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The Zelidva (Nigeria)


First mentioning of ‘ Mount Deladeba or Dalantuba’ (Zelidva spur) is by Barth (1857, II:369) who compares the excitement he felt with his first distant view of the Tyrolian Alps in 1840. On his way from Kuka to Adamawa, this was his first sight of the most northern extension of the Mandara Mountains. The first mentioning of the people of Zelidva is by Zimmermann (1906:461) who speaks of the ‘Seledeba-Heiden’, meaning the ‘pagans of Zelidva’. Mathews (1934:37) is the first who points to the ancestral link between the ‘Johode’ (Dughwede) and the ‘Zediva or Zlediva’. He mentions ‘Kumba Zediva’ (Kumba Zadva) as the founding ancestor of all Zelidva, and his seven sons (ibid). Muller-Kosack (1999) informs us that the literal meaning of Zelidva is ‘yellow man’ ( ‘zala’ = ‘man’, ‘dva’=yellow), meaning lighter skinned.


The Zelidva lived originally in Ngololo and Divili, which are two about 1200m high valleys up in the mountains. Ngololo, the higher one to the south, was abandoned about 20 years ago, while Divili still has a very small community of about 30 families. The seven sons of Kumba Zadva descended from the mountains to the surrounding plains and adapted to different languages (although Lamang is spoken in Divili of today). On the western plains they speak Lamang, towards the northern plains they speak Wandala, while at the eastern plains they speak Glavda. These are the three languages spoken by the Zelidva of the Gwoza Hills of today (Muller- Kosack 1994:45-84). The main villages of the Zelidva are Wala (Fachikwe), Warabe, and the northern part of Bokko. These villages belong to the Takwambarre (Wala and Warabe) and Ashigashiya District (Bokko) of the Gwoza Local Government Area.


Muller-Kosack estimates on the basis of the census 1963 projection for 1996 (the census 1991details are incomprehensible), that there are roughly between 30,000 and 40,000 Zelidva living in the Gwoza Local Government today. Most of them (apart from maybe a thousand in Gwoza Town, and about 30 to 40 families in Divili) live in the plains surrounding the northern part of the Gwoza Hills.


Muller-Kosack (1999) is of the opinion that about 50% Zelidva speak presumably Lamang (those of Wala and many in Gwoza), while about 25% speak Wandala (those of Warabe and Pulka) and 25% speak Glavda (those of Bokko). Wandala and Glavda belongs to the Wandala group (Barreteau classifies Glavda and Wandala under wandala-east). Lamang is a separate group of Biu-Mandara (Wolff 1971, 1994). Wolff (ibid) classifies Zelidva in general as a dialect of Lamang. Muller-Kosack (ibid) does not share this view, because the Zelidva don’t speak only Lamang.

The Zelidva generally don’t see themselves as Lamang, Wandala or Glavda, but as Zelidva. They describe themselves as sons of Kumba Zadva. Zadva was son of Ghwasa who came from Dughwede. In Ngololo he met Juba, who was a son of Bohe/Poxe. In Divili he met the Zugwaghe people. It was Kumba Zadva and his seven sons, who began to dominate the Zugwaghe and Juba. They also migrated down to the western and eastern plains, where they intermarried with Lamang, Wandala and Glavda speaking groups. They gained political domination in Wala (Fachikwe), Warabe (Kiva), Pulka, Bokko (Wize, Timta, Ghide), which they still maintained today. All village heads of these villages are of Zelidva descent. The majority of population in these villages are Zelidva (Muller-Kosack 1994, ibid). With regard to the language adaption of the Zelidva, who claim that they spoke originally Dughwede, it seems to be clear that they had already changed from Dughwede to another language before they descended to the plains. According to Juba oral tradition the Juba of Ngololo spoke Guduf, but we have no record which language the Zugwaghe of Divili spoke when they adopted Ghwasa (grandfather of Kumba Zadva), whose grave can still be found in Divili.


Main source for the ethnography of the Zelidva is Muller-Kosack (mainly fieldnotes from 1994). Stanhope White’s novel ‘Descent from the hills’ (1963) deals with the Kumba Zadva story. Ngololo and Zelidva are often mentioned in the context of the migratory history of the groups of the Mora Hills (see Mouchet and MacEachern).


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