The Mandara/Wandala

(Nigeria and Cameroon)


J. Lukas (1937:115ff) informs us that the Kanuri say Mandara, while the Mandara call themselves Wandala. R. Lukas (1973:111) explains that both names mean the same, but that no etymology is known. The first mentioning of the name ‘Mandera’ is by Fra Mauro (1459) and Leo Africanus (1526) who mentions ‘Me?dra’, as well as Anania (1973) who speaks of ‘Mandra’ and ‘Craua’ (Kerawa) the capital of the Wandala state. It is obvious that all early references are informed by the Kanuri version ‘Mandara’. Anania also mentions the great mountains of the place, which he refers to as being rich in iron ore (MacEachern 1991:50). Ibn Furtu (1564-1576) too speaks of ‘Mandara’, and so does Denham (1826), and Barth (1857,III:144), as well as Rohlfs (1875:12ff). Some modern writers refer to the Mandara/Wandala as ‘Mandara’ (Barkindo 1989), others as ‘Wandala’ (Mohammadou 1982; Forkl 1995).

The origins of the Mandara as an ethnic group is still unclear. Mohammadou (1982:16) informs us that the Wandala treat their ethnic as well as their dynastic origins as an admixture of Malgwa (see page Gamergu) and the descendants of ‘Bukar Ayssami’, who was one of four immigrants from the east who settled in ‘Ishga-Moulgwa’, where he married a daughter of ‘Moulgwa’ and later become chief. A second line of origin is reported by the Maya tradition (e.g.Forkl 1983:183), (see page Maya). Already R. Lukas (1973:111) points out that we must distinguish between the dynasty of the Mandara and the Wandala as an ethnic group. Muller-Kosack (1996) informs us of a well established oral tradition in the Gwoza Hills, which connects the Wandala with the so-called Tur tradition. According to this tradition, ‘Wandala Mbra’ was one of the sons of Mbra of Turu. The Kirgam-a-Wandala (Mohammadou 1982:7) informs us that Katala, the daughter of Vaya (son of Bukar Ayssami) had a son called Wandala, which was still in Ishga-Kewe. The Dughwede too know a ‘Katala Wandala’ (Muller-Kosack 1996) and integrated her in their ethnic genealogy as the wife of Tasa (son of Dughwede) and the mother of Ske (rainmaker lineage Gaske) and Gudule (the grain blesser lineage). Mohammadou (1982:9) informs as that ‘Gaya’ was the founder of Kerawa. From Gaya onwards the succession was not matri- but patrilineal.


The two main Mandara towns are Kerawa on the northernwestern and Mora on the northerneastern edge of the Gwoza Hills. The Mandara live also in Mozogo and Koza (where they mix with Mafa) and in Ashigashia (where they mix with Mafa and Glavda). They also live in the towns southeast of Mora in the plains alongside the eastern fringes of the Northern Mandaras. Most of the Mandara live nowadays in Cameroon. The Sultan of Mandara has his palace in Mora.


Forkl (1995:33) estimates that there are 30,000 Wandala, but does not specify whether he refers to the Wandala of Cameroon and Nigeria. Hallaire (1991:26) counts 12,280 Wandals in Cameroon. Blench (1999) speaks of 19,300 Wandala in Nigeria and 23,500 in Cameroon (1982 SIL).


Barreteau (1984:167) classifies wandala as a dialect very close to mura (Mora) and malgwe (Gamergu) and less close to gelvaxdaxa (Glavda) and perekwa (Podokwa) under wandala-east. Blench (1999) speaks of the ‘Wandala cluster’ of the Biu-Mandara Branch and classifies under it: ‘Wandala, Mura, Malgwa’ as being close, and ‘Glavda, Guduf-Gava, Dghwede and Gvoko’ as being not so close. SIL speaks of ‘Mandara Proper’ and classifies under it ‘Glavda (Dghwede, Gevoko, Glavda, Guduf), Mandara (Wandala), and Pokoko (Parkwa)’.


Mandara/Wandala ethnicity must be understood from the point of view of a political identity of the Wandala as citizens of the Wandala state. Forkl (1995:33ff) informs us that the beginnings of the Wandala state go back to king ‘Agamakiya’ who founded the early Wandala state in the 13th century. The Wandala state converted to Islam under king ‘Bukar Aaji’ in 1723/1724 (ibid). According to Forkl (ibid:40) it was Bukar Aaji who secularised the Wandala state in accordance with sunnitic theory, which meant that political office holders had less religious influence.


There is a great amount of literature on the Wandala state (especially the ‘Kirgam’ by Mohammadou), but less on the ethnography of the Wandala as a people. Forkl (1995:21-33) gives an almost complete annotated bibliography of literature on the Wandala. About seventy references can be given, which deal specifically with the Wandala. No dictionary of the Wandala language exists so far.