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The Margi (Nigeria)


First mentioning of ‘Mergi’ is on Fra Mauro’s map of 1459. Ibn Furtu (Lange 1987) describes Idris Alauma’s military campaigns against the Sao, Margi, Gamergu and Mandara of Kerawa, between 1564 and 1576. The Margi chief ‘Adwa’ had renounced his alliance and Idris Aloma brought him to book. Barth (1857,II:374ff) describes ‘The Border-Country of The Marghi’ obtaining ‘once more a sight of Mount Dalantuba [Zelidva spur], marking out as it were, the beginning of a mountainous region [the Gwoza Hills to his left]’. Barth reaches ‘the outskirts of Molghoy [Malgwe] ... district’ and then the settlement of the same name the following day. The day after he reaches ‘I’sge, or I’ssege’ (Isge). He describes how ‘The whole range of mountains, which forms the western barrier of the little country of Wandala, lay open before me [him] at the distance of about twenty miles [to the east]’. Barth refers here to the western range of the Northern Mandaras. He (ibid 396ff) also mentions ‘Gulug/Guluk’ (Margi-Gulak) and mistakes Rumsiki for ‘Mindif’).

Vaughan (1970:68) refers to the Margi of the central plains as ‘Marghi babal’, but we also need to include the ‘Marghi Dzirngu - literally “Marghi near the mountains” - the Mandara [mountain] section of the tribe’. The Margi we want to neglect here are the ‘Marghi Putai’ in the west and the ‘Marghi ti tm’ in the south (Vaughan ibid). The two Margi groups relevant to us are referred to by Vaughan (ibid) as ‘Marghi proper’. Meek’s (1931,I:213-251) spelling of ‘Margi’ is more widely used today. We are particularly interested here in historical Margi links of ‘Plain Margi’ to Malgwe (Gamergu) and Lamang, and links of the Margi Gulagu/Gulak (Hill Margi) to Sukur, Gudur, Higi and Hide/Turu traditions. Strumpell 1912:57) mentions the ‘Marghi’ of ‘Gullak’ and ‘Duhu’ (Hill Margi) as having been subjected to Fulbe slave raids already as early as 1800.


Under the pressure of Borno expansion a large number of Margi drifted gradually south. From about the fourteenth century they appear to have lived in the region they now occupy (Sa’ad Abubakar 1977:16). Wente-Lukas (1985:260f) informs us that the ‘Margi babal’ or ‘Margi of the plains’ or ‘Plain Margi’ live in the Gwoza and Damboa Districts (Borno State), while the ‘Hill Margi’ live around Madagali, Gulak, Duhu, Isge (Adamawa and Borno State). Vaughan (1995:6) reports that Madagali was before the arrival of the Fulbe (see page Fulbe) ‘a Margi community, named for the spear (gali) of a Margi named Margu’. The mountain of Gulak lies west of Sukur.

Meek (193,I:213) counts 50-60,000 and Hoffmann (1963:1) speaks of 134,937 Margi. Vaughan (1970:69) speaks of 30,000 ‘Mandara Marghi’ (Hill Margi). The SIL website ethnologue counts 200,000 ‘Marghi’ altogether (1989 UBS). Vaughan (1970:69) counts in 1959 34 hamlets in Gulak altogether with 7000 inhabitants.



Hoffmann (1963:1) informs us that the Margi refer to themselves and to their language as ‘Margyi’. In Hansford et al (1976:125, 189) he classifies Margi as Central Chadic (Biu-Mandara A) under Bura group, Eastern. Hoffmann (1963) speaks of five Margi dialects: 1. Central, 2. Gwara, 3. South Margi, 4. Mlgwi (Malgwe), and 5. Wurga. SIL (1987) classifies the dialects of ‘Lassa (Babul)’ and ‘Gulak (Dzer)’ under ‘Marghi Central’. Meek (1931:234) sees the Margi language as almost identical with that of Kilba and only little difference to Bura. Blench (1999) classifies Margi under the Bura group of the Bura/Higi major group.


Meek (1931 ibid) informs us that the Margi of Adamawa consist roughly of three strata: (a) indigenous people (in a relative sense), (b) Pabir, and (c) Kanuri. He explains that the indigenous inhabitants belong to the same group as the indigenous Bura and Kilba, which is a group which has fused to some extent with the Higi, Gudur, and Fali. He is of the opinion that the Higi, in particular, show definite linguistic and cultural connection with the Margi. Margi settlements are organised in small chieftaincies, e.g. the chieftaincy of Gulak, which served as place of reference for the tradition of origin among the Hide (see page Hide/Tur).


Main ethnographic source on the Margi are Meek and Vaughan. They are mainly concerned with the ‘Hill Margi’. Sa’ad Abubakar is another important source. With regard to the ‘Marghi Mulgwe’ (Plain Margi) Anon et al from CAPRO (1993:137) seems to be the only source. CAPRO counts about 6,000 Margi Malgwe. CAPRO reports that they originate from Kukawa and that they call all other Margi ‘Mbom’.

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