko, Kudangala, Sawa, and Musgo (ibid).

The Hurza massif is a large inselberg situated on the plain 10 km southeast of Mora Town and 5 km east of the northeastern cliffs of the Northern Mandaras where we find the Vame-Mbreme as their next door neighbours. The Hurza massif stretches in an oval shape about 5 km from west to east and about 2 km from south to north. The Hurza massif has four peaks, the two highest of 750 metres being found to the west of the massif, facing the Northern Mandaras. Hurza is part of the departement Mayo-Sava, arrondissement Mora.


The Hurza massif is almost completely abandoned today. Main settlements are Meme and Manaouatchi at the southeastern foot of the mountain. Other settlements are Homaka, Ganse, Mouvane in the north, and Here, Sera and Dergala in the west. Mouchet estimated, in 1947, about 1,500 Hurza. Today they might add up to 3,000 or more. SIL (1992) speaks of 8,500, which refers to the linguistic unity of all peslala/ndreme speakers and not only to the Hurza. Boulet et al (1984:119) count only 1,000 Hurza and 1,200 Vame-Mbreme, meaning 2,200 for all peslala/ndreme speakers. Population density is is between 40 to 99 inhabitants per square km, but only 20 to 40 in the northeast of the Hurza massif (Hallaire 1991:fig5).



According to Barreteau (1984:167f) Hurza belongs to mafa- northwest. As part of a sub-group of mafa-northwest it forms, together with ndreme (Vame), mebrem (Mbreme), demwa (Dume) and pelasla (Gwendele), one dialect which Barreteau (1984:170) generally refers to as ndreme. Hurza is therefore a dialect of the language ndreme (Vame-Mbreme). He suggests the general term ndreme on the basis of an existing geographical and sociological unity (ibid). The other language of the sub-group mafa-northwest is mbuko (Mboku). The general term ndreme for these dialects has replaced the earlier term pelasla (Plata), but SIL still uses peslala on their website Ethnologue.

I suggest using the name Hurza (as suggested by Mouchet) as an ethnic term for the unity of all local groups mentioned above. However, the origin of these groups is various. What is remarkable is that many of them come from the northwestern ranges of the Mandara mountains. This is the case with the Vale, who came from Kerawa, and the Kudangala, who came from Zelidva. The Maya came from Doula (former capital of Wandala) and they are seen as the first settlers of the Hurza mountain.



Apart from Mouchet, there is not much ethnographic literature on the Hurza. This is reflected in the fact that R. Lukas (1973:10f) relies entirely on Mouchet. Nyssens (1990:229) critically refers to Barreteau’s classification of the Vame- Mbreme, the Gwendele (Plata) and the Hurza in one linguistic sub-group called ndreme. He as well as MacEachern (1990:159), refer to ‘ngoulele’ (ibid) or ‘ngolele’ in the Gwoza Hills. Muller-Kosack (1994:45ff) describes a place called Ngololo on the top of the Gwoza Hills in the context of the geographical origin of the Zelidva tradition. This is the same tradition found among the Hurza as well as among the Vame, Duma, and Plata. The name Plata refers in the languages of the wandala sub-group of the Gwoza Hills to the Fulbe of Madagali (Muller- Kosack 1999). This example shows that the linguistic and ethnic terms constructed are still far from being satisfactory. Grant (1992) provides a sociolinguisitc survey of peslala.

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