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The Sukur, Damay and Kurang (Nigeria)


Sterner (1998:90, footnote 25) informs us that the word ‘Sukur’ means ‘vengeance’ in Margi and Kilba and that ‘ta sukur’ means ‘feuding’ in the Bura language. She proposes that the Sukur fled from vengeance=sukur, and so they named their mountain settlement ‘Sukur’. Barth (1857,II:397) refers to ‘Sugur’ as ‘the natural stronghold of a pagan king whom my [Barth’s] Kanuri companion constanly called “Mai Sugur,” but whose proper name, or title, seems to be “La”.’ Strumpell (1922-23:57ff) visited ‘Sugur’ between 1904 and 1907, and mentions the links to ‘Gudur’, which is called ‘Mpesakali or Cakali’ by the Sukur (Sterner, ibid:40). Meek (1931,I:312-20) refers to the ‘Sukur Group, and Sterner (1998:58) points out that ‘Sukur’s existence was kept from the British by Hamman Yaji until 1927.’ Muller-Kosack (1999) assumes that the change over in spelling from ‘Sugur’ to ‘Sukur’ was introduced by the British colonial powers from 1927 onwards. Lembezat (1961:9) mentions ‘Sukur’ as an ethnonym used by the English. Sterner (1998:89) informs us that the people of ‘Sukur’ speak ‘Sakun’. The Sukur can also be referred to as ‘Sakon’ (Muller-Kosack 1999).

Sterner (1998:89) informs us of the politically independent settlements of Damay and Kurang. The Kurang speak psikye (Kapsiki), but the Damay speak sakun. No etymology of the meaning of Damay and Kurang is reported so far. Sterner (ibid:footnote 24) points out that already Shaw (1935:46) refers to ‘Damay’ as a ‘fully autonomous unit’. Sterner (ibid:96f) informs us that the Kurang call themselves ‘Hutembe’, but that they also refer to themselves as ‘Kapsiki’ in some context. Last are the Ndalmi, known as Mbaknyema to the Sukur. Ndalmi is Margi and means ‘to throw away hunger’. According to Sterner (ibid: 95) the Ndalmi are a Sukur satellite community.


Sukur can be divided in ‘Sukur Sama’ and ‘Sukur Kasa’ referring to upper Sukur and to lower Sukur (Sterner ibid:90). Muller-Kosack (1999) informs us that both, Kasa and Sama are Hausa words, meaning upper=na sama and lower=na kasa (see Awde’s Hausa Dictionary). These expressions are fairly recent inventions, referring to Sukur in the mountains, and Sukur in the plains. Both Damay as well as Kurang belong to Sukur in the mountains, which is the ‘Sugur’ Barth refers to. Sukur forms its own district in the Madagali Local Government Area, Adamawa Province.

Sterner (1998:89, fn.23) summarises that Meek (ibid:312) estimates the Sukur population at 1,300, and that Kirk-Greene (1960:68) states that the ‘original village’ of Silir was 5,033 in 1953, while N. David (1998:58) calculates that the entire popu- lation of Sukur Sama was about 2,020 in 1993. SIL (1992) speaks of 14,779 Sukur.



Meek (ibid:139f) is of the opinion that ‘Sukur’ (Sakun) is related to Margi, Fali and Higi, but Hoffmann (1971:8) identifies it as a fairly independent language of Biu- Mandara, and so does SIL. Blench (1999) classifies ‘Sukur’ (Sakun) as a single language group of the ‘Mandara-Matakam-Sukur major group’. Morlang (1972:8) sees ‘Sukur’ as a dialect of kamwe (Kapsiki. This is discussed by Wolff (1974:10).

In a long footnote to ‘Sugur’ Barth (ibid:397f) points out that ‘The prince of Sugur overawes all the petty neighbouring chiefs; and he is said to possess a great many idols...’ Sterner (1998:58ff) reviews Sukur’s image constructed in the literature of being a powerful kingdom (Kirk-Greene 1960:71-73) and comes to the conclusion that a Sukur hegemony, especially one based on military power, never existed. Sterner (ibid) describes Sukur as a small chieftaincy consisting of kin groups of various origin with one chiefly lineage which provides the ‘xidi’, chief of Sukur. The house of the xidi has been described and interpreted as a spatial representation of power symbolism by David and Smith (1995). Due to its extraordinary architectural features, e.g. the large stone enclosure with its various gates and niches, it is now registered as a World Heritage Site.



Main ethongraphic literature on the Sukur is Sterner’s PhD thesis from 1998. She describes the Sukur in the context of patterns of community formation in the Northern Mandaras. Further important ethnographic and ethno-archaeological literature is by N. David. Early literature are Barth and Strumpell, followed by Meek, Shaw, MacBride, Kulp and Kirk-Greene. Barkindo too has published on Sukur, and so have Sassoon, Adeoye & Ekefre, Papka, Pur, and Snatenchuk & South.

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