The Mafa/Matakam

(Nigeria & Cameroon)


No etymology for Mafa or Matakam is confirmed. Strumpell (1922:60f) was informed in 1906/07 (ibid:47) that the name ‘Matakam’ was given by the Fulbe, and that ‘Muffu’ or ‘Moffo’ (Mofu) and ‘Matakam’ refers to the same ‘tribe’ (ibid:60). Strumpell translates the name ‘Matakam’ as ‘the naked people’ (ibid). Moisel’s map (1912-13) refers to a mountain west of Mokolo as ‘Matakam’, but names the whole of Mafa land ‘Mufulu’. Lavergne (1944:20f) translates ‘mettayamen’ (pl. of ‘mettayamjo’) as an expression which refers negatively to ‘the nakedness of these primitive people’ (ibid). He says that for the Fulbe not wearing clothes was a sign of ‘poverty, lack of dignity, and inferioity’ (ibid) and that the word ‘mettayam’ later developed into ‘mettkam’ and finally ‘Matakam’. In Maasina fulfulde (Osborn at al 1993:221,386), what is close to the fulfulde of the area at the time, ‘mett’ means ‘disgust’ or ‘distress’, and ‘yam’ means ‘peace’ or ‘tranquillity’. Although the two roots have a contraticting meaning, Muller-Kosack (1999) says that they could well be linked to Lavergne’s legendary Fulbe lieutenant (ibid) who was astounded at having to face talks with the ‘formidable opponents’. Due to the derogatory connotations of the name ‘Matakam’ it is no longer in use today and is replaced by the autonym Mafa.

Lavergne (1944:22f) informs us that the Mafa (Matakam) consist of two tribal sections: the ‘Mafa proper’ referred to as Maf-Mafa or ‘Mafahai’, and the ‘Bulahai’. Muller-Kosack (1997:409) informs us that ‘Bulahay’ is the name of a variety of beans, and that it is used metaphorically to refer to the hardheadedness of the Bulahay. The expression Bulahay has a derogatory connotation and they are better refered to as ‘Kokwarhay’, meaning montagnards (ibid:675). According to Lavergne (ibid) the ‘Bulahai’ spread from Cuvok (west of Mofu-Gudur). While the Mafahay migrated from the Roua and Sulede area, which is west of Durum (Mofu proper), in northwesterly direction, the Bulahay (see page Bulahay) migrated westwards alongside the southern borders of the Mafa land of today. The Bulahay also eventually moved northwards where they merged with the Mafahay and thus become Mafa.

Another toponym for the Mafa is ‘Wula’ (see also page Wula). Moisels map (1912-13) names a mountain ‘Wola’ or ‘Ula’ in Moskota (northeast of Mafa land), and the ‘Wula Mango’ and ‘Wula Hanko’ (Wula proper) east of Sukur. Duisburg (1927:194) speaks of the ‘mountain tribe Wola’ south of Wandala. ‘Wula’ is also used to refer to the former slave settlements in the east of Borno State. Hulla-Matakam (Martin 1970:31) is another, but more recent word to refer in a derogatory way to the Mafa as ‘Wula’. Wula means, presumably, non-believer or non-Moslem.


The Mafa occupy the centre of the Nothern Mandaras, consisting of the whole of the northern parts of the plateau of Mokolo and the mountain ranges north of Mokolo, leading down to the plain of Koza and reaching as far as the Moskota hills northwest of Koza. Mafa land consists of the cantons Moskota, Koza, Gaboua belonging to the arrondissement Koza and the canton Matakam-Sud belonging to the arrondissement Mokolo. There are about 1,000 Mafa in Kughum, a village in the southeast of the Gwoza Local Government Area, already in Nigeria.


Hallaire (1991:26) speaks of 126,975 Mafa, but Boulet et al (1984:119) count only 82,100. Muller-Kosack (1999) estimates that there are about 150,000 Mafa living in the Northern Mandaras of today. According to Haillaire’s map (ibid:fig5) the population density is between 99 to 140 inhabitants per square km.


According to Barreteau (1984:168ff) the Mafa speak three dialects which are mafa-west, mafa-centre and mafa-est. As such they belong together with wuzlam (Uldeme), muyang, mada, melokwo, zulgwa, dugwor (Dugur), merey (Meri), giziga (north and south) and mofu (north and south) cuvok and mefele (Bulahay) to the sub-group mafa-south.


Muller-Kosack (1997:65-91) argues that Mafa ethnicity is not a colonial construc- tion, but needs to be understood in the precolonial context of the slave economy in the wider region. The Mafa-isation of the centre of Northern Mandaras is presum- ably linked to the forming of the Mofu groups facing the plain of Diamare.


Mafa ethnography begins with Lavergne (1944), followed by Podlewski (1966), Martin (1970), Boisseau & Soula (1974), Hinderling (1984), Muller-Kosack (1987, 1997), Santen (1993) and Sterner (1998). A Mafa dictionary exists since 1990 (Barreteau & Le Bleis). The Mafa are quite well researched. More than fifty references of literature dealing exclusively with the Mafa can be given so far.