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The Mabas, Vizik, and Vemgo (Nigeria)

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Moisel (1912-13) mentions ‘Wemgo’ (Vemgo) and ‘Mabass’ on his map. Strumpell (1922:56) mentions ‘Wamgo’ (Vemgo) as an landmark on the route from Madagali to Gauar, across the Northern Mandaras . Mathews (1934:8) seems to be the first who mentions the’Vizik’. He believes that the ‘Vizik’ and ‘Vemgo’ are closely related, and refers to them as ‘”Gudur” places’. Mathews (ibid 9) refers to MacBride, who he says ‘has been working among these pagans [tribes in the northern part of the Madagali District] for two years’. MacBride’s report appears 1937. Lavergne (1944:21) mentions the ‘Mabas’. Muller-Kosack (fieldnotes 1996) says that Vizik is only the name of the place, and that the Vizik are in reality Mabas. He informs us that the Mabas (including Vizik) call themselves ‘Vanam’, and that they refer to their language as Mabas. The Vanam of Vizik like to call themselves ‘Vanam Diso’ in order to distinguish themselves from the Vanam of Mabas. Muller-Kosack (ibid) explains further that the Vanam and Vemgo are closely related and that they speak the same language, which is Mabas. N. David & Sterner (fieldnotes 1996) inform us that the Vemgo call themselves ‘Ghuduvun’. They confirm that they are very close to the Vizik and Mabas (Vamam) and that they all speak the same language.


The settlement of Mabas is in Cameroon and belongs to canton Matakam-Sud, arrondissement Mokolo (department Mayo Tsanaga). It is situated at the international boundary. Vizik and Vemgo are part of Nigeria (Madagali Local Government Area). While Vizik lies next to Mabas on the Plateau of Mokolo, the Vemgo have descended to the foothills and plain of Madagali. Their previous location has been northwest of Mabas and Vizik. The southwestern neighbours of Mabas and Vizik are the Wula proper. Their neighbours to the east and northeast are the Mafa.


Hallaire (1991:26) counts 566 Mabas. Boulet et al (1984:119) speaks of 500 ‘Mabas ou Margi’. The SIL website ethnologue speaks of 10,000 ‘Mabas (Vemgo) in Nigeria (1993) and of 5,000 in Cameroon (1984 ALCAM). Muller-Kosack (1999) believes that the figures given by SIL are far too high.


Barreteau (1984:167) classifies ‘mabas’, together with ‘gvoko’ and ‘xdi’ (Hide), under wandala-west of Central Chadic A. SIL classifies ‘Mabas’ (Vemgo, Mabas, Vizik) together with ‘Hedi (Tur)’ and ‘Lamang’ as a dialect of Lamang (Biu Mandara A). Blench (1999) groups ‘Vemgo-Mabas’, together with ‘Xedi’ (Hide) and Lamang as ‘Lamang cluster’ under Mandara as opposed to ‘Wandala cluster’. He says that the Lamang and Wandala cluster belong to the ‘Mandara group’. Wolff (1974:9) includes ‘Vizik, Vemgo (Ghudevn)’ together with ‘Turu’ as ‘Turu-Hde’ in his Lamang group. The ‘Lamang group’ is, according to him, a ‘one-member group’ of Biu-Mandara.


Muller-Kosack (1999) is of the opinion that the ‘Vanam’ (Mabas and Vizik) and ‘Ghuduvun’ (Vemgo) should all be referred to as Mabas. They speak the same language and share a common ethnicity (Vizik fieldnotes 1996). This is confirmed by N. David & Sterner (Vemgo fieldnotes 1996) who state that the Vemgo obtain rain from ‘Mbisify’ who lives in Mabas. Already Mathews (1934:9f) mentions the closeness between Vizik and Vemgo. Mathews states that the Vizik and Vemgo as well as the Wula proper and Sukur are linked by their Gudur tradition (ibid). He adds that the Waga (see page Lamang) are different from them and that they are rather orientated towards Gwoza (meaning Hidkala). Muller-Kosack (fieldnotes 1996) informs us that the Waga came originally from Margi Gulak in order to settle on the foothills towards Limankara. During the Haman Yaji period they moved up towards Hide-Tur, but descended again to the plain after the threat was over. They say they feel close to Hidkala. This separates the Waga in terms of ethnicity from the Mabas (Mabas, Vizik and Vemgo).


So far we have only unpublished colonial reports (Mathews & MacBride) and fieldnotes by ethnographers (Muller-Kosack and N. David & Sterner) on the Mabas (Mabas, Vizik and Vemgo). To separate them in terms of ethnicity from the Waga seems to be a first step towards an ethnography of the Mabas. Their linguistic classification as a dialect of the ‘Lamang group’ remains rather vague.

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