The Gamergu

(Nigeria & Cameroon)


The Gamergu are referred to as Malgwe by the Mandara or Wandala. Lohr (E-mail communication 1999) says that that no etymology is known so far. Barth (1857, vol 2: 362) informs us that the ‘Mandara’ or ‘Ur-wandala call the Gamerghu Muks-amalguwa’. He explains that ‘mukse’ is a nickname meaning woman. Although he admits that he did not enquire into the meaning of ‘Amalguwa’, he beliefs that ‘Amalguwa’ is the orignal form of ‘Gamerghu’.

Muller- Kosack (1999) is of the opinion that ‘Amalguwa’ refers to Malgwe. The Gamergu trace an ancestral link to a place called Malgwe which locates them close to the Margi of Malgwe. Barkindo (1989:34) sees the Gamergu both culturally and linguistically intimately linked with the Wandala. Mouchet (1947:125) is of the opinion that ‘Ga-mergu’ is the Kanuri name for the ‘Malguwa’ (Malgwe). Muller-Kosack (1999) reports that Dughwede say that Gamergu means ‘margi people’ (ga = people or group, and mergu=Margi).


The Gamergu live in Nigeria, mainly between the middle Ngada and Yedseram River and the sandy plains north and northeast of the Gwoza Hills. Barkindo (1989:32) names Ishga-Kewe, situated 20km north of Bama along the river Yedseram as the ancestral home of both, the Gamergu and the Wandala. Barreteau (1990:9) identifies Malgwe speakers northeast of Kerawa but still in Cameroon. The Gamergu of Nigeria live in Borno State, Damboa, Gwoza and Konduga Local Government Areas.


Blench (1999) quotes 10,000 speakers of Malgwe (TR 1970, ibid). We know from Barreteau (1984) that there are only a about 1,500 of them in Cameroon, but that the majority live in Nigeria.


According to Barreteau (1984:168) malgwa (Gamergu) is to be classified as a dialect of wandala, together with wandala (Wandala) and mura (Mora), under wandala-east. Wandala-east entails two more sub-groups, which are gelvaxdaxa (Glavda) and parekwa (Podokwa). Lohr (1999) provides in her PhD the first description of the language of the Malgwa (Gamergu). The SIL website Ethnologue lists malgwe only under wandala. Muller-Kosack (1999) suggests adding the wandala speaking sections of the Zelidva and Guduf as well as the Vala/Vale to the linguistic sub-group wandala-east.


There is still great unclarity about how Gamergu ethnicity needs to be constructed. What seems to be clear is that the Gamergu are closer to the Mandara than to the Margi, although Dughwede traditions suggest the Gamergu to be Margi. However, the Dughwede suggest at the same time that the Mandara originated from the Gwoza Hills and link them to the Hide/Tur tradition (Muller-Kosack 1996:141).


Barth crosses Gamergu land on his trip to Adamawa in June 1851, telling us that the ‘Gamerghu’, most properly, took possession of land abandoned by the ‘Marghi’ (Barth 1857, vol 2:377). The Gamergu/Malgwe are mostly mentioned in the context of literature about the Wandala. Forkl (1983) discusses most literature referring to the Gamergu. Barkindo (1989) refers to the Gamergu. There is no ethnographic monograph written about the Gamergu/Malgwe so far. However, there is the unpublished B.A. thesis by M.D. Birma from the University of Maiduguri about the early history and the environment of the Gamergu. Abba Isa Tijani, a social anthropolgist from the University of Maiduguri, is currently working on a PhD about the Gamergu.

Futher literature are the works of G. Maziga who informs us about the Gamergu in the context of the Bornu Mandara relations up to 1900, and Cyffer et al, who deal with the Kanurisation of malgwa. For further references on the Gamergu see the literature referred to on the page dealing with the Mandara/Wandala.